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.

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