This year’s Columbia stop of the World Beer Festival had a new venue. Instead of the convention center they moved out to the State Fair Grounds. This was a great location. Plenty of parking, more open floorspace and if you want to go outside to chill you can.
Each year that I have covered the Festival I come in with a plan. The plan might be to only sample Georgia or South Carolina Brews or only breweries that are there for the first time. I’ve attempted this over the 6 festivals I’ve covered.
But like a moth to flame, or Homer Simpson in a bar, I see a tap and go straight to it. My plan this year was to only interview breweries I had never spoken with. That lasted for 2 breweries.
I started with Rogue Brewing out of Newport Oregon. I met up with Matt Hoerner. His card reads “Post-Prohibition Preacher.” Nice title. They were featuring two brews, Yellow Snow IPA and Hazelutely Choctabulous. Yellow Snow is named after that yellow snow you don’t eat. The tap handle features a blonde surfer dude guy dressed in red walking his dog. Naturally there’s a yellow puddle under the dog.
This 6.5% IPA will sneak up on you. It starts off with a malty kick then moves to bitter. What kind of IPA would it be without any bitterness. This brew has an East Coast start and a West Coast finish.
The Hazelutely Choctabulous is a nice brew best described as “Nutella on tap.” This seasonal isn’t a new beer with all sorts of special ingredients all thrown in. This is a blended beer. They took two popular year-rounders Chocolate Stout and Hazelnut Brown Nectar and blended them to form
Hazelutely Choctabulous. Nice dark brew with lots of malt, nuts and chocolate. I think I could nurse my evening away with a bomber of this. Better look for it quick because it only runs until April.
These guys make great brews but are from across the US in Oregon. Why not start a brewing in Asheville like everyone else? I read that they have their own farms that produces a lot of their ingredients. To brew their beer on the East Coast would require shipping their ingredients. Having your own fresh ingredients from farms you control makes for some consistent brewing.
I saw Brewery 85 and hoped that maybe they were from Georgia. That would be a nice tie-in to SB 85. But no, they are microbrewers from Greenville, SC, near Interstate-85. Katharine Anne Ashmore (nice southern name) was in the booth to answer questions. She said they have been in business for 3 years. Her title is Brand Am-BADASS-ador. Their current distribution range is the Upstate, Rock Hill, Fort Mill and Columbia. They were serving up two of their flagships (they have 4) Yeoman’s American Brown Ale and Quittin’ Time Helles Bock. One of the flagships is their GVL IPA (GVL being the City of Greenville’s abbreviation) wasn’t on tap. Their third offering on tap today was Runner Stout which is available in their taproom back in Greenville. It is a really nice dark stout that is a collabrative brew, not with another brewer, but with Asheville’s French Broad Chocolates who supplied Nicaraguan cocoa nibs from a single farmer. I like this stout. Got some roasty/toasty going on. A little bit of coffee but not overpowering. At 6.7% its not too strong but with only 11 IBU I might drink too much of it.
Ashmore said that their owner, Will McCameron, received his brewing degree from Munich, Germany, “his German style brews such as the Weizen and Marzen hold true to the German tradition.” The Quittin’ Time is a light german larger and is described as a Helles Bock. At 7.5% it’s very deceiving. You could sip this one too fast. It has what I call that farmhouse funk going for it.
The Yeoman Brown has a little of those stout flavors but rolled way back. You will find roasted malts, coffee and chocolate flavors. According to their website, each year they age some of their Yeoman’s in bourbon barrels for serving in their tasting room– the 2014 used 12-year Van Winkle Special Reserve barrels, the 2015 used Knob Creek barrels and the 2016 release used Woodford Reserve barrels. I would have loved to try some of those.
Next stop was New Holland. I realized I’ve never spoken with them despite how many times I’ve enjoyed their beers when visiting my wife’s home town of Grand Haven (Their brewery and original pub is in nearby Holland, Michigan).
I found Andrew Johnson, field sales mangager for the Carolinas and Southern Virginia, talking up their brews.
