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.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.*

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!