I ‘ve always found beer festivals a challenge. Too many beers and not enough time. I’ve always wanted to concentrate on a theme and for the first time I kept to my word. I decided I would only stop at breweries I’ve never tried (or heard of) and were in South Carolina… well I did stop at one Georgia brewery. Well I was close.
The World Beer Festival Columbia celebrated its 10th anniversary, once again using the South Carolina State Fairgrounds for the second year. I think this is a great location. Lots of easy parking and when it’s time to chill you can head outside.
My first stop was at Columbia Craft Brewing Company. I met up with Andrew Strauss, part owner and business development manager and Melanie Schmitz, the brewery’s taproom manager. Columbia Craft is one of many breweries to hit the Columbia scene in the past year. Their commercial launch was this past November 30th. Their trademark is “Craft Beer Famously Hopped.”
Andrew told me that “one of our goals is to bring sours to Columbia. We usually have 4-6 taps for sours.” Now before I go any further I want to go on record as not being a great sour or IPA fan. But the sour and the IPA they had today were fantastic. To me these are transitional brews for people like me. Their featured sour has nice clean sour characteristics without making you pucker so much your eyebrows move. The sourness isn’t so dominant that you can’t taste the rest of the beer. Same for the IPA. Not so bitter than you can’t taste the rest.
Melanie took the time to walk me through their four offerings. First was the Columbia Craft Lager. This is Munich Helles style brew. Clean, malty that’s pretty smooth until a slightly dry finish. Slightly sweet edge. At 17 IBU you’ll like this one if you aren’t into bitter. With 4.8% ABV you can enjoy more than one. This and some of their brews have a German influence. Their brewmaster Shaun Pigott studied brewing in Germany and I think it shows. Big thumbs up on this one.
Next was the Famously Hop IPA. It has 50 IBUs so it’s getting there but not pushing the bitter limits. Nice little sweet edge to it. Got some spiciness. Definitely a Eastern Stype IPA. (I’m having trouble keeping my IPA styles up to date—West Coast vs. New England etc.) Maybe this is a Southeastern Style. (I’d love to get feedback on that). I can drink this IPA anytime. At 6% I would take my time.
The Mad Skrilla DDH Double IPA. Nice long finish. This one is dry-hopped with four different hops. Very seductive. Don’t let the 7.5% ABV sneak up on you.
Then there was their sour. Their Hop Acid DDHP (Double Dry-Hopped Pale) is amazing. Very clean, got that citrus flavors from being dry-hopped with Amarillo and Citra hops. It picks up some tart berry/tropical fruit from Enigma hops. All of these, especially the Citra and the Enigma have a high Alpha Acid level. I suppose that’s where the name comes from. At 5% ABV enjoy more than one. I’d pair this up with a fish taco.
Their tasting room/brew facility is located at 520 Greene Street in downtown Columbia. They have light beer food like hotdogs but have 5 rotating food trucks provide the bulk of the food selection. They have 12 taps open at all times. Open 3-9pm Monday-Wednesday, 12-10pm Thursday-Friday and 11am-10pm Saturday.
I stepped back between the trailers and found South Barrel Brewing out of Bluffton. Brewer Phil Cox was talking up beer with the festival-goers and was quite busy. I met Dana Robert Millen, the VP of sales, who looked someone who had just finished a four-hour stint at a beer festival. He had. He said the first session had been quite busy. His t-shirt featured their flagship brew Damn Yankee IPA, a New England style IPA. You could argue that their Helles Lager is the flag with its many awards but he told me that Damn Yankee is 40% of their sales. That is a pretty good flagship.
Dana told me that they started up 2 and 1/2 years ago. During that time they’ve managed to win 7 awards, with their Helles Lager having the most with 5. They’re distributing kegs and cans in South Carolina and Georgia and should be in Flordia soon.
I started with the Helles Larger. This is sweet, nicely hopped brew. At 5.2% you can enjoy a couple. Next was their Kick Back Black Larger, a 4% ABV brew that is dark as night with a nice brown head. Very light mouthfeel but strong in flavor. Got some nice roasty toasty stuff going on.
Now for the flagship Damn Yankee IPA. I detected a hint of pine which isn’t too far from the flavors that come from the Citra hops they use. Smooth for an IPA, a hint of bitterness on the finish. Another IPA I can drink. It’s got 55 IBU’s but its smoothness masks it well. It’s 6.4% ABV so you better drink this one a bit slower.
