Water, water, everywhere,
And not a drop to drink.
Apologies to Samuel Taylor Coleridge for paraphrasing, but those lines are wholly appropriate for the 2013 edition of Charleston, SC's Brewvival. With reports of over 1.5" of rain in the area prior to the festival's noon starting time, and more on the way, there truly was water (and mud) everywhere. And in that state, it was more suitable for a natural rinse station (see above) than for drinking. Luckily, for the sellout crowd in attendance this past Saturday, there were plenty of world class craft beers on hand for consumption.
It can't be stated enough that the Brewvival crew deserves a TON of credit for how they handled the weather on Saturday. Inclement weather can absolutely kill an outdoor festival. But Brewvival? It may have actually brought out the best in everyone involved. With each brewery station underneath its own small tent, one could fill a glass and chat with brewery reps without getting wet(ter). Giant tents in the middle of the field allowed hordes of festival goers to remain sheltered as they sampled and conversed.
One element that really couldn't be fixed was the mud. Considering the location and the weather, mud was unavoidable. And this stuff got deep. I saw several attendees with mud up to their ankles – or higher. It was difficult enough to slog through while completely sober; at one point I remarked to a friend that I couldn't even imagine what would happen after people imbibed for six straight hours. I forecasted a face plant of epic proportions, though it seems anyone who ended up taking a spill in the mud did so willingly.
Saturday's beer list was phenomenal. Seriously. That lineup was like the 1927 New York Yankees of beer festivals. You know, if the Yankees had cloned Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig about 45 times apiece. The fine folks at COAST Brewing Co. and The Charleston Beer Exchange set the bar at an almost unreachable height at the inaugural edition in 2010, but they somehow consistently out-do themselves. I've attended other festivals and read programs from countless others, and no one even comes close to Brewvival. Just take a quick scan at those beers. Hit after hit after hit after hit. It's like Thriller.
The star of the afternoon in my book was Boca Raton's Funky Buddha. As far as I could see, they had the longest lines all day. And with good reason. Here's the list of beers from the schedule posted behind their table:
- Basil Lime Pale Ale
- Sweet Potato Casserole (you read that correctly)
- Don't Tell Reece Peanut Butter Chocolate Imperial Brown
- Maple Bacon Coffee Porter
- Pineapple Berliner Weisse
I mean, not much else needs to be said about that. One of the greatest parts of our craft beer culture is the creativity we see in the brewing process, and Funky Buddha certainly highlighted that. But creativity alone doesn't draw consistently sizeable crowds. In Funky Buddha's case, the flavor keeps 'em coming back for more.
Another winner on my scorecard was Columbia's Conquest Brewing Company. The in-state upstarts brought a solid lineup of beers, the best being a double dry-hopped, cask-conditioned version of their Sacred Heart IPA with additions of mango and papaya. Great flavor, great texture and just an all around treat to drink. This was the highlight of the entire festival for me, which was no small feat considering the other 136+ quality beers on tap.
Food is often an underrated component of a beer festival. Simply put, one should eat something during a festival. Spending several hours surrounded by scrumptious suds can be a sorry situation without some sort of sustenance. Not surprisingly, Brewvival killed it in this department. I read rave reviews about all of the food vendors, and can personally say that Big Boned BBQ was phenomenal. I'm always looking for my next great plate of barbecue, and I'm happy to say that they came through in the clutch.
A more appropriately-rated component of a beer festival is restroom availability. It shouldn't surprise anyone that standing around sampling beers for hours can result in fits of, um, urgency that might not be noticed immediately. In those situations, having more than a handful of restrooms is a major need. Again, Brewvival nailed this one. There were plenty of available restrooms and I never saw any lengthy lines build up outside of them.
There are only so many great things I can say about Brewvival, many of which have already been said by plenty of others. In that case, I have to mention the bottle share that occurred in Charleston on Friday night. The group tasting is my favorite part of our craft beer culture, simply because beer geeks exhibit a level of generosity I haven't seen in many other places. Sure, there's some one-upmanship in play. But there's also this great feeling you get when you pull out a bottle that wows the entire table. The row of empty bottles after a great tasting would put any beer bar in the country to shame. Friday night was no different. Reconnecting with old friends and making new ones over great beers is something that will never get old for me.
Really, at this point I hope it's painfully obvious that anyone interested must attend this festival. Like, start planning your trip for 2014. I mean, they put on a fantastic festival in a field of slop. That's no small feat. It's especially cool for me that such an amazing festival occurs in my home state. The craft beer culture in South Carolina has grown by leaps and bounds, thanks in large part to what's going on in Charleston. Columbia and the upstate areas are right there with them. All in all, we've got a lot to be proud of here in South Carolina, beer-wise. And Brewvival served as a fantastic reminder of just that.
All photos used in this article courtesy of Chrys Rynearson, CHSBeer.org. Thanks, Chris!