The snow began to fall around noon yesterday, slowly wafting and eventually sticking by late afternoon.

Nearby friends invited me to a fireside movie night. I set out on the crunchy white path to their apartment with cookies and growler in tow.

Harpoon’s Winter Warmer provided a well-spiced addition to the night. This malty, amber-colored ale offers a lot of cinnamon and a little bitterness to counter the sweet notes. Though not my favorite winter beer, I still look forward to finishing off the growler.

Huge thanks to Greenville Hop House for the beer!


Swamp Rabbit Brewery Takes Shape

After the excitement of the World Beer Festival Saturday night, I woke up Sunday to more good times ahead: Swamp Rabbit Brewery & Taproom put out a call on Facebook volunteers and watchers to join them Monday morning as their tanks arrived and were installed.

Tanks awaiting their new home

Tanks awaiting their new home

I set out early Monday morning from Columbia, thankful for the work holiday, and arrived shortly after the trucks were unloaded and local news had packed up. These top o’ the line tanks traveled all the way from JV Northwest in Portland, OR. Although the third truck broke down in Idaho with the brewer’s platform, the team wasted no time setting up everything possible, bringing the brewery one step closer to opening day.

I spent about an hour on the sidewalk, learning about every nook and cranny of this future brewery. The interior boasts a warm, industrial style, with metalwork and a rich wood pattern drawing the eye to the bar. The large sidewalk has patio-seating potential. It was exciting to begin picturing the length of tanks that will be placed right out in the open behind the bar, to imagine the jovial conversations and brew-filled glasses clinking.

Teresa Pierson, General Manager and wife of Brew Master, Ben, was warm and enthusiastic. She answered all my questions and then some. I was beyond impressed with Ben’s brewing resume; there isn’t enough room in this blog to fit all of his accomplishments, from training in Germany to brewing at Asheville’s Green Man and LAB, to even winning a bronze GABF award. And now Traveler’s Rest has the privilege of him brewing in town.

Ben took a short break to chat, too. Dressed in his black “Godfather of Beer” shirt, he shared his plans for the brewery and talked about the beers he has in store. He’s a classical brewer, which shows in his opening day line-up: an IPA, an APA and a witbier. They also have plans for a marzen, and during my visit, a box of chocolate flavor arrived for a chocolate stout.

Ben also talked about the importance of using American-made products, and I was impressed by the local touches—fixtures, artwork and various building elements—within the brewery.20140125-212150.jpg

TR could not ask for a kinder and more experienced brewer to set up shop. This good-natured family proved keen to not only see the brewery succeed, but to make it a valuable asset of the TR community.

I look forward to sharing a beer with this passionate crew again soon, and I’ll be sure to share the official March opening date as soon as I hear.

Follow Swamp Rabbit on Facebook and Twitter for (significantly better than mine) photos of the tank arrival as well as news about this TR brewery.

Columbia’s World Beer Festival 2014

It’s hard to believe that at this hour one week ago, I was getting started tasting the multitude of brews at the World Beer Festival. My dad tagged along, and I was happy to share in this first-time experience for him. It was nice to have someone to discuss beers and swap glasses with so I didn’t have to stand in the long lines a second time.

A little summary of the event: World Beer Festival, run by All About Beer magazine, featured 77 different breweries, both international and local. From big names like Boston Beer Company (Sam Adams) and Diageo (Guiness, Harp, Smithwicks) to craft brewers from SC’s own backyard, the festival had something for everyone.

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With so much beer available, I sought out names I’d never tried and knew I would not have easy access to. Dad and I began on the lower floor with Palmetto Brewing Company, hopping from line to line until I’d tasted all the musts. Then we headed upstairs, where most of the bigger names were located.

The upstairs also featured some booths with raffles and information, a Duke’s Jerky table, a silent disco area and most of the bigger name breweries. At one point, the lights upstairs went out completely—talk about a sure-fire adrenaline rush to clear the booze fog! Thankfully that was the only technical difficulty of the night.

Of the 34 beers and ciders that I tried, these were the standouts:

  • Conquest‘s Beer Fest Beer– This English Porter was a beer fest exclusive.
  • Four Friends Brewing Company’s I-77 – A chance tasting because they ran out of their brown, this IPA surprised me as a manageably hoppy beer I look forward to drinking again.
  • Merchant du Vin’s Orval – My first authentic Trappist beer
  • NoDa’s Hop, Drop ‘N Rolla – Again, I’m not an IPA fan, but I tried this one after the guy behind me called it the best IPA in the building.
  • Palmetto Brewing Company’s Yammer Thyme Coffee Porter – These guys went all out, actually bringing thyme to sprinkle into each beer.
  • River Dog’s India Red Ale
  • Smuttynose’s Scotch Ale
  • St. Killian’s Crabbie’s – This alcoholic ginger beer was an unexpected, but tasty, option.
  • Windy Hill’s Ginger Gold – Their sweet, crisp ciders were a welcome reprieve from heavy beers.

After trying beers from all over, I’m pleased to see that the majority of my favorites came from the Carolinas.

During my time volunteering at the first session, I heard seasoned volunteers tell stories of rowdy tasters, fights and drunken shenanigans at previous festivals. I worried about my experience that night.

But left and right, I ran into congenial folks. Many had traveled from the upstate and coast and were eager to talk about their favorite brews. I was happy to be one guy’s “beer mate” for the length of River Dog line, where we talked about how much Greenville has changed over the years. Later, I ran into a volunteer I had had lunch with that afternoon, giving us a better chance to talk about Columbia breweries and what’s to come.