They have a 12,500 sq. ft. facility, 10,000 sq. ft. for the brewery and 2,500 for the tavern. They have a 20-barrel system, with 14 fermenters. Their tasting room is a “full blown sports bar tavern” Dana said. They got grilled pimento cheese sandwiches and a Saison Triple Chocolate Chip Brownie on menu. I’m trying to think of who in Bluffton I need to go visit.
I wondered around a bit looking for Cottontown Brew Lab, a brewer that Melanie back at Columbia Craft had recommended. Instead I found Birds Fly South Ale Project out of Greenville, SC. Behind the taps was Nate Warner, who said “I’m the beer sales guy.” He had a collection of brews on tap as well a couple in cans. He was talking sours with the folks who stopped by.
Nate said they’ve been brewing for about 2 and 1/2 years but for the first year they were brewing out of Thomas Creek. Now their facility, which they refer to as an urban farmhouse, has been in full swing in Greenville’s West End Water Tower District since September 2016.
He had 3 on tap. I decided to try 2. First in my glass was one of their ISM series, Rakau. “This is a great representation of what we do as a brewery,” Nate said. “A whole lot going on with this beer.” He was right. A bit of a sour tart flavor explosion on the first sip. Smoother than I expected with all the flavor. Turns a bit dry on the sides of your mouth then a hint of bitterness on the finish. This is more tart that funky sour. They call it a Golden Imperial Saison on their website. Their onsite sign says “this farmhouse is dry-hopped with only the Rakau hop. Native to New Zealand, this hop imparts stone fruit flavors and flavor profile.” This is an “occasional” brew and runs 7.5% ABV.
This is about the time the band kicked up and I could barely understand Nate. He was telling me about the next one, End of Year Blend. Its a 7% ABV rice, rye Saison blended with 1-year-old Barrel Aged (red-wine barrel) Belgian Tripel. It’s a bit tart but not over the top. Got a sweet edge to it. You can taste the Saison roots. By now my palate was a bit compromised. Their tasting notes describe “a rich, autumnal body that balances well with subtle hints of lemongrass, chamomile, and black peppercorn.” The lemongrass is pretty accurate. All I know is that it was a pretty good brew.
Check out their website. These guys are on a mission to bring farmhouse sour, tart and funk to the Greenville masses.
Next door was Twisted Spur Brewing. I could tell that Chris Baldwin, Owner and Head Brewer, was having fun. People were stopping by to talk beer and loving what they sampled. He’s been open for sales for about 2 years. You got to check out the menu if you are going out to eat in Downtown Columbia. I didn’t even get to talk about that. We were too busy sampling beers.
He told me they have four flagship brews: Dead Head Red (5.9%), Sexi Mexi (4.6%), Fraulein Hefeweizen (4.9%) and Twisted IPA.
I didn’t list the ABV for the Twisted because in my photo of their selection board I cut off the ABV. Their website doesn’t list it because this is a variable brew. This is a seasonal non-seasonal so to speak. It’s based on a traditional West Coast recipe but modified based on the season. It’s got a lot of Amarillo hops right now. To me it’s more a New England style right now. I found yet another IPA I like.
Next was the Sexi-Mexi. “We have 100 lbs of corn which is a typical Mexican grain bill. There’s a little salt. When serving it we give it a slice of lime. There’s a real cliche for you,” he said.
Next was the Dead Head Red. This is a Marzen style with hefty doses of Dark Munich and Caramunich. Has some Noble hops to add a little spice. This is a nice Marzen. Love the malty backbone. It finishes slightly bitter on a nice long finish.
Next I tried his Woody Wood Pucker, a 7% ABV sour. This one is aged with toasted oak spirals. The brew is soured then filtered over to stainless where it is aged with toasted oak spirals. I love this sour. It is smooth and not super tart. I have found another sour I like.
Last was the Cool Charm Quad. This is a super nice Belgian Quad. Has about 110 lbs of candy sugar. Uses a traditonal monastery yeast and traditional grain bill. “I followed the same stringent methods except for the bottle conditioning, “he said. This is a really nice quad. I had to ask for a half pour because at 12% I was starting to worry about my ability to read my notes.
They have a 5,000 sq. ft. facility, which includes 1,000 sq. ft for the restaurant. They are kegs only with distribution from Columbia and down to Aiken. They are located at 705 Gervais Street and are open 7 days a week with varying hours (check out their website for times). They serve brunch from 10AM-2PM on Saturday and Sunday.
