When Westbrook Brewing Company announced the release date for their first ever round of barrel-aged Mexican Cakes, they had no idea how big of a turn out it would be. "Initially, I expected a crowd of 100 or so," said Morgan Westbrook. Much to their surprise, over 300 people from over five states showed up for the event.
Westbrook went on to say, "I giggled a little when I pulled in to work at 8 a.m. and there were tents and people waiting outside the brewery." According to posts on the popular beer website Beer Advocate, a group of craft beer enthusiasts from Florida made the long haul to Charleston to claim the first spots in line not long after midnight. The crazy part? The release wasn't schedule to happen until 3 p.m.
That was only the beginning. Folks drove in from Atlanta, Richmond, D.C., and the list goes on.
Mexican Cake was first brewed back in 2011 to celebrate the first anniversary of the brewery. It's a big imperial stout aged on Ecuadorian and Ghanaian cocoa nibs, vanilla beans, cinnamon sticks, and fresh habanero peppers. The beer was such a big hit that they decided to brew it again in 2013. When bottles of Mexican Cake were released in May, they flew off the shelves in no time. Newbies and beer geeks around the country were making big time trades to get their hands on a bottle.
Around the same time, Westbrook announced they'd be releasing barrel-aged varieties of Mexican Cake some time around late June to early July, finally announcing a release date of July 12th just before the 4th of July holiday.
The three versions released were Apple-brandy barrel-aged, Jack Daniels barrel-aged, and Cabernet barrel aged. Each of the variants were made with the original December 2011 batch of Mexican Cake and they aged 18 months in each of the barrels. Because of the limited quantities (40 cases of apple-brandy and bourbon and 50 cases of cabernet), the bottles were only available at the brewery.
It was originally announced that the limit would be four of each variety per person, but that was changed to two bottles of each variety per person. After employees got their allotment, this left room for about 220 people get two full sets.
The social media network and forums started flooding with talk about the release. While some people were looking to trade for bottles of the three varietals, others were already putting in vacation requests and planning to be at the brewery on the 12th. The only mystery was how early one should show up to ensure bottles would still be available.
Those that showed up in the wee hours of the morning planned to sit in the rain all day. Luckily, Westbrook made it easy on everyone by starting to hand out numbered tickets at 10 a.m. This meant that once someone secured a ticket, they were free to leave the brewery, stay dry, and come back at 2:30 p.m.
When the time did arrive, the tasting room was packed. Morgan Westbrook stood up on the bar wearing a sombrero and explained how the purchasing would work. Everyone started lining up by the loading dock and patiently waited for their numbers to be called. With numbers 68 and 69, the wait was about 45 minutes until we got our share — not bad for a first big release. Those with higher numbers were able to order beers in the tasting room or at a tent that was setup outside. A lot of gems showed up on the menu like Mexican Coffee cake, Brett & No Mices, and Lil' B with Sea Salt.
Ted's Butcher Block had a truck parked at the end of the lot where they were serving up Wagyu beef paninis, Mexican pork tacos, and keilbasa.
And the best part: everyone was happy. Complaints were slim to none and everyone was having a great time. Even those that didn't make it to the brewery in time to secure some of the rare bottles stuck around to drink good beer, eat good food, and have a great time with the rest of the beer community. We even hard some people calling this "The Great Release," and we couldn't agree more. The Westbrook staff and volunteers executed a successful event, and those that attended are already looking forwards to the next major release. When we asked Westbrook if there's anything they think they'll do differently next time, she said, "There are a few things we might do differently, but we will save that for next year. Right now, we just want to enjoy the bliss of the great release!"
The event may be called the Charleston Wine and Food Festival, but we can't look past the fact that craft beer pairs well with food too. A few hoppy, sud filled events debuted at the 2012 festival, and they were even more popular this year.
We led a tour of 68 eager beer drinkers to all four of the current local craft breweries with fellow craft beer enthusiast, Timmons Pettigrew. At each location, Caviar and Bananas set up food stations with tasty treats that complimented the hops and malt. Pimento cheese on a bacon biscuit pair well with Bourbon Barrel-Aged Pecan Dream at Holy City Brewing Company and the pretzels with beer cheese were a great compliment to the Palmetto Pale Ale.
