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Friday, December 21, 2012

Beers-giving 5: The Journey to Charleston, SC - Part I

For those of you who have followed The Pour Travelers for the past two years, then you most likely are aware of the fact that Brewslut and I take an annual beer holiday with our good friends Deuane and Carolyn. Over the last four years, we have enjoyed visits to Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, and Quebec. This year, we had planned to visit Charleston, SC. Unfortunately, our plans were altered when Deuane's father (who had been ill for some time) took a turn for the worse on the eve of the trip and they were unable to join us this year. With heavy hearts, Brewslut and I forged on as a lonely duo and, for the first time in five years, experienced Thanksgiving evening without our beloved travel companions.

Since we had planned to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with Carolyn's family, in light of the unfortunate events we decided to get an early start and head down to Fayetteville, NC, about two-thirds of the way between Annville, PA and Charleston, SC. Brewslut performed the bulk of the driving duties, with me taking over only an hour or so outside of Fayetteville.  We secured a hotel from trusty (we LIVE by this site when traveling, folks!  "Name-your-own-Price" is the proverbial shit)!  Once we arrived at the hotel, we imbibed in our first beer of the trip - Bud Light Lime-A-Rita!

I can't help myself... I like big cans!
OK...OK... yeah, I know!  Perhaps some back story is necessary at this juncture.

It had become our tradition on these annual trips to share a "shitty" beer, if only for the sole purpose of our own enjoyment. (See our previous blog about last year's trip to Quebec to familiarize yourself with this tradition and for a list of past beers.) This year, Brewslut and I raised a hotel glass of Bud Light Lime-A-Rita in honor of our absent traveling cohorts. Unfortunately, we had to share this giant can with only each other instead of the four of us. But you know what?  It actually wasn't that bad.  It tasted more like a margarita than an actual beer.  In that respect, this beer was FAR superior to the Bud Light Chelada beer we imbibed a few years prior.  So this year, we kicked off the trip with class!

Pleeps gettin' in on some Lime-A-Rita action!
After "enjoying" our can of Lime-A-Rita, we headed out to scout for some good local beer.  We settled upon Carolina Ale House, a local sports bar chain with a surprisingly decent tap selection.  Plus it was literally the only place open on Thanksgiving night.  They were having a Thanksgiving buffet that had seen better hours.  Brewslut said it looked like they were just about ready to take the slim pickings back to the kitchen for disposal.  She was correct in her assumption.  So, we settled on an Asian chicken salad with ginger sesame dressing, and I must say it was pretty damn delicious!  While it wasn't turkey, filling, sweet potatoes, baked corn, and pumpkin pie for dessert, it definitely hit the spot.  I washed down my salad with a Carolina Pale Ale from Carolina Brewing Company and followed it up with Freedom American IPA from Natty Greene's Brewing Company, the latter with which I was not familiar.  I must say it was nice to be able to keep notes on my new iPhone and check in my beers with Untappd rather than the "old school" chore of actual pen and paper.  Consider me now on-board and up-to-date with the latest technological trends.  After our final beers, we retired to our hotel for some much-needed rest.

Our Holiday Inn boasted a free hot breakfast buffet, so we took them up on the offer and filled up before our commute into Charleston.  After the three-and-a-half drive from Fayetteville to Charleston, our first order of business was to find somewhere to get a beer!  Much to my chagrin, we were greeted by downtown Charleston with a wall of traffic spanning about two miles. Our destination was South End Brewery and Smokehouse, located in the heart of downtown Charleston.  Brewslut started with an odd choice for her - Love Me Two Times Blonde.  Perhaps her affection for The Doors influenced her decision.  She followed up with more familiar territory with a pint of Pict's Stout, a dry Irish Stout with a low ABV.  As for myself, I imbibed in a pretty solid seasonal, aptly named Winter Wheat, and followed it up with the less than stellar Pinckney Pale Ale.  South End was a nice enough place, but it was your typical brewpub that caters more to tourists and casual beer drinkers.  While the Winter Wheat was above average, their tap selection ran the gamut of your typical pedestrian styles: a red, blonde, dry stout, wheat, pale, etc. We did share a plate of nachos, which were quite tasty, though.