Across the way was Freehouse Brewery, South Carolina’s only USDA Certified Organic brewery. The brewery is located in North Charleston on the Ashley River. “All our ingredients, everything, is organic,” said Kayleigh Bohannan, sales manager for the brewery (her card says “Beerleader”). Her boyfriend, PJ Lewis, was helping man the taps. Firehouse has been producing beers for four years.
They were sampling three brews. The first was their Ashley Farmhouse Ale, a dry Belgian-style saison. Very light, uses ginger and orange peel for their spices. Uses a house blend wild yeast. Nice acidity on this one. “Very approachable,” she said. I agree. Nice and smooth, doesn’t have a super farmhouse funk to it. Very nice.
The second was the Green Door IPA. “This is our best seller. Crushes it. Citra, Chinoock and Cascade with Nugget as a bittering hop. Herbal. Sessionable. It’s our own special kind of IPA.” It was the most interesting IPA of the day. The Citra hops are giving it that citrusy taste. A bit of grassiness. Herbal for sure. Maybe from the Nugget hops. This IPA comes in at 6.2%.
Last was their Folly’s Pride. It’s described as a crisp golden session ale. Got a mildly bitter citrus finish.
The majority of their production is kegs but they do some bottle conditioned seasonals as well kegs and cans of their Green Door IPA and Folly’s Pride Blond. Their distribution reaches both North and South Carolina. Their taproom is open Tuesday thru Saturday (check the website for the times).
I kept wandering around looking for CottonTown Brew Lab. It had been 2 stalls down from where I first started. I found owner Zack Jones chatting with another brewer about doing a collobration. He had a tap handle for his TropiCarolina in his hand. I knew that was a bad sign. “Sorry, we ran out. This is our flagship brew.”
“Our focus is making high quality beer that is crushable in the South Carolina heat. You can drink it at the lake or anywhere,” he said. Their motto is “Craft Beer for the Tropical South”
I had to admit that I had not heard the term crushable before. He explained, “We use 1/2 barrels kegs. When you empty a keg in 4 hours that’s crushable.” He says his brews often switch out every four hours.
The TropiCarolina is lighter and less bitter than traditional IPAs. A bit more enjoyable in the heat. Very citrsy, grapefruit flavors.
They had only two brews at the festival and unfortunately one was out so I tried their Blue Zip Tie, a International Pale Lager.
He described it as similar in color and body as the TropiCarolina with a little more bitterness. Less Fruity, a bit more lush and designed for the heat. This would be a great beer after mowing the grass or sitting around the pool.
They don’t have a tap room yet but they are working on a new facility. Keg only with distribution from Rock Hill, down to Columbia and over to Aiken and North Augusta. Next time I’m visiting Green’s I’ll get a growler of these brews.
I had finished my South Carolina tasting tour. I decided I needed to try at least one Georgia brew. I stopped by Left Nut Brewing out of Gainesville. There I met Nilanjan “Pap” Datta, President and Owner of Left Nut. They will celebrate their 2nd anniversary in March.
Nilanjan says their brewery is in the historic Chicopee Mills that was a Johnson & Johnson gauze factory. Being in a old factory provides them 3,000 sq. ft. for their tap room.
They have four core beers: Bridge to Nowhere IPA, The Lappland Blonde Blonde Ale, Mighty Banyan Double IPA and American Obsession Pale Ale.
I tried the American Obsession Pale Ale first. Very biscuity with a bit of spice in the aroma and on the palate. He told me it gets some bitterness from Calypso hops. I like the mouthfeel on this brew. Consistent across the palate. The first sip and the second sip are different. Seems sweeter on the second.
Next was the Bridge To Nowhere IPA. The Columbus hops gives it some distinctive floral flavors. Has some classic American 2-row barley on malt side. It is 6% ABV and has 50.2 IBU. It is nice and smooth. I love the complete mouthfeel. Very balanced. Yet again, I found an IPA I really like.
They are open Wednesday thru Sunday. Tours are available and of course their taproom which features some taproom only brews as well as several seasonals and of course their core beers. Check out their website for the hours.
Here’s a 360 degree video interview with “Pap.” (Sorry, looks like the 360 only works with smart phones and Firefox if you are on a Mac.)
I was disappointed that Binford Brewing and Tradesman Brewing weren’t there. I’ve enjoyed catching up with those guys each year. Since I usually attend the afternoon session I missed meeting up with the aircraft club that flies in from around the country to enjoy the festival. I’m already looking forward to next year’s festival. Here’s a photo gallery of some of the folks I met during the session. (including the volunteer who accidentally knocked over a bottle and covered me and my camera bag with beer. It was a long ride home.)