Ballard on Beer: Ballast Point Brewery 

Good growler brews

Most casual beer drinkers are familiar with terms such as keg beer, bottled beer, draft beer, and even cask-conditioned beer. But has the phrase "growler beer" caught on yet? Among beer lovers in close proximity to cool brewpubs and boutique shops, the answer is yes.

At the spiffy downtown specialty shop Charleston Beer Exchange (14 Exchange St., just south of Broad Street), owners Rich Carley and Scott Schor have established a steady rotation of local customers who invested a few bucks on a handsome, amber-colored 64 oz. glass growler (with the Beer Exchange logo) and keep an eye out for new keep arrivals of local, national, and imported ales and lagers to sample.

I went by recently and had them fill a growler with the last of their Ballast Point Black Marlin Porter — a London-style ale with a blackish-red color brewed by the Ballast Point Brewing Co. in San Diego. When I've taken growlers home before, they've rarely stayed full past a single day. Usually, I crack them open with a drinking buddy and we split it in one session. This time, I tried a little experiment and stored the growler unopened in the fridge for five days. I wanted to see how this unusually packaged beer would keep ... I wanted to evaluate the condition of a beer that had been kegged, shipped, re-tapped, bottled, and handled in such a way.

I'd heard stories over the years about growler beer and how it immediately goes flat or stale. Some drinkers swear it's best to decant the things as soon as possible. Others say that the carbonation level decreases considerably within a day or two.

Fortunately, my experiment concluded positively. After five days in cool storage, sealed and unopened, the Ballast Point Black Marlin Porter was in top condition from the first mug to the last (a day later). No oxidation, no loss of carbonation, no off flavors.

At a healthy six percent alcohol content (by volume), this dark, roasty, medium-bodied ale was appropriate for style — more an English porter than its hoppier American cousins. Although there was some slight hop zing and spiciness in the flavor and aroma, the dark caramel, chocolate, and roasted malts dominated on both sides. While some dry Irish and sweeter English stouts tend to work from flavors derived mostly from roasted barley. Ballast Point's hearty porter features a much more complex flavor profile, with hints of raisins, wheat bread, coffee, and bitter chocolate. Dry and carefully balanced, it was delicious — even five days after the fill-up.

Coming up at the Beer Exchange: the famous Michigan beer from Bell's Brewery holds its "South Carolina Kick-Off" on Thurs. May 14 at 5 p.m. It's the official "retail launch of the brand" in this state. The shop will feature bottles of Amber Ale, Oberon Ale, Pale Ale, Porter, and Kalamazoo Stout. Bell's brewer Derek Zomonski will be on hand to answer questions and offer "extra special growler fills."

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