Rock star brewers of the craft beer world, one-off kegs, specialty ales, and a serious ticket price are all part of the first-ever Charleston Brewvival, and for good reason.
"We want to put Charleston on the map," declares Scott Shor, co-owner of downtown beer retailer Charleston Beer Exchange and one of a team of four Charleston Brewvival organizers. He's almost beside himself with excitement. "We wanted to bring something spectacular to Charleston. This is what we do. This is what we're good at."
Shor and Beer Exchange partner Rich Carley joined forces with COAST Brewing Co.'s David Merritt and Jaime Tenny to organize the Charleston Brewvival, which will showcase 30 small breweries and more than 80 specialty ales and lagers. The afternoon gathering will take place in a grassy field across the street from COAST in the Noisette neighborhood.
"It's not like a drink-your-face-off kind of thing. It's a proper beer festival," says Carley. "We are buying the beer, which is something most beer festivals don't do. They usually ask for donated beer. We're buying things that haven't been seen in the state before ... strange stuff, like one-offs, barrel-aged things, wild ales, and sours. It's not all going to be crazy stuff, but we're definitely going for a unique variety. People are coming in from New York, Chicago, Michigan, all over. It's encouraging because we really want this to become the premier beer event in town every year."
As the interest in homebrewing has grown and demand for high-quality microbrewed beer has increased, large-scale beer festivals have become more common in the Southeast. They typically feature a mix of majors and micros, with only a few exotic samples.
"We wanted to do something different," says Shor. "We want this to be a forum for brewers to take things that are too weird, too expensive, or too far out for them to go into the marketplace, and have a place where people who are really enthusiastic can come and experience it."
The organizers from both sides of the team (COAST and Charleston Beer Exchange) brainstormed on how to put a specialty beer festival together over the last few years. It wasn't until last fall that the Brewvival actually started taking shape.
"The day that we looked at this building to possibly set COAST up, we turned around, looked at the field, and decided that we had to put a