An Eventful October

Free this weekend? Or not free until next? No worries: There’s something to entertain your beer-loving spirit all month long.

NOMA Square, Oct 1-3
The second annual Oktoberfest brings beer, live music and German food to NOMA Square in front of the Hyatt. Keep in mind, this is a cash-only event.

Greer State Bank Greer Station Oktoberfest, Oct 4
A combination of local love and German celebration, Greer’s event features both artist exhibits in the midst German food, beer and music. Sip a beer from Warsteiner or Thomas Creek and join the festivities in downtown Greer.

Quest, Oct 11, noon-8 p.m.
Pair a new German beer with the Mechanical Owl food truck’s German food at Quest. Three bands will also be playing throughout the day, so you can easily pop in at your convenience.

Brewery 85, Oct 18, noon-5 p.m.
If you missed Leon’s Lederhosen Oktoberfest beer during it’s preview period, then you’ll get your first taste at this grand party. Expect a full range of beers, German eats, music and brewers in lederhosen.

Swamp Rabbit’s “Boo”ery Monster Mash, Oct 31
Who says Halloween is a kid’s holiday? Don a costume, sip a beer, and savor Good to Go food truck while you dance the night away to a DJ.

Thomas Creek’s Brewery Bash, Nov 1, 1-8 p.m.
Start preparing your costume now for Thomas Creek’s Halloween celebration. For $20, you’ll enjoy three pints, all-you-can-eat BBQ and beer brats, and music.

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Saturday Beer Events x2

You have no excuse to be bored this weekend, thanks to a double dose of beer events:

Septembrew
What’s better than spending a Saturday drinking at your favorite Upstate brewery? Drinking at ALL of them! Swamp Rabbit Brewery in TR is hosting the first annual SC Upstate Septembrew festival to bring together Brewery 85, Thomas Creek, Quest, Blue Ridge and RJ Rockers, along with live music and food truck goodness. Grab your ticket now!

Swamp Rabbit Brewery Septembrew

Euphoria
This popular annual event may often be summarized as a food & wine experience, but they also have a beer garden. Get a ticket for Saturday’s big Tasting Showcase to pair local and regional beers with fabulous foods. Saturday night also brings Traffic Jam, a food truck rodeo with plenty of beer and booze for all. I’ll be at this sold-out event in Brewery 85 shirt, so come say hi!

euphoria

Craving some craft but not ready to commit to an event? Then stop into a tasting room for a few pints and a tour. I’ll be pouring beer at Brewery 85 from noon-4, so come try the new Leon’s Lederhosen marzen (in short supply!) and Doubtfire ESB.

Charleston Beer Week 2014

I’m not a big fan of the beach. I don’t crave the feeling of warm sand between my toes. But a cold beer in hand? I’ll take one of those in any locale.

I ventured down last Wednesday to partake in the tail end of Charleston Beer Week, seven days of booze documentaries, tap takeovers and coastal brew love. The last-minute efforts of the CHS Beer Week planners (THANK YOU, MIKE!) netted me a ticket to Cinnebarre for the CRAFT and Cultured Craft Beer documentaries.

Cinnebarre, CRAFT, Cultured Craft Beer

Image from CHS Beer Week Event

I settled in with Sweetwater’s Take Two Pils and high expectations for CRAFT, but this “behind-the-scenes look at [craft beer’s] trailblazers” left me hanging: it felt like a meagerly elevated “craft beer for dummies” string of shorts providing overviews of beer history, brewing and trends. Only a handful of brewers (fewer than a dozen?) were interviewed, all of which were from the US except for two Canadians and only one of which was a woman. This “beertastic voyage” lacked an overall focus, and just as each segment began to provide depth, the screen faded and a new topic began.

Tony Tassarotti’s Cultured Craft Beer, on the other hand, successfully captured the talent and culture of Charleston beer in less than 30 minutes. The documentary had an overarching focus that brought together numerous interviews of brewmasters and bottle shop owners, a bit of beer history, brew law and an eye on the future. I welled up with South Carolina beer pride and “shout from the rooftops” enthusiasm I get for something I really believe in.