Dig the Doors font on the "Love Me Two Times" tap handle!
Inside South End Brewery & Smoke House
After we left South End and were walking back to our car, Brewslut noticed a sign for Wet Willie's and recognized the name from an episode of Three Sheets (hosted by Zane Lamprey, whose mascot is none other than a little monkey named Pleepleus)!  So we stopped in to see what all the fuss was about. Wet Willie's boasts a variety of homemade frozen daiquiris and margaritas, including a few made with 190-proof grain alcohol!  Ooofa!  Since "the Dude abides," we settled on a frozen White Russian, which I must admit was pretty damn delicious.  But since we were on a mission for beer, we decided to share the frozen treat rather than each order one.  Still, with drink names like Attitude Improvement, Call a Cab, and Monkey Shine (Pleeps really wanted one of those - a banana daiquiri), it was hard to settle on just one.  

Inside the eclectic Closed For Business.

After our cool treat, we were off to Closed for Business, one of the places I was most excited about visiting.  Coincidentally, this eclectic beer establishment was featured in the then-current issue of Beer Advocate magazine, which bolstered my excitement for this trip.  During our visit, I had my first taste of Westbrook Brewery's fantastic Citra Rye Pale Ale.  I must admit that I hadn't heard of Westbrook prior to the trip until Deuane mentioned some of their beers to me merely days before we departed to Charleston.  Good thing he did, because pretty much everything I sampled from Westbrook was solid to superb.  But more on Westbrook later.  Brewslut opted for the special $4 pint, which happened to be Thunderstruk Chocolate Porter from nearby Asheville, NC's Highland Brewing Company.  We had visited Asheville with Deuane and Carolyn three years prior (pre-blog, unfortunately), but unfortunately we never made it to Highland's brewery.  With such a great, diverse tap selection, I typically never order the same beer twice in a row.  One that comes to mind was Shut the Hell up, a 3% ABV Simcoe hop bomb that I thoroughly enjoyed during our visit to The Alchemist back in the summer of 2011.  Well, I was really feeling the Citra Rye Pale Ale on this particular day, and decided to order another one! 

After enjoying our first of two visits to Closed For Business (more on the second visit later), we were off to Holy City Brewing Company, a place I'd not been familiar with prior to Deuane's recommendation.  We arrived to find the brewery was situated in an industrial park similar to many of the smaller breweries in San Diego.  The brewery itself had a very warehouse-esque atmosphere, and the brewery opened right up into the tasting room, where you could purchase sampler flights as well as take-out bombers.  We each got a sampler flight which included four beers: Pecan Dream, Pluff Mud Porter, Pilsner, and Oyster Stout.  My favorite of the lot was easily the Pecan Dream, although all of the beers were solid.  Brewslut quite liked the Oyster Stout.  In addition to the fine beer, there was also a cool little trio with acoustic guitar, bass and drums performing right inside the tasting room.  We met some folks wearing Pittsburgh Steelers and Yuengling attire who were coincidentally NOT from Pennsylvania.  Go figure!  Holy City is also dog-friendly, and it was cool to see a few dogs running around and having fun too.

Sixtel anyone?
I also introduced myself to Chris, the head brewer and co-owner, who was finishing up his shift.  Again, I hooked him up with some Tröegs, as well as Joel, another one of the co-owners, who was gracious enough to donate two bombers of the fantastic Pecan Dream to a worthy cause (i.e. ME)!  Brewslut bought a cool girl-cut shirt, and I purchased a growler of Pecan Dream.  We could have easily stayed here much longer, but our stomachs were calling and craved something other than liquid nourishment. 

Holy City's brewery opens right into its tasting room. Note the wet floor!

