A beer fest for beer people 

Brewvival 2011 enjoyed sweet success

Saturday's weather couldn't have been finer for the second annual Brewvival craft beer festival in Noisette (across the road from COAST's Brewing Co.'s brewery). From noon to 6 p.m., the festival welcomed 2,000 attendees — nearly twice the turnout as last year. They hit full capacity by mid-afternoon.

Organized by COAST Brewing Co.'s David Merritt and Jaime Tenny and Charleston Beer Exchange's Scott Shor and Rich Carley, Brewvival ran smoothly all day. Set up under two large tents, brewers and volunteers pour stations offered a wider selection of rare and seasonal ales and lagers than the previous fest. A wider variety food from local vendors — including Roti Rolls, Ted's Butcherblock, D'Allesandro's Pizza, and the Brunch Truck — was a nice touch. Ted's hearty kielbasa rolls were particularly popular.

Having three cool local bands — Gaslight Street, the Garage Cuban Band, and South Carolina Broadcasters — on the stage across the yard from the beer tents added to the laid-back feel of the event. Led by singer/guitarist Campbell Brown, Gaslight Street played a bunch of groovy new songs early in the day. As a four-piece (with fill-in percussionist Stuart White in conga), the Garage Cuban Band jammed through very long set, followed by spirited string trio South Carolina Broadcasters, who drew more than a few giddy dancers to the stagefront.

The lines for some of the more unusual standout beers and ales in limited-supply seemed quite long during the first hour of the bash — especially COAST's Old Nuptial- Bourbon Barrel Aged Barleywine, Westbrook's very strong Uberbier #3 Barleywine, Stillwater's three Saison-style ales, and Bell's cask-conditioned Hopslam Imperial IPA — but service was tight and efficient. The pourers were helpful and they knew what were serving, colorfully describing the styles of and the details of the featured breweries with each inquiry.

The tents stayed crowded and loud throughout the day. Fortunately, the continuous flow from station to station never wavered. Most patrons jumped in, got a four-ounce sample, and found a spot just outside the tents to sip, discuss, and enjoy each beer. The majority of folks remained well-behaved and polite into the evening, although a few ended up konked-out on the lawn or along back fences.

All of the beer was purchased directly from the brewers. I started out sampling the lighter stuff — like Avery's crisp and clean Joe's Premium American Pilsner and Victory's new hybrid Braumeister Schwarz Pils — before working my way up to the high-gravity heavies. Thomas Creek served their Banana Split Chocolate Stout with a small scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. Duck-Rabbit's cask-conditioned Bourbon Barrel Aged Porter had delicious wood and whiskey undertones, as did Stone's more winey and caramel-tinged Bourbon Barrel-Aged Arrogant Bastard Ale. Notable smoked beers included New Holland's dry Charkoota Rye, Southern Star's drinkable Pro-Am Smoked Porter, and Heavy's Seas' fierce and intense Mutiny Fleet Smoke on the Water. Newly-opened local brewery Westbrook offered a delicate smoked wheat beer called Lichtenhainer Weisse, too. The flavor was slightly more tart and citrusy than smoky.

Dogfish Head's team forced samples of their sweet Chicory Stout through a "randall" (a specialized double chamber filter) packed with Tootsie Rolls. Cigar City Brewing's sweet and malty Improvisación Oatmeal Rye India-style Brown was an unexpected treat, not found anywhere in the printed program. My favorite high-gravity ale of the day was a joint effort between Sierra Nevada and Dogfish Head called Barrel Aged Life and Limb. Black and full-bodied, and brewed with pure maple and birch syrups, it boasted a unique malt complexity and sweetness.

It was encouraging to see an event like Brewvival catch on with such a wild variety locals. Whether they're already obsessively interested in craft-brewed beer or only mildly familiar with the movement, patrons obviously had a blast sampling unique beer at this fest. Can't wait until next year.

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