~Thursday~
After a restful night at the quiet Notso Hostel, I entertained myself with a drive around Mount Pleasant, lunch at Butcher & Bee, and a tour and tasting at High Wire Distilling. Distiller Nick Dowling was inviting and entertaining as he led a tasting and tour (only $5) for a Connecticut couple and me. It was exciting to compare distilling and brewing; did you know that the now one-year-old distillery has barrels from Full Steam Brewery? I’m delighted to have a new bottle of Woodford Reserve barrel-aged rum on my liquor shelf, and I’ll be picking up a bottle of the citrus-forward gin next time or the new bourbon that launches next month.

With all of the CHS Beer Week events occurring at night, I was thankful Palmetto Brewery opened at 3 p.m. Beyond the large outdoor space and expansive murals, the brewery’s one-month-old tasting room boasted a gorgeous interior with cedar walls, a refurbished-wood bar (made from cattle cars!) and a glass “window” peaking into the neighboring coffee roaster. Yes, the smell of fresh beer and coffee was as intoxicating as you’re imagining, and the nitro Espresso Porter was my favorite of the beers I tried.

Barb Falkenstein kept my glass full (try the AM Wood!) and my questions satisfied during my tour and tasting, and introduced me to Chris Winn, resident Brewery 85 fan and Beer Evangelist (best job title ever!). He treated me to the tale of Hootie’s Homegrown Ale went from an idea in Tampa to a collaboration between Cigar City and Palmetto. Chris also gave me the best suggestion of the trip when he pointed out that two of the night’s CHS Beer Week events were within walking distance of each other. Plans changed for the better.

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I swapped the cool, calm tasting room for the loud, cramped enthusiastic crowd of barrel-aged beer lovers at Closed For Business. Craft beer fans shouldn’t miss this restaurant and bar, which always boast an impressive but not overwhelming tap list.

IMG_1352A generous stranger bought me a Founders KBS (amazingcan’t believe I waited this long to try it), and it was then that I spotted a familiar face from home: the illustrious Todd Hamrick of Anderson Valley Brewing Company, along with Stone’s Jason Selby and Coronado’s Johnny O. Each represented fantastic brews: Pinchy Jeek in Wild Turkey barrels, Reason Be Damned Belgian Abbey Ale in red wine barrels (the best red wine barrel-aged beer I’ve had) and Stupid Stout (creamy, bourbony, yum), respectively. Conversation ensued as beers swapped hands, and I look forward to seeing those lovely chaps at this fall’s big Greenville beer events.

With Kudu and casks on my mind, I suspended my barrel-aged love momentarily and headed for dinner and more beer. Music and laughter wafted around the corner from Vanderhorst, where I found a Christmas-light-strung garden filled with eager beer drinkers. This event featured Kudu’s excellent craft beer line-up in addition to four local casks, and I started with Coast’s previously unreleased September Saison cask. I sat at table to take notes and watch as a variety of brewers gathered by the entrance.

Halfway through my glass, the stars aligned as Coast’s Jaime Tenny walked up and introduced herself. I was ecstatic and this official meeting played out exactly like I’d dreamed:

I dorked out. I stuttered. I try to be laid back and professional at all hours, but I literally forgot all words besides “cool,” “awesome” and “derp.” I can only hope she read between the lines and saw “your beers and business savvy and legislative work and brew culture-building make you the coolest person ever” in my starstruck gaze.

We did eventually get around to a wee update on Coast: the tasting room work will resume by the year’s end, and a DHEC-approved kitchen is in the brewery’s new future (thank you, Stone Bill). In her wise words, Coast has been waiting seven years for these opportunities, and they can be patient for change.

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As the crowd dwindled, I visited the casks for a senses-awakening sip of Palmetto’s 5-hole Smoked Stout conditioned with cinnamon and five ghost peppers (OUCH) and a soothing Pluff Mud Porter with blueberries and coffee from Holy City. I also had the pleasure of chatting with two familiar faces: Palmetto’s God-ordained owner, Austen, and Collin (the guy who runs the show, though they don’t know it). They talked about the daily happenings at the brewery, including the schemes of janitor Chris Winn and John Planty, the GM and Director of Janitorial Services, and shared some Charleston beer insights. Though Austen will probably be mute next time you see him because he drank a whole pint of the ghost pepper beer, both hilarious chaps are worth popping into Palmetto for a visit.*

~Friday~
The leisurely theme continued with a morning exploring the Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island, where I stopped for my favorite food of the trip: lunch at The Obstinate Daughter (which has local craft beer on tap!) and gelato from Beardcat’s Sweet Shop.

