Our loyal City Paper readers already know this, but once every month or so, our beloved music editor, T. Ballard Lesemann, tries out the latest new brews to hit the Holy City scene and writes about them in his column, Ballard on Beer. Needless to say, he's got the best job in town. Read on and see for yourself as T. Ballard explores the wonderful world of draft beer.
Chocolate Brown Ale
With brewmaster Ahren Warf at the helm, Charleston's only genuine brewpub regularly brews and serves a menu of house-made ales, mostly English- and American-styled light blondes, scarlets, wheats, browns, and stouts. Every few months, Warf introduces a strong-flavored seasonal beer, usually with extra malt in the recipe. This spring, the Chocolate Brown Ale made its debut. Dark amber in color, the medium-bodied ale is available on draft. Fairly strong at 6.7 percent a.b.v., it has a bold, if slightly dusty, caramel aroma and a sweet, brown sugar/malty flavor with a slight chocolate candy bar note. It finishes a bit dry with mild but lingering hop bitterness.
Manager Scott Londin and his staff sling more than a few notable new microbrews from season to season — from the experimental brews from Dogfish Head to the bourbon barrel-aged stuff from Ballast Point. One of their latest additions to the draft beer menu is New Belgium's hoppy Ranger IPA (6.2 percent a.b.v.), a robust, carefully balanced pale ale with loads of grassy, citrusy hop flavor and enough light malt body to even things out. It's one of several new styles of pale ale from Colorado's New Belgium Brewing Co. The hop accent is obvious with the first floral, earthy whiff.
Kwak and Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve
Closed for Business
Closed for Business has actually been open for business for only a few months, but they've already earned a local reputation as a beer-centric tavern with a penchant for high-gravity, craft-brewed specialties and imports. One of their coolest beer and booze specialties is a pricey but satisfyingly malty "yard and a bump" pairing, featuring the amber Belgian ale Kwak and the smooth Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve bourbon. Originally brewed by Pauwel Kwak during the Napoleon years, the modern-day Kwak ale is often served in a tall, tulip-shaped pint glass that sits in a sturdy wooden stirrup. Closed for Business delivers it in this traditional, if novel, manner alongside a shot of either the 10-year ($10) or 12-year ($14) Pappy Van Winkle. The caramel notes and deep, grainy maltiness of the Kwak is closer in style to the pale ales and bitters of the U.K. than some of the zestier Belgian styles. Crossed with the oaky, molasses malt character of the bourbon, it's a unique, slow-sippin' barley session.
Terrapin Sunray Wheat
Smoky Oak Taproom
The newly opened Smoky Oak Taproom has established itself as a James Island neighborhood hangout. Much can be said about their tender and flavorful oak- and hickory-smoked barbecue, but beer fans should take note of the venue's lengthy menu of craft-brewed ales and lagers. They stock 16 craft beers on tap and more than 50 micros and imports in the coolers. One of the tastiest new arrivals to the Taproom is the Terrapin Sunray Wheat from Athens, Ga. An American rendition of the traditional German unfiltered weizenbier, Terrapin adds its own Southern touch with a dose of honey. Bready, dry, and a little tart with just a hint of that banana/clove spice that accompanies most great wheat beers, it's a refreshing and highly drinkable ale.
The spacious new Foster's Pub opened up across from Belle Hall last February and immediately made a splash with its enormous beer menu. Proprietor Craig Foster has 16 craft beers on tap, plus a big menu of classic pub fare, including a build-your-own-burger menu. One of the current standouts at the tap station is the mighty Allagash Odyssey, an extremely malty, nutty, copper-brown, high-gravity ale. As part of the Maine-based microbrewery's Barrel Aged series, it's a bold and strong (10 percent a.b.v.) alternative to their popular pale Belgian "witbier" Allagash White. With each sip, Odyssey starts with a vigorous vanilla and oak flavor, but finishes with lingering raisin and molasses notes.
Ellie's Brown Ale
Red Drum Gastropub
Colorado's award-winning Avery Brewing Co. is an increasingly popular producer of very strong traditional English-, American-, and Belgian-styled ales. Charleston beer enthusiasts have gone nuts for the bigger Avery beers, especially the ones with huge hop bitterness levels, like the imposing Maharaja Imperial India Pale Ale. Less imposing is their more moderate but instantly drinkable Ellie's Brown, a full-bodied, russet-colored brown ale that packs a wallop of clean, dark malt flavor with a few vanilla bean/almond notes in the finish. A mere 5.5 percent a.b.v., it's much more of a session beer — one to be enjoyed early in the evening in great quantity.