I had not realized that their Dragon’s Milk bourbon barrel brew wasn’t a seasonal or a specialty brew. It has been their flagship since 2001. “How many flagship brews take 4 months to create,” said Johnson. Bourbon barrel-aged brews has been all the rage lately. These guys were probably one of the first to lead the way. They called this an “unlimited release” brew since it is available year round. It is roasty, malty and smooth. It spends 90 days in bourbon barrels and you can taste it. Since they have their own distillery (New Holland Artisan Spirits) and sell a Beer Barrel Bourbon I guess they have a ready supply of barrels (looking at their website I suspect its kind of a circular process. They make a bourbon—whiskey aged in barrels for at least 2 years— then use the barrels to age their Dragon’s Milk then the now used-beer barrels become home for the bourbon and picks up some new flavors. But that’s not the end of the barrel process. They are now using the barrel staves to make their tap handles. Cool).
In addition to serving samples of the Dragon’s Milk they had their Mad Hatter, a Midwest IPA. What’s a Mid-West IPA? Well in this case it mostly describes the source of the ingredients. Johnson said it’s dry-hopped with Centennial, Citra and Michigan-grown Cascade hops. That use of Michigan-grown Cascade hops is part of their new recipe. This was first brewed in 1998 then got a remake in 2015. Johnson said it was originally based on a traditional British IPA but now has it’s own “mid-west” flavor. I like this IPA (IPA’s are not my favorite). The malts (the grain bill is listed as 2 row, munich, wheat and carapils) in this brew give it enough body for me to enjoy.
Johnson was proud to talk about The Knickerbocker, their new 550 seat brew pub/distillery located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Of course they couldn’t sample their distilled products here but New Holland, under the label New Holland Artisan Spirits, has been producing custom spirits since 2002. (I would love to try their barrel-aged gin).
Here’s where I deviated from my plan. I stopped by Sweetwater Brewing out of Atlanta. I’ve been to some of their regional tasting events but I had a reason. I wanted to see if their rep was excited about SB 85, the bill being considered by the Georgia Legislature that will allow breweries to sell their brews directly to customers. Unfortunately their regional sales rep, Briana Bagby, lives in South Carolina. She wasn’t up to speed on SB 85, but she was up to speed on their nice spring seasonal Grass Monkey.
This is a “funky monkey of a wheat ale” according to their website. This brew has Lemondrop hops which gives it a citrus blast then some lemongrass is added which I think gives is a steady, light yet consistent taste. This beer is the same from first stip to the finish. Piney for sure. Lemony but not with the citrus sour. This seasonal is available from February til April. This is a great beer for someone who doesn’t want something heavy.
On SB 85, the bill passed the senate with only 2 no votes and now has to be voted on by the house. Let’s keep our Georgia Brewers in our prayers.
Next stop was at Palmetto Brewing, out of Charleston, where I was expecting to find brewer Clint Vick. I’ve stopped to chat with him at several festivals. At first I thought I was in the wrong place. They usually have a small tasting table but this time they had a tap wagon. Nice rig. And there wasn’t any Clint but I found Kristian Edwards, one of their brewers/cellarmen. He was in shorts and sporing some socks with little red hearts. “Those hearts represent one of the main ingredients in good craft beer— love. And this is why I love what I what I do” as he spread his arms. “It’s the people. I love all the people who enjoy our beer.” He is a man who really loves his job.
They were serving up four brews, Huger Street IPA, Charleston Session IPA, Low Country Pilsner and Pinky Brewster English Style Ale. I tried the Huger Street IPA. This is a very drinkable IPA for me. It’s only 58 IBU so it pleases my palate. Very East Coast. I asked for a half pour, to keep my wits since I have many more to sample, but got a full pour. I had to finish it. It’s that good. No slop bucket for this one.
For the past few festivals Clint had brought a special pony keg filled with something they were experimenting with. I had to ask. Kristian didn’t let me down.
Edwards got a me a pour of a special brew they’ve been working on, Juice Monster, a double IPA. It tastes like it has pineapple and mangos in it. But there is no juice. It is all in the hops. It’s super juicy and super hazy. He rattled off so many hops I couldn’t keep up. But there are Mosaic, Citra and El Dorado in there for sure. “We hit it out of the park on this one.” I agree. This is an amazing brew. Juicy as I’ve never experience in a brew. Very lush mouthfeel. It’s a 9.5% brew but drinks like a 6.5 They only made 480 gallons of it. I think there will be more. I feel honored to try it.
Near by was the Hootie Home Grown Ale booth. It was kind of lonely place considering there was one canned brew being poured and no brewery rep. All About Beer‘s Daniel Hartis was filling in as a volunteer pourer. Despite having only one brew to pour he was pretty busy. He said that this brew was a collaboration brew from Rock Brothers out of Tampa, Florida and the famed Hootie and the Blowfish group that emerged from Myrtle Beach music scene back in the 90’s. I grabbed an empty can so I could studying up a bit since he was pretty busy. It lays out their story on the label and on the website. This is a white ale. Not a bad drinking little brew.