While upstairs, I spoke to the women at the Girl’s Pint Out table and were pleased to hear there is a Greenville chapter. I also chatted with the folks at the up-and-coming Columbia brewery, River Rat, letting them know I’ve been eagerly watching their Facebook page for an opening date. As luck would have it, Brew Master Mark Walters called me on Sunday to say I’d won their raffle for the VIP opening event! He’s projecting a March date, and I look forward to attending this big party and meeting him (and blogging about it, of course).

I highly recommend attending the first session of this festival. Given the quantity of options and presence of actual reps at most booths during that session, it’s easy to get your money’s worth in good beer and brew knowledge.

A First Taste of Brewery 85

Tonight marked Brewery 85‘s retail launch, the first time their beers were available for purchase. I popped into Community Tap just after the 5:30 p.m. start time and found an enthusiastic crowd already imbibing!
Community Tap crowdThe chalkboard above the taps announced pour #1: Brewery 85’s Southern Style Pale Ale and pour #2: Brewery 85’s Quittin’ Time Bock.  I squeezed my way to the counter and asked for a sample of the pale ale.

This first brew poured a darker, amber color. The flavor was bitter, though on the milder side, and I almost asked for a whole glass before trying the next one. In the end, though, the honey-colored, wheaty bock won out as my glass of the night—and at 8.5% ABV, it made for a good single drink.

Will McCamaron I also got a chance to catch up with Will McCameron, who I haven’t seen since I won the Brewery 85 Scavenger Hunt last fall. Naturally, I can think of a lot of smart questions now rather than when I’m standing by him, but c’est la vie. He told me to expect these two beers plus a brown on opening date. I was intrigued to hear him say he’s not completely satisfied with these first beers, but it’s the kind of dissatisfaction you welcome from a perfectionist and beer nerd who is always hunting for something to improve his beer.

One drink down, I headed to Roost for DJ Trivia night. My first visit to Roost was a success: the trivia was fun, the food was good and the beer list had a lot of great craft brews to offer. I tried the Chocolate Rye Porter, from River Dog Brewing Company in Ridgeland, SC, but ended up ordering Lazy Magnolia’s Jefferson Stout after “sweet potato” caught my eye. This sweet potato flavor was mild, with coffee and chocolate flavors taking the lead.

Roost Beef MenuAlthough my team’s score plummeted by the game’s end, the drinks made up for some of the upset. I wrapped up the night with the rich, dark Milk Stout from Left Hand Brewing Company.

All in all, this night was a rousing success for beer. I’m eager to try more Brewery 85 offerings and peruse Roost’s menu again.

Review: Highland Brewing Company’s Cold Mountain Winter Ale

Highland Brewing Company‘s Gaelic Ale was one of my first loves. I’ve had many brilliant conversations over their popular American Ale, and I carry a Highland bottle opener on my key chain that I picked up at my first beer festival.

This past November, I visited Asheville with two of my aunts and an uncle. We arrived in town just before the Christmas parade, and barred by the eager crowd, we took seats inside TallGary’s Cantina. My uncle ordered me the seasonal on tap—Cold Mountain—and we marveled at the well-balanced beer from our warm window seats.
I had no idea at the time that I was sipping a seasonal that folks go crazy for every year. It wasn’t until this beer hit the shelves in Greenville a few weeks later that I realized Highland was the creator. I gifted a few bottles this season, and still have one hanging out in my fridge.

Cold Mountain tied with another winter warmer-style beer, Anderson Valley’s Winter Solstice, as my favorite this season. I love the malty body and the spiced flavor that isn’t too over the top. Highland tweaks the spices a little every year, so I look forward to trying next year’s and seeing how they differ.

Beer Events This Week – Jan 13-19

Mark these dates in your calendar:

Jan 16Brewery 85 pre-opening tasting at Community Tap, 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Jan 18World Beer Festival at the Columbia Convention Center
I will be volunteering at Session 1 (noon-4 p.m.) and drinking at Session 2 (6-10 p.m.)

Jan 19Biggest Little Beer Festival at Barley’s in Greenville, 2-6 p.m.
Learn more at the Barley’s website and the Greenville News.

If you know of any other big events in the area, please share!

Review: Jester King Brewery’s Noble King

While my sriracha-honey-lime wings sizzled in the oven, I opened one of my favorite Christmas gifts: a beer!
Satyr Bottle Cap

Made by Jester King, a USDA certified organic brewery in Austin, TX, Noble King is described as a “hoppy farmhouse ale.” I enjoyed the vivid bottle art and text, although the satyr mascot on the bottle cap bordered on creepy. Can’t you imagine his maniacal laugh?

If you’re unfamiliar with the farmhouse ale style, here’s a hand dandy article that gives a little history and highlights this brewery.

As you can see in the below photo, this unfiltered beer poured a vivid honey-orange color. Though the description had me expecting a wheaty, bitter beer, the predominate flavor was actually sour. Still, the yeast-driven quality of the farmhouse ales makes the sourness manageable; and unlike most other sours I’ve had, this beer isn’t extremely fruity or sweet. It’s also on the fizzier side, making for intriguing mouthfeel.  Noble King

World Beer Festival in Columbia – Jan 18

Let the countdown begin to the Sixth Annual World Beer Festival in Columbia, SC, on January 18!

World Beer Festival Columbia Logo

The list features a lot of South Carolina brewers:

  • Thomas Creek Brewery
  • RJ Rockers
  • Conquest Brewing Company
  • Hunter-Gatherer Brewery
  • Coast Brewing Company
  • Holy City Brewing
  • Palmetto Brewing
  • Westbrook Brewing
  • New South Brewing
  • River Dog Brewing Company
  • Windy Hill Orchard

I’m excited to sample some old favorites, such as Allagash Brewing Company, as well as some new ones. Authentic Belgian Trappist beer from Orval, anyone?

I’ll be volunteering during Session One. If you’d like to learn more about volunteering, fill out this form.

Photo credit: World of Beer Festival website