We ended our first day in Charleston at Mellow Mushroom, a small chain of "kind," "groovy" (or any hippie culture colloquialism you prefer) restaurants with an expansive beer selection.  We had eaten at Mellow Mushroom during our trip to Asheville with Deuane and Carolyn a few years ago, and we enjoyed it quite a bit.  We were quite famished after a long, hard day of drinking, so we ordered chicken salads and split a tasty Thai-style pizza.  However, I was disappointed that they had literally ZERO local South Carolina beers on tap during our visit.  For shame, indeed!  So we finished the day on a heavy note: New Holland's Dragon's Milk for me and North Coast's Old Rasputin for Brewslut - 10% and 9% ABV beers, respectively.  That'll teach them!

Pleeps needs a nap!
On the way back to the townhouse, we made a detour in order to swing by Piggly Wiggly, a southern grocery store chain and another recommendation from Deuane, to check out the beer selection.  We'd heard about the Piggly Wiggly (it was referenced in the movie Driving Miss Daisy), but we had no idea what was in store for us.  This particular Piggly Wiggly boasted 60 taps of different draft beers, including a lot of local and regional selections.  I picked up a few bombers of Foothill's People's Porter for the ridiculously low price of $3.49 each.  We also got a variety of growler fills, including Westbrook Covert Hops black IPA and Holy City Category 2 IPA.  I also grabbed the last bottle of Founders Frangelic Mountain Brown.  Score!

We capped off the day by watching Blades of Glory starring Will Ferrell and Jon Heder.

After breakfast the following day, we headed off to Coast Brewing Company, the only brewery in Charleston with which I was familiar prior to the trip.  I'd enjoyed their phenomenal Blackbeer'd Imperial Stout (as well as the Jack Daniel Barrel-aged version) at a stout tasting hosted by our friend Adam Korsak way back in 2009. Prior to that, I'd only ever tasted Coast's fine HopArt IPA, courtesy of Deuane, which I found to be quite tasty.

Note the "rules" at the bottom. NOTE: Rules are made to be broken!
This place was definitely my style, in that it pretty much had no particular style.  Coast's brewery set-up is a conglomeration of brewing equipment, pallets of bottles, wooden barrels, unusual decorations, and mismatched tables and chairs.  While some people may frown upon a brewery for not being particularly tidy, to me it proves that they focus on what's really important: the beer!  Now don't get me wrong, I revel in witnessing huge, impressive breweries with gleaming fermentation tanks, well-stacked wooden barrels, and a labyrinthine bottling lines.  I mean, come on... I work at one!  But there's just something about these little rag-tag breweries that appeals to me.  We always end up having the best conversation at places like this, and Coast was no exception.  A few minutes after we arrived, three guys on a birthday beer crawl crept into the brewery, and immediately we started talking about beer.  I was ecstatic to learn that the Angry Mash Oatmeal Stout was about to kick, and they would be replacing it with Old Nuptial Bourbon Barrel-aged Barleywine!  In light of this announcement, we voted unanimously to all stay until the stout kicked and the barleywine went on.  Needless to say, it was absolutely delicious; so delicious, in fact, that I got a growler to take home! 

Barrel-aged Blackbeer'd perchance?

After hanging out for a while and enjoying some beer chat with the three travelers, the brewer, and server, we perused the merchandise and picked out a cool brewery T-shirt depicting a pirate on the front and the Coast logo on the back.  I also shared some Tröegs love and hooked up the brewer with some Troegenator, Flying Mouflan, and Mad Elf.  Lucky for me, he reciprocated with a bomber of Rye Knot Brown Ale and a 2009 Jack Daniel barrel-aged Blackbeer'd!  Deuane was right... it pays to travel with gifts when you visit breweries!

Coast Brewing Company: an orderly mess!

Lots of eclectic goodies decorate Coast's brewery.
It's unlike me to end a blog during the middle of a day, but at this point, this is already pretty lengthy, so I made an executive decision to split this particular beer escapade into two parts (hopefully).  Stay tuned for Part II!


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