The tasty suds were in full force as the eighth annual Ballpark Festival of Beers drew a big crowd of local beer fans in the outfield of Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Park on Sat. Sept. 25. Presented by Birney's Foods and the BBQ Guys, brewery reps and local volunteers offered five-ounce samples of more than 100 different varieties of ales and lagers. Breweries of all sizes — from the big beer behemoths to the tiny, independently run brew pubs — were represented.
The weather warm and little muggy, but an Ashley River breeze cooled things off. The task of seeking out the right ales and lagers might have seemed daunting to some, but most of the attendees found plenty to enjoy and discover. Beers ranged from familiar offerings from Anheuser-Busch and Yuengling to exotic specialties from New Belgium, Abita, Boston Beer Co., Dogfish Breckenridge, and Sweetwater, among many others.
The recent popularity of high gravity beer was on full display this year. The term refers to the higher level of fermentable sugars in the wort at the beginning of the fermentation process. The more sugar one starts with, the higher the final level of alcohol. Most high-gravity ales and lagers are big-bodied beers with a complex character that develops with age.
Charleston's own Palmetto Brewing Co. emphasized their latest specialties, including two recent releases — the Watermelon Wheat and the Espresso Porter — along with fresh unfiltered samples of their latest pilot brew, the pale, hazy, and citrusy Hop Harvest IPA.
I sat in on drums with local rock group Spunjwurthi (featuring tambourine-bangin' singer Howlin' Larry Strickland). Occupied with keeping time on classic rock standards, I didn't get to try as many beers as I'd hoped. I did manage more than a few sips of Sweetwater's excellent Motorboat ESP (a well-balanced British-style pale ale) and New Belgium's light and zingy Hoptober (a wheat-infused golden ale). From my drum throne on stage, I had the loudest spot in the house, but the best view for people-watching. By closing time, it was quite a joyous scene on the green.