IMG_1386A love of arts and culture as much as beer, I spent a wandered the unique collection of the Charleston Museum. Did you know it’s the United States’ oldest museum? I was fascinated by the collection’s history: the important natural history and Egyptian artifacts gathered in the late 18th century are housed a few rooms from a gargantuan Civil War time and extensive Low Country collections. The museum even has a small portion devoted to Prohibition and features a piece of Palmetto Brewery’s history.

The drive to Columbia loomed over me. After stopping briefly at Total Wine for a River Rat Brewery tasting, it was time to follow up on a promise to Joey Siconolfi to visit Frothy Beard Brewing Company in North Charleston. Joey was one of the many Brewery 85 fans who spied my shirt at Kudu and sang praises of Will McCameron’s brews.

The small, hot brewing space was filled with the hum of rain and the clink of taster glasses when I stepped inside. The friendly Charlotte couple before me invited me to their table, where we talked about beer and the delicious selection of beers from the nanobrewery’s 1.5-barrel system. I’m amazed that this tiny system churned out the well-balanced Hoppy Baby, the chocolately and malty goodness of the Maltese Falcon Brown, the uber-refreshing and not too sweet Watermelon Wheat and the marvelous Bearded Brut (made with champagne yeast).

Though I would have liked more daytime events to balance my itinerary, Charleston Beer Week still proved an excellent opportunity to visit the cost and explore the historic city’s impressive beer culture.

*I distinctly remember a promise of free beer for life if I published this humorous paragraph. You two remember too, right?  =)  You’re always welcome in Greenville if you get sacked!

The Rat is Growing!

What’s a visit to Columbia without a stop at River Rat? I headed to town two weekends ago specifically for the release of the Lost Port Vanilla PorterMother’s Day weekend festivities, and was happy to spend an afternoon with the beers and brewers I adore.

20140518-191720-69440073.jpgAfter a successful launch just two months ago, River Rat Brewery has wasted no time expanding across South Carolina. Their beers have been on tap at Growler Station, Community Tap and Greenville Hop House, and I’ve had a few growlers of the Broad River Red Ale at home. Coincidentally, River Rat entered the Charleston market this past weekend while I was visiting; it was exciting to hear commercials about their beer while I was driving through the Holy City.

The latest release, the Lost Port Vanilla Porter, boasts smooth drinking with a little smokiness, a little bitterness and a lot of rich vanilla that deliciously lingers. The dark brown color and milky head give way to an unexpectedly light-feeling beer. Oh, what I’d do to have taken home a whole keg of this one!

The beer offerings aren’t the only things to change around the brewery. A gravel parking lot 20140518-191719-69439208.jpghas transformed into a grassy escape, with picnic tables, a vast deck and room for a band. I ate lunch with brewmaster Drew–I’d had the luck of running into 2 Fat 2 Fly food truck and getting some mac-and-cheese-stuffed wings–who filled me in on the latest happenings and gave me a tour of the facilities. The biggest difference is that brewer Mark left and has been replaced with Tyler Pawelkop, a seasoned beer rep. Oddly enough, Tyler recalled our meeting back at the Community Tap Beer Festival, when he was working for Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery.

Another big difference inside: barrels. A lot of them. I was giddy to see the collection of Woodford Reserve and Jack Daniels barrels in the brew space, patiently waiting to be filled with a River Rat creation. Barrel-aged stouts are one of my favorite beers, yet River Rat doesn’t currently offer a stout. Maybe they have a new beer brewing they haven’t mentioned? Or perhaps a staple such as the Hazelnut Brown or the Moncks Corner Abbey Ale will find a new home? The barrels were filled this past Tuesday, so hopefully we’ll find out soon!

