Monday, August 18, 2014

Brews Cruise in Charleston

As many of us know, Charleston is all about alcohol. We love to drink, and good beer is just one of our favorite indulgences. Fortuitously, there is the Brews Cruise that is run by a Virginia beer loving transplant, Brent Horner. Brent comes to us after having worked with a friend who runs a similar business elsewhere and has brought a wealth of knowledge about the craftmanship of beer making to our little town nestled on the sea. Running the charter bus at least 6 days a week, he's gained an in-depth appreciation of the local flavors and culture behind the independent distilleries in the Charleston area.

Settling in for the tour on Friday, we were joined by a group of gorgeous young women who were in town for a weekend bachelorette party. They climbed into the bus and giggled as they settled into their comfortable leather seats. Without a doubt, we knew immediately that this was going to be a good time. Brent let out a little snicker as he revved the engine before heading off to our first stop of the day. Chatting nonchalantly, he gave us a brief overview of the city, what the day anticipated, and let us know there was a provided cooler for beer purchases from the distilleries.

The first place we landed on this venture was Palmetto Brewery. As you walk into the brewery, the first thing you'll notice is the high bar surrounded by painted palm fronds, and a full-service tap with approximately 10 types of draught beers to sample. Brent brings our first round of Charleston Lager as we sat around a light wooden table. The hefty pour provided us a fresh start to our languid tasting, and the crisp flavor of the lager slid down nicely as we listened to Brent describe the background of Palmetto's.

Palmetto's is the oldest brewery in SC, starting in the mid-1800's until shutting down during Prohibition in 1913. It was only reopened in 1963. Ed Faulkenstein, owner and designer of the distillery, is an electrical and chemical engineer who took a fancy to making good beer reorganized the brewery to become the huge success that it is today. Under his direction, Palmetto has now produces over 7,000 barrels a year and is distributed statewide.

As we listened to Brent's dialogue, we continued sampling Hootie's Blonde, Amber Ale, an American Pale Ale and Espresso Porter. The Blonde, served locally at Hootie's recent concert, had a nice malty flavor with a fragrant aroma. Taking slow sips and letting the beer sit on the tongue, you could taste its ever-so-slight fruity flavor with a tight clean finish. The Amber Ale, one of the brewery's most popular brands, landed with a caramelly edge to the back of the throat. Smooth and simple, it led nicely to the Espresso Porter, which unexpectedly, resembled a light but sweet coffee on ice - but with an edge. Not too syrupy or heavy, the porter could easily be served with brunch on a Sunday afternoon. Interestingly, the coffee beans are provided by Charleston Coffee Roasters who are located just next door to Palmetto's.

As we readied to leave, we looked around at the artwork displayed throughout the bar area. Gil Shuler, a local graphic artist well known in the community for his work with Awendaw Green, designed many of the palm fronds and logos for differing Palmetto beers. Bright colors and intricately detailed fronds display fun tiki references while drawing your interest to what's served beneath them. Stylish and creative, you leave with a sense of playfulness after partaking of their particular style, both liquidly and in design.

We piled back on the bus and headed next to the Freehouse Brewery, located right off the Ashley River. Having only been open since December 2013, the crafted beverages have a limited supply. Bottling has just begun, with a small distribution going to places like Earth Fare or Total Wine. As we approach the small distillery, we notice it's quaint filtering system making up a large portion of the simple and understated building. The first sample we are offered is Folly's Pride, an ale made with grapefruit zest. The ale is from their summer session and glides easily down the pipes. The grapefruit has a nice back to it yet isn't overpowering.

Brent informs us of the history of Freehouse, explaining, "The name takes after old British pubs that were not owned by breweries. They were able to sell any type of beer, whereas other pubs that were owned by breweries were limited in their distribution to only the beer that was sold by the brewery." Freehouse, as the name suggests, proudly creates beer that reflects this freedom and standard. Scott Koon, the head brewer and former head brewer of Westbrook, helped to develop their organic approach. All materials used are US grown or made, including all of the tanks, hops, sugars and malts. At this time, Freehouse is the only organic distillery in Charleston.