Craft beer dinners were all the buzz too. On Friday, we made our way over to the 82 Queen for a beer-filled evening with Ben Dobler, Brewmaster of Widmer Brothers Brewing, and 82 Queen Executive Chef Steven Lusby. We laughed, we drank, and we ate, with the highlight of the night being a plate of venison short ribs, toasted grits, apple, Brussels sprouts, pine nuts, and cherry compote paired with the toasty, spice-filled South by Northwest dark ale.
We moved over to Craftsmen Kitchen and Tap House on Saturday night, where we got a glimpse at what the stunning new craft beer bar has to offer. Executive Chef Todd Garrigan teamed up with Josh Fruchtman from Dogfish Head Brewery for a night of big beers paired with big food. A delicate mountain trout with lemon spiked vegetables and pistachio hummus went well with the 90 minute IPA, but the best was saved for last — a warm sticky bun, Carolina gold rice pudding with caramel paired with the big, oak-aged Burton Baton. (Sorry, this one was gone before we could snap a picture.)
By now, everyone knows Brewvival 2013 was a version of the Tough Mudder with booze. It was cold, wet, and muddy, but that didn’t stop us from having a good time. A little dirt and rain (OK, a lot of dirt and rain) didn’t stop enthusiasts from standing together to enjoy some of the finest craft beers on the scene. COAST Brewing Company and Charleston Beer Exchange promised that this would be the biggest and best Brewvival yet, and they didn’t disappoint.
By limiting ticket sales to 1,800 (2,500 in 2012), the lines were much shorter. Five- to ten-minute waits for some of the most rare tappings were the longest of the day, but most lines moved along at a more rapid pace. There weren’t hour-long waits for food, and there certainly wasn’t a shortage of beer.
With more than 130 unique beers available, we came prepared with a “must drink” list with wiggle room for some unannounced guest breweries. The Bell’s Bourbon Barrel-aged Batch 9,000 and Green Flash Silva Stout were two of the bigger beers to make our list, and they didn’t disappoint. Allagash came through with the three funky wild ales the FV13, Mattina Rossa, and Midnight Brett and Avery’s Odio Equum was a crowd favorite.
Some of the guest beers were the most surprising. The Cigar City Dos Anos Kumquat Berliner Weisse was easy drinking at 4 percent ABV, but offered a parade of tropical flavors and the tartness one would expect from a fresh kumquat. Funky Buddha was a big hit last year, and they succeeded again with unique creations such as the Basil Lime Pale Ale and Don’t Tell Reece Peanut Butter Chocolate Imperial Stout. New to us was 7venth Sun Brewery out of Dunedin, Florida. They brought their Graffiti Orange Creamsicle Wheat and the piña colada-like Making Love at Midnight Berliner Weisse.
The locals brought their A-game, too. Palmetto aged ginger slap in rum barrels, and COAST debuted the Saison De Dufus in a cask. Holy City had plenty of the decadent Notorious P.I.G. : Mo’ Chocolate, Mo’ Problems to go around, and Westbrook busted out some barrel-aged funk with their CBX collaboration, Grumpy Old Time.
The two keynote speakers of the event were Sam Calagione, Founder/Owner of Dogfish Head Brewery, and Ken Grossman, Founder/Owner of Sierra Nevada Brewery. They addressed a small crowd of 50, speaking about how far craft beer has come. After a brief 45-minute Q&A, they braved the mud and enjoyed some suds with everyone else. On Sunday morning, the brewers joined a group of 100 dedicated individuals at GrowFood Carolina to enjoy an amazing beer breakfast with COAST Brewing Company, Charleston Beer Exchange, and Chef Robert Stehling from Hominy Grill.
The breakfast was truly outstanding. Shrimp and grits were paired with Dogfish Head Birra Estrusca, while green pork and scrambled egg enchiladas played nicely with COAST Red Legs Scotch Ale. Beer-battered French toast was dressed in stout syrup with praline bacon, and sweet potato hash was topped with a made-to-order poached egg. The open format of the breakfast allowed for guests to mingle with fellow beer advocates and have more personal conversations with Sam and Ken. It was a one-of-a-kind experience that many will never forget.