Growlers of Lost Port Vanilla Porter and Hazelnut Brown Ale alongside the Double IPA

Growlers of Lost Port Vanilla Porter and Hazelnut Brown Ale alongside the Double IPA

While the beer is spectacular, half the fun of going to River Rat is the people: Mike wasted no time playfully scoffing at my Brewery 85 shirt, Logan and Tyler entertained at the bar, and Drew indulged my questions for more than an hour.

If any Greenvillians want to hop down to Columbia for a day at River Rat and Conquest (and Swamp Cabbage, perhaps by summer’s end), let me know!

 

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Goodbye, American Craft Beer Week

How did you celebrate this epic week?

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I chose Quest for my first event, where I put in my vote for the Brewers vs Bartenders competition. The respective groups brewed their own beersan oak-aged Scotch Ale and a Black IPA. Did you try them? Which one did you prefer?

20140513-195438.jpgI also stuck around for the latest cask: an Imperial Stout with Granny Smith apples and bacon.

This was a big week for Quest, which launched a new app on Google Play to help you keep up with the brewery and also released the Ponce cucumber-jalapeno session ale. I wrapped up my ACBW with another visit to Quest, where I chose an Ellida hop-experiment rather than the new Ponce. I’ll be sure to post about it when I finally get to try it.

With a mid-week Fitz and the Tantrums concert down in Charleston, my local adventures were limited. I returned on Saturday to attend Brewery 85’s Wheatfest, the official release of the 864 Weizen. There is not question that Will McCameron and the Brewery 85 staff knows how to party. The lovely Darby Wilcox lilted for drinkers, while Bavarian Pretzel Factory kept everyone fueled for another round. This classic hefeweizen offers a gorgeous golden color and a nice effervescence, something drinkers will be craving on the brewery’s expansive patio this summer.

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Southern Pale Ale at Poe’s Tavern, Sullivan’s Island

Speaking of great beer and summer, I’m planning to visit in the coming weeks since Westbrook should be releasing Mexican Cake! If anyone hears an exact date, do share. Though my trip this week was brewery-free, I did at least get to sip something new: Freehouse Brewery‘s London 2014 India Porter, which paired well with my Tattooed Moose dinner, and Natty Greene‘s Southern Pale Ale. What a tasty showcase of Cascade hops! This Greensboro, NC-based brewer just began releasing in South Carolina earlier this year, so I’ll be looking for more in the Greenville area.

 

Swamp Rabbit Brewery Grand Opening

Stop by the bank for a bit of cash Saturday morning before you head to Swamp Rabbit’s Grand Opening Party! Pay the $5 cover charge and from noon-8 p.m., you can drink Swamp Rabbit’s tasty beers from the cash bar and eat amazing food from Huntin’ Camp BBQ and Ellada Kouzina (I highly recommend the gyro sandwich). The Bad Popes’ Jef Chandler and Charlest Hedgepath will be entertaining the crowd with live music, along with David Earl & The Plowshares.

River Rat Brewery in Columbia

Meet the River Rats in their natural habitat:

River Rat Brewery

(left to right) Founder Mike Tourville, Head Brewer Drew Walker, Brewmaster Mark Walters

After getting lost in the wilds of North Carolina post-moving party for a friend, I arrived an hour late in Columbia to the River Rat Brewery shindig that I won tickets to at World Beer Fest. I stepped into a naturally lit taproom and was greeted by the aroma of barbecue and only a handful of people. The chatter of a crowd hummed somewhere nearby, but I couldn’t figure out where to head next. I soon met Claire, who works as some of the business brains behind the operations and immediately introduced me to Mark as a VIP. Fancy shmancy.

River Rat Brewery TaproomMark gave me a hard time for arriving late and then quickly sated my guilt with my first beer of the night: The Hazelnut Brown Ale. Rich in color and nutty flavor, this brew accompanied me through Drew’s extensive tour of the facility. Some fun facts about River Rat:

  • River Rat works with European malts and hops. In an age of local-ness, the brewery is committed first and foremost to quality and also prizes the history behind the product. Which would you rather have: a product with a few decades or a few centuries of experience behind it?
  • Mark hails from New Orleans, where he worked more than 20 years as head brewer at Abita, as well as consulted in opening breweries and brewpubs.
  • The Winter Premiere Ale, a spiced beer with ginger, cloves and orange zest, was the system’s inaugural beer and will return next year.
  • I lost a pen and got a new one with Drew’s DNA. In retrospect, I should’ve requested a beard sample to see if I can harvest a yeast strain from brewing.
  • No matter how many signs you put up specifying that a bathroom is for women, a male VIP member will still waltz right in to change into his new brewery shirt. Mark had a woman open the door and yell at the guy, who responded with obliviousness for why SHE was in the men’s bathroom. I wish I had a photo of the moment he finally recognized he’d stepped into the women’s bathroom!