The girls who we were touring with were enjoying their spirits while chatting on the veranda. We were able to capture a picture of the group with our chosen leader with the Ashley River as a backdrop. The owner of Freehouse tells us he's lucky to have found such a nice area to settle the brewery. The patio offers a peaceful solitude for one to meditate and consider the next season's options!

Brent gathers us together to try Grapefruit Juice Ashley, of which we taste while letting the breeze from the river kiss our warm cheeks. This brew, stronger than the last, is blended with the whole of the grapefruit instead of just the zest, and it's a bit more pungent. For myself, this proved to be a bit of a challenge. The acidic aftertaste was overwhelming. However, most everyone else seemed to enjoy it and guzzled their glasses quickly. Skipping on to the next, we tried the Green Door IPA. The hoppy nature of the IPA was exactly what I was looking for, and I happily endeavored to complete the tasting.

Again, as we finished our tour of the brewery, we took note of the brands' artwork. Crosby Jack, an art teacher and mural designer, joined with Shawn Terpak to create the brewery's first design for the initial bottling of Ashley Farmhouse Saison. The label is a linocut design showing the Ashley River from an aerial view with the organic vibe from the Freehouse code of ethics bearing proudly across the frame. The label exudes precisely what the brewers hold dear - the freedom of beer creation, the Ashley River, and old world sustainability that makes their beer so special.

We are then jettied off to the final location, Holy City Brewing, located off Dorchester Road. This place was rocking, and we all bounded happily in like puppies who found a toy into this open and popular haunt. Holy City is more than just a brewery. They are OSHA approved, licensed and ready to sell food as well. They have a large and welcoming area with plastic tables and chairs scattered around. Corn hole and other games sprinkled through the open dirt yard, and people flocked to the bar in thirsty droves. As the time was approaching 5pm, more people dropped by as their work days ended, and we were able to get a real feel for the bar's atmosphere.

At this point, we all were fending for ourselves, with some of us deciding to purchase food from the trucks. Tacos and other goodies were available, and Struggles was serving other goodies from the bar. Struggles, as can be seen from the picture, is named after one of the employee's dogs who was an inherently lazy little bugger. His laid back attitude garnered much attention, and even a veterinarian was called in to make sure he was OK. Seeing nothing wrong with the dog, the employees found it hard to name the little guy and finally settled with Struggles. As with the pup, the bar menu promises to be a little slow, but you can grab a burrito while grabbing a pint of their ecclectic crafts.

Looking around the exterior, we took notice of murals decorating the outer doors. Shawn Williams, a Beaufort artist popular for murals, designed a cityscape showing the edge of Charleston hugging the Ashley River. Hugging the doors leading into the brewery, you're taken aback by the exquisite craftmanship of intrigue and inspiration with another mural being colorfully displayed. Inside, you'll see Patch Whiskey's designs as a work of street art displayed by the bar.

While perusing the art, I decided to indulge in a jalapeno infused porter. The slight kick to the throat had a beautiful flavor, with the taste of the pepper developing as the frothy drink went down. Not too strong with just the right amount of heat, the beer was the best of the day so far for originality. The Hefeweizen, a light German style beer, had a strong banana flavor which was not indicative of ingredients in the slightest! No bananas were used to create the draught. However, the chemical process enhanced a banana and clove inspired delight. Their oatmeal stout was one of the richest, yet lightest, I have ever tasted. The sweet oaty flavor contained within the lushness of the rich brew was a nice finish for the day's tour.

Before we left, we decided to all have one last "shot" to celebrate one of the girl's upcoming nuptials, and Brent eagerly delivered 8 shots of a fresh pale ale for our consumption. Our CHEERS could be heard for blocks. Brent was an excellent host for the tour. We had a great time learning about each brewery, techniques used, local laws and other facts about the process. Each brewery was unique and offered tasty craft beer. By the time we were finished, we all felt a little more happy than before we started. Brent was prepared with snacks and water throughout the adventure, and it was a really cool way to view the city, even as locals, from another perspective.

No comments:

Post a Comment