I had to stop by Catawba Brewing‘s booth. I met their director of wholesale operations, Jim Birch, at last year’s festival. Catawba was kind enough to invite me up for their annual release party for their Peanut Butter and Jelly Time. He said they would be releasing PB&J Time on March 3rd with general release on March 6th. This brew sells out in a few weeks so keep your eyes open for it. This one will have been through their new centrifuge so it will be interesting to taste.
Birch had two more bits of news. The first was White Zombie, their flagship, is hitting the Georgia market on March 15th in Kroger stores. That would be just in time for me to buy some and make another Green Zombie for St. Patty’s Day. White Zombie is one of the best white ale’s I’ve had. I’m happy I can easily share it with friends without having to drive over to the Asheville area.
The second bit of news is that Catawba Brewing is adding a four location to their collection. This one will be in Charlotte and will use the 10-barrel system they originally used at their Morganton location. It has been in storage since they updated their line. The 12,000 sq. ft. facility will be in Plaza Midwood in uptown Charlotte. To honor their opening they’ve created a new IPA called CLT that they believe will have a broader reach than just Charlotte. It is 7.2% with Amarillo, Simcoe, Citra hops in it. It’s get a spin in their new centrifuge. It will be opening in at the end of March. Their other 3 locations are in Morganton, NC; downtown Asheville and at the Biltmore Village in Asheville. If this location is like the others they will have specialty brews along with barrel-aged brews. (They occasionally have a gin-barrel-aged brew in their Ashville location).
At the festival they were serving up White Zombie, Astral Bootie, Hooligan Scotch Ale and the new CLT. I tried the CLT and it is a very drinkable IPA. I also noticed they have added 16oz cans to their lineup. They had some of the CLT out on display in the pint cans.
So by now I had sampled about 10 or so brews. I thought I better be more selective if I’m going to be able to taste and write good notes. This is the hazard of trying to cover a beer festival. I decided to try what other brewers are talking about. I was told by Kristian Edwards to check out Tradesman’s White Coffee Stout. On the way to find their booth I encountered a long line that is usually a good indication of a great brew being served. I realzed it wasn’t a brewery but the GoneJerky booth. They were handing out samples and selling $7.50 bags of their beef and pork jerky as fast as they could. I spoke with Gary Jones who said their products are geared for bottleshops and taprooms. They don’t use any perservatives so they want to be where people will eat them quickly. They are out of Winston-Salem and have been in business for 2 years. I bought a bag of their Sea Salt and Vinegar Pork Jerky for later. Their Teriyaki Pork Jerky was wonderful.
As luck would have it the Tradesman Brewing table was just across the way from GoneJerky. I featured the Tradesman gang in my main photo of last year’s coverage. These Charleston brewers are a great bunch of guys. I recognized Chris Winn and David LaBlanc from last year. I told them Kristian sent me. The brew I was seeking is their Shift Change, listed as a coffee stout. “This brew is optically deceiving. If you close your eyes and give it a whiff you know you have a stout,” said Winn. If you look at it first you know you have something like a nice golden lager. “You can’t always judge a beer by its color,” added Winn.
It’s got a light grain bill with roasted barley, chocolate, and lactose. Yes, lactose. The lactose adds an unique sweetness to the brew. They then add light-roasted coffee from a local roaster and there you have yourself a white coffee stout. This 6.5% brew is amazing. It’s not overly heavy but has a bold flavor. I’m hoping Wine World in North Augusta can get some of this.
Winn and LaBlanc had some news to share. They are opening a new brewing facility this summer on the border between Charleston and North Charleston in the “neck”. This will push their capacity to 800 barrels from their current 15 barrels. This will be the first exterior brewing tank facility in the state of South Carolina.
On tap today they had their Welder’s Wheat, Circuit Breaker IPA and of course the Shift Change.
Next stop was at the Green’s table. They are one of the sponsors of the festival. They had special hourly releases. For the first hour they had Dreamchaser’s Yard Breather, a New England-style IPA at 7.1%. I’ve never had a New England Style IPA that I know of. But what fascinated me was the huge growler cans they were serving it out of. I guess in lowly Augusta we haven’t been exposed to sealed growler cans. We just recently lost one of our best growler shops, Gravity Growlers, and I doubt those remaining will invest in something like that. According to the Green’s guy pouring he said any beer they have on tap can be canned. Sweet.