When we asked Calagione what he’s heard about the Charleston craft beer scene, he said,”Brewvival is the festival to see on the East Coast. Everyone is talking about it.” He’s right. Brewvival is much more than the average beer festival. It gives reason for the best brewers and the most dedicated of the craft beer community to gather in one place and celebrate the one thing they all love: craft beer. Craft beer isn’t merely just a beverage, it’s art, and Brewival is one of the best art galleries around. We’re certainly looking forward to Brewvival 2014.
We'll be adding events and details to this list as we get them. If you know of an event not listed here, please let us know!
Palmetto Open House
at Palmetto Brewing Company Downtown
Charleston Coffee Roasters and Palmetto Brewing are doing a good deed by working with Pet Helpers to find homes for some of their four-legged friends. There will be beer, coffee, live music, a food truck, and a bunch of furry lovable pets available for adoption. $10 will get you a pint glass, 4 beer samples, and coffee samples, and you may even walk out with a new pet. 6-8 p.m.
Octobachi Special Tapping
at Octobachi Downtown
The good folks at Octobachi will be tapping a special keg or two each day leading up to Brewvival. Round 1: Stone Brewing Company - 2010 Imperial Russian Stout (10.5% abv,97,100) and The Perfect Crime Collaboration with Evil Twin and Stillwater (6.8% abv,80,93). Both of these beers will be available for growler fills. In addition to the daily tappings, here’s a look at some of the other beer offerings that will be available all week long:New Belgium Lips of Faith Transatlantique Kriek, Thirsty Dog Bourbon Barrel Aged Cerberus, Anderson Valley Wild Turkey Bourbon Barrel Stout, and Allagash Interlude.
Terrapin Tap Takover
at Oak Barrel Tavern in Avondale
Join the team at Oak Barrel Tavern and John Wetzel from Terrapin Beer Company as they tap Big Hoppy Monster (8.3% abv,91,99), So Fresh and So Green Green (6.6% abv,88,96), Rye Pale Ale (5.3% abv,87,92), and Hop Karma Brown IPA (6% abv,89,92). 7 p.m.
East Coast vs. West Coast IPA Challenge
at Closed for Business Downtown
Closed for Business will have a handful of IPAs on tap from coast to coast. Each purchase of an IPA will be counted as a vote. At the end of the night they'll tally up the votes and deem either East Coast or West Coast as the winner. The full IPA list is a mystery, but we can tell you they will have the tasty Foothills Jade IPA (6.4% abv,96,95) and Lagunitas Maximus (8.2% abv,89,98) on tap.
Fullsteam's First Charleston Beer Dinner
at The Lettered Olive at Wild Dunes Resort on Isle of Palms
Fullsteam Brewery out of Durham, NC is finally joining the South Carolina beer scene. To celebrate the Charleston launch, they're teaming up with Wild Dunes Resort to put on one helluva beer dinner. Here's the menu straight from the Fullsteam blog:
New Style Caprese
Fresh Made Mozzarella / Lavender Oil Poached Heirloom Tomatoes / Olive Oil Powder
Balsamic Film / English Pea and Basil Emulsification / Applewood Smoked Salt
Beasley’s Honey White (5% abv,86,62)
Sous Vide Lemongrass Monkfish / Andouille Cornbread Stuffed Razor Clams
Squid Ink Reduction Chili Oil / Kefir Lime Oil / Saffron Aioli
Cackalacky Ginger Pale Ale (X,X,X)
Compressed Honey Dew / Cantaloupe Sorbet / Mint / Black Lava Salt
Meat and Potatoes
Beer Braised Oxtail / Tallegio Fondue / Confit Potato Salad
King Trumpet Mushrooms / Fried Spinach and Enoki Mushrooms
Candied Olive Powder / “Electric” Corn Crisps
Hogwash Hickory-Smoked Porter (6.5% abv,88,88)
The Not So Traditional Banana Pudding
Tempura Fried Banana Pudding / Vanilla Wafer Macaroon
Chocolate Stout Ice Cream / Banana Chip / Salted Rum Caramel / Nutella Crumb
Moonshine Cherries / Chantilly Cream
Bourbon Barrel-Aged Working Man’s Lunch (5.6% abv,88,X)
Tickets are $125 and there are only 12 seats available. 7 p.m.