River Rat Brewery TanksI spent much of my visit talking about favorite beers with my fellow VIPs, a couple who won tickets during the first session of World Beer Festival. We were treated to a taste of the Monck’s Corner Abbey Ale straight out of tanks, which will be ready for regular consumption later this month. This Belgian brew with noble hops and the familiar flavors of dates and cloves seemed to change flavor as soon as Drew mentioned “bubblegum.” It’s sounds strange to see I tasted that in a beer, but it’s a mouth experience I’ve had before and couldn’t quite nail.

Claire and I left the din of restaurant and store owners sipping beer—the real guests of honor at this party—for the quiet and good food of the taproom. I had a glass of the Broad River Red Ale, my personal favorite of the evening, and also tried the Double IPA, a favorite of Claire and Mike. A reasonably hoppy beer, this English-style brew began as one of Mike’s homebrewing recipes. Mark then took those details and worked out a recipe for large-scale production.

River Rat Brewery KegAnd speaking of increasing size, River Rats is already expanding! The demand for the beer is so great pre-opening that the brewery has already ordered additional tanks. Claire showed me the gigantic cooler, which is home to small stack of filled kegs, but there is no doubt it will be bursting with beer in a few months. I can only begin to imagine how popular their beers and how busy their taproom will be when USC’s football season begins (the brewery is located by Williams-Brice Stadium).

At the official opening on March 10th, visitors can expect to see a live music on the gigantic, outdoor deck, where smoking and dogs are also welcome. All five brews should be available for pints and growlers. In the near future, the deck will be accompanied by a beer garden and even a “drive-thru” window, where one can easily pop by for a growler. How cool is that?

Between the lively chat with Claire and the entertainment of the brewers, I was shocked when 5 p.m. rolled around the event came to a close. This was the first experience I’ve had in an exceedingly long time that has left my nostalgic for my home town and wishing I lived closer (it’s only a tiny tug, though–there’s no way I’m really moving back to the Famously Hot armpit of SC).

For the time being, I will patiently await their beers at Community Tap’s festival on April 5th!

A huge, huge thanks goes to everyone at River Rat Brewery for the raffle tickets, the free shirt and glass and sticker, and the patience to let me trail their every move and ask too many questions.

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You can learn more about the brewery, the beers and where they’re available in Columbia in this great Free Times article. Be sure to follow River Rat Brewery on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for the latest news.

Quest’s Señor Kaldi Challenge

Quest Brewing Company held a one-night only event to try four pepper-infused, barrel-aged versions of their Kaldi Imperial Coffee Stout, my favorite Quest brew.

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The cast of taste-bud tormentors, from mildest on the left to hottest on the right:
1. Poblano (are there really peppers in this?)
2. Habanero (seriously, they called this a challenge?)
3. Aji Dulce (I’M SO SORRY I DOUBTED YOU)
4. Cask Chipotle (does my insurance cover uvula replacement?)

The first two tasted very similar and had next-to-no heat; I felt like the “medium” level was skipped. While it was fun to try these peppered brews, you won’t find me ordering them by the pint.

I immediately ordered the Nitro Milk Stout, which slowly quenched the burn, and watched my imbibing neighbors turn the taproom into a dance floor.

When the music died, I snagged owner and brewmaster Don Richardson and asked him about his new Milk Stout. Made with roasted barley and chocolate, this super creamy stout’s smooth body is thanks to the combination of lactose and nitro. The beer had a gorgeous color and thick head, yet the flavor was light, sweet and slightly earthy. And this brew weighs in at 5%, putting it on the lower end for milk stouts. If you have a friend who refuses dark beers because she expects it to be heavy or bitter, then order a taste of this one and make her a stout convert.

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Nitro Milk Stout: sweet salvation