The Dreamchaser’s Yard Breather is an over-hopped brew. Super hazy. Nice brew with more body than I expect from an IPA.
I noticed a lot of guys in line that weren’t stepping up to get a brew. Then I heard someone say it was time for the 2PM release, which was Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout, a bourbon barrel-aged stout that hits 14.2%. This, according to Green’s Adam Tolsma is a very rare brew. I noticed it was on sale on eBay for $35 to $50 a bottle. They were pouring about an ounce per taster which at 14.2% they had to by ABC rules.
This bottle doesn’t have a front paper label. It’s front has raised letters in the glass. Their website describes it as a liquid as dark and dense as a black hole with thick foam the color of a bourbon barrel. The nose is an intense mix of charred oak, chocolate, vanilla, caramel and smoke. One sip has more flavor than your average case of beer. I have admit I enjoyed my one ounce. It really is a nice stout. I didn’t have a chance to find out how much it costs if you can find it. It’s probably like trying to buy Pappy 20.
I asked the Tradesman crew who I should go check out. They recommended Cooper River. I found them near the crossover to the other pavillion. They were sharing a multi-tap trailer with other Charleston brewers. I met co-owner Michael Gates.
According to Gates they started brewing about 14 months ago. Their brewery and tasting room is located on Mechanic Street in Charleston. They were sampling their flagship Golden Ale. Their website describes it as “patterned after lighter English ales and sometimes referred to in the US as a blonde ale. Not too complex or bitter, just perfectly balanced for a deep refreshing quality. The crystal malt gives this ale a golden hue, while the Tettnang hops add the crispness we were looking for.”
The brew I was seeking was their ESB. “We don’t do anything crazy. This is a very drinkable ESB.” And it is. Nice, smooth and as their website describes it “The key to an Extra Special Bitter is Balance. Bitter may be in the name, but a true English ESB is not bitter at all. The color is more on the darker side of the scale and is low in carbonation. A pronounced Malt taste leads to a toasty and fruity finish. A true English day drinking Ale.” It’s a shame this is only available at their taproom.
“Our brewer loves to brew our ESB” said Gates. Their brewer, Mark Fesche, has 20 years experience with most of that spent in Bend Oregon with Deschutes Brewery. Tasting his ESB I think he’s done pretty good for him self.
Their brew out of their 15-barrel facility is in Charleston, Columbia, Rock Hill and will soon be in Myrtle Beach, Clemson and Anderson.
I finally made it over to the other pavillion where they had cider, internation brews, brews from around the US were and the VIP area. I found brewery rep Sam Graci at the Service Brewing tent. Service Brewing is from Savannah so I asked him what he thought of SB 25 and he was hopeful it would pass. “It will mean a lot to our breweries. It will allow the consumers to come and actually try local beers then go back to Columbia or Atlanta and want to buy them. That means more business to the local breweries as well as the distributors.
They were featuring their usual brews: Compass Rose, Rally Point and Battlewagon. But it was their seasonal that is usually released this time of year that had my interest. Lincoln’s Gift Oyster Stout is one of my favorites. I have to admit in the past they sold it in bombers and I’d have to share not being able to drink it all by myself. A bit intense and I’m too impatient to drink it over a longer period. But Graci told me they were going away from their bombers and going to 12-oz cans. “We’ll be selling them in 6-packs.” Cool. Now I don’t have to worry about glass around the pool.
Lincoln’s Gift was a bit behind schedule this year according to Graci. “Between Hurricane Matthew and oyster roast season we had trouble sourcing our oysters. But we finally did. We used 3,000 oysters and 1,000 shells. This year it’s not as briney.” He’s right. This is leaning more toward a traditional stout but it does have that uniqueness that oysters add. Creamier, maltier this year with that oyster flavor. I’ll have to keep an eye open for the new 6-pack.
Several years ago Dennis brought me some beer from a visit to Nelson County, Virgina. It was from Devil’s Backbone Brewing Company. Having lived in Virgina for 15 years I loved all the places that Devil’s Backbone has locations: Lexington and Nelson County. Unfortunately the Vienna Lager that Dennis brought me sat in the little fridge too long (way too long) and when I tasted it I was disappointed. I wanted to try some fresh brew. What I drank before is nothing like what I had in my sample glass. An incredibly smooth drinkable brew. It is an amber brew with a great malty flavor. Hints of toast and caramel. A 2 oz pour wasn’t enough.