Holy City Brewing Fish Fry
at Holy City Brewery in North Charleston
Shay MacDonald, Executive Chef at HoM, will be frying up fish, fries, and hush puppies, and grilling some sliders and other goodies for purchase and Johnny Battles will be selling some Sweeteeth chocolates for everyone to indulge in. Live bluegrass music will be courtesy of the Bluestone Ramblers and all of the Holy City Brewvival beers will be on tap for sampling (Sorry, no growlers). 4-8 p.m.
Stone, Allagash, and Great Divide Tap Takeover
at House of Brews in Mt. Pleasant
That’s right, reps from all three breweries will be onsite at the House of Brews pouring their respective beers. Representing Stone: Scott Sheridan with The Perfect Crime . Great Divide: Adam Kimball with Peach Grand Cru and Orabelle Tripel (8.3% abv,83,86). Allagash: Les Addis with Grand Cru (7.2% abv,92,98). Music will be provided by Fowler's Mustache and food provided by Foodie Truck. 5-10 p.m.
Bell’s and Left Hand at CPH
at Coleman Public House in Mt. Pleasant
Matt Wells, Southeastern Sale Rep. for Bell’s Brewery, and Sara Gould, Southeastern Sales Rep. for Left hand Brewing Company, will be hanging out at Coleman Public House on Friday. We don’t have all the details yet, but we do know one thing: Bell’s Black Note (11.5% abv,100,100) will be on tap. Get it. 5-? p.m.
Green Flash and Avery at Finz
at Finz in Mt. Pleasant
Green Flash 7th Anniversary Belgian Red Rye Ale (5.7% abv,85,91) and Avery New World Porter (6.7% abv,87,98) will be on tap at Finz. Jennifer Hill, Southeastern Regional Sales Manager for Green Flash, and Ted Whitney, National Sales Manager for Avery, will both be onsite to chat and answer questions.
Victory and River Dog at The Shelter
at The Shelter in Mt. Pleasant
Cam Rollo, National Accounts Manager for Victory Brewing Company, and Josh Luman, Owner of River Dog Brewing Company, will both be at The Shelter on Friday. We’re not sure what they’re bringing yet, but we know whatever they have in store will be special.
Pre-Brewvival Party with Rare Tappings
at Closed for Business Downtown
Closed for Business will have a solid lineup of beers on Brewvival Eve, including a cask of Holy City Acronym: Belgian Blackish Brown Imperial Strong Dark India Pale Ale Waffle, a Black IPA fermented with Belgian yeast. In addition, they're tapping Foothills Sexual Chocolate (9.75% abv,92,100), Evil Twin Imperial Biscotti Break (11.5% abv,98,100), Allagash Confluence (7.5% abv,91,98), the old HLT sour (8% abv,92,96), and many others. How's that for a lineup?
Sunday, Feb. 24
at GrowFood Carolina Downtown
There’s no better way to cure a hangover than by eating a big breakfast and drinking more booze. This one is best told by CBX:
“Join us for a breakfast feast created by Hominy Grill’s Robert Stehling and team paired with a plethora of beers from Dogfish Head, Sierra Nevada and COAST Brewing! And of course that means that Sam Calagione, Ken Grossman, David Merritt and Jaime Tenny will be having breakfast with you! This is Brewvival, after all. It is going to be freely structured with food/beer paired stations to allow maximum flexibility and interactive time with your fellow beer enthusiasts and professional brewer’s/brewery founders alike. Each food station will feature multiple beer pairings from two or in some cases all three of the breweries.
Food and beverage will not be limited as you can revisit the stations as much as you like as long as you do so responsibly (on the beer side that is, you can be as irresponsible as you want with your food consumption).”
Tickets are $45. 10 am. - 12 p.m.