Schonen Dank!, Charleston Beer Garden
by Chris West
This past weekend, Charleston Beer aficionados and brew novices alike converged on the banks of the Ashley for the inaugural Charleston Beer Garden—a celebration of all things beer, good food and community. Despite the soaring temperature; the day reinforced the fact that Charleston, simply put, loves a good festival.
There is something naturally attractive about an event that allows social drinking outdoors. At least for me, there is. So when given the opportunity to cover the first-ever pop-up beer garden in Charleston, it solidified faith that my editors know what type of writer they hired.
Arriving shortly after the gates opened, there were already droves of people at the event. Once inside, the initial goals were shade and a good food base before any imbibing would take place. After a short walk around to get our bearings, we found a small tract of shade under a few of the sparse trees at Brittlebank Park. With food in our bellies, you couldn’t help but notice that all (not most; but all) of the lines were roughly 20 heads long. It was decided immediately that the sampling passports were going to be relatively useless. Instead, we opted for the growler fill trucks, bought 64 oz. of delicious Founders Centennial IPA and retreated back to the slight reprieve that was the shade.
The beer booths were placed throughout the grounds while the food truck rodeo parked along the periphery. The stage was placed with a ground view of the river as backdrop and the garden communal tables were nestled under the largest grove of trees in the park. The VIP section (complete with full sit-down bar, draft beers and TVs) was just adjacent to the music stage and offered the most amount of shade under the largest tent at the event. Tastings of Sweetwater beers pilsner and porter were offered to those who opted to upgrade to the VIP package while draughts were available for purchase at the main bar.
The tasting booths lines got longer and longer as the day went on and again we left our tasting passports in our pockets, instead opting to purchase full pints from the myriad of vendors as the likes of Megan Jean and the KFB and Shovels and Rope supplied the background music. Attendees tucked away at the West side of the park with pretzel necklaces supplied by Earthfare, while wafts of grilling meat from the Sesame Burgers booth made its way through the air.
The highlights of the day included: the short rib burger with pimento cheese, hoisin and kimchi
from Roti Rolls was our foundation and probably our saving grace. The most refreshing beer of the day award has to go to crowd favorite, Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy. This wheat beer brewed with natural lemonade flavor is in the style of a German radler and seems to be the most talked about beer of the day (given the heat, no doubt). Personally, my vote goes to Magic Hat #9, a “not quite pale ale” spiked with natural apricot flavor. I typically like my beer and fruit mutually exclusive but given
the summertime feel of the day, this beer at its coldest was my quaff of choice. For “desert” I finally got to try the “Holy City Porter Popsicle” from local food cart, King of Pops. The dark, local brew was mixed with sugar and blast frozen into popsicle form. It had a rich chocolate flavor supplied by the beer and was sugary and satisfying (by that I mean “cooling”) and supplied the only ice cream headache I didn’t complain about. Finally, in saving the best for last, had to be seeing Founders Brewing back on the Charleston beer scene. At their particular booth, they were offering their flagship Centennial IPA and Dirty Bastard Scotch style ale. The Centennial is ripe with hop bitterness while the Bastard is its malty foil. Founders has had a long, and at times difficult, relationship with the South Carolina beer market. It was here and then not only to return in small quantities. Now, pairing with Henry J. Lee Distributing, they have found their way back into Charleston and have brought their full line with them. For a budding town within the world of craft beers, Charleston is fortunate to have one of the grandfather craft breweries still bringing their offerings to town. Welcome back, Founders… we’ve missed you.
While I acknowledge that this is the first year of the event, I cannot end this piece without a few wishes I would like to see transpire before this rolls around next year. While Lee brought some heavy hitter breweries along for this event, I would like to see their competitor distributors represented as well. Advintage and Pearlstine have good, if not great, craft beer portfolios and I would have liked to see a few of their booths in attendance. Second, I would like to see the festival grow in the number of represented breweries. The 10 that were on-hand were an ample start for the first year. However, adding more booths and breweries would have allayed some of the long lines that marked the event all day and dispersed the crowds with more offerings. Finally, instead of satellite booths set up around the ground, perhaps it would behoove the event to employ several tables under one large tent for purveyors to pour their offerings. This would serve to keep the beer colder, the drinkers cooler and create one central sampling area where breweries would be a little easier to find.
That being said, I love to see metropolitan type events like this spring up in sleepy little Charleston. I also love the fact that locally, we have seen a population of beer drinkers emerge that embrace the “full-steam-ahead” ethos of craft and quality beers in the community. And by showing that aforementioned interest in craft, I love to see the support given to the local beer pioneers that are foraying into uncharted waters within local brewing. They are the ones we need to get behind and support. Just remember, whether you drink it because it’s available, cook with it because it makes a damn good popsicle or consume it because you love it; local, local, local is always the way to go.