I met up with South Carolina Rep Neal Smith. Their brews now make it into six states. He said their brewermaster, Jason Oliver, does a great job with all their brews.
Devil’s Backbone gets its name from the mention of Devil’s Backbone in the diary of a group of 40 surveyors who set out to create the “Fairfax Line” in 1846 This 80 mile survey line through the wilderness that would be used to tie the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers together (their website does a better explanation). One of those in the group was Thomas Jefferson’s father. It was a a dangerous journey with Devil’s Backbone being one of the most treacherous. Developing a brewery is kinda dangerous so the name seems to fit.
I also love the name and wonder if it’s the same Devil’s Backbone in the Little Switzerland area of Highland County Virgina where I used to photograph for the Roanoke Times.
In addition to their Vienna Lager they had Tectonic Barley Wine which is an incredibly dark, dense brew. It has more flavors going on that any barley wines I’ve ever had. I couldn’t possibly describe this one with a 2oz sample. I would love to find a bomber of this one.
They also have Black Lager, a Schwarzbier style, that is really light for a dark beer with a hint of coffee. Consistent flavors from start to finish. It doesn’t have that burnt dry feel to it I taste in other black lagers.
With the theme of those surveyors they call their original Nelson County location “Basecamp,” and their large packaging/brewing facility in Lexington, Virgina, the “Outpost.” Each location has a taproom. If visiting Virginia you should check them out.
A quick look at the watch and I realize I only have about 15 minutes. I head back over to the South Carolina brew area and want to catch up with Bryan O’Neal of Benford Brewing, located in Lancaster, SC, not far from “rocky shoals of the Catawba River”. His booth was featuring two brews: their popular Problem Solver, I featured it at last year’s festival, and Old Nitrolee Hefeweizen. Now don’t think this is some nitro laced brew. Its name is historic and its ingredient could be described that as well as it’s a simple german recipe. Their website describes it as a dam good bier. It’s a play on words at two levels. Back in the 20’s a german chemical company built a dam to harness the power of the Catawba River to make nitrogen-based fertilizer. Unfortunately the plant back in Germany burned down and they never completed the plant in the US. Now Duke Power is looking to restore part of the river to whitewater. O’Neal created this brew to celebrate the return of the free flowing falls of the Catawba and the planned South Carolina park at Mt. Dearborn. This is a 4.8% brew with amazing qualities. I could describe it but I think O’Neals website describes what I’m tasting in the glass very accurately. “The bier’s aromatic wheat style, with hints of banana and clove renders out as a pleasant and very smooth beverage brewed to enjoy after a day in the great outdoors or for a mellow evening at home.”
The site says “only four natural ingredients (water, barley, hops and yeast) and contains no artificial or other added ingredients.” O’Neal was proud to say the South Carolina Department of Agriculture made them the first official Agritourism site in the state. They were already the first agricultural brewery. Now they have a special spot on the map. One more feather in their cap. Agritourism has reached a new height.
My last stop. It’s 4:05 and they are kicking us out. I met Justin Mon while visiting Devil’s Backbone and he suggested I meet their owner at Swamp Cabbage. I swung by and met owner/brewer Doug Boyd. I spoke with Ozzie Shuler at last year’s festival and he told me about where the term swamp cabbage comes from (it’s the nickname for a young palmetto palm found in the many swamps in the Low Country).
They’ve been brewing now for 2 years in Columbia at their 20-barrel facility and will be expanding distribution soon into Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head and Rock Hill. They’ve expanded their line with some new brews, some of which are taproom only. They have a limited edition Weiss Bier (4.9%) and a Red IPA (5.9%) which was just released this week. Their flagship Sabal Palm Blonde and the Weiss Bier and Red IPA were on tap at the festival. Unfortunately I didn’t have time and the volunteers weren’t supposed to pour after 4. I’m outta here. But the good news Columbia is just up the road and I think I need to take my beer brothers Mark and Brett up for some samples at their taproom in the near future.
I sampled a few brews in the VIP area. I’ve put my tasting notes in the photos below. If you missed this year’s stop of the World Beer Festival in Columbia you can attend the Raleigh stop in April and the Durham stop in October.
I applaud the folks at All About Beer for another great festival and a great new location. I assume the second session starting at 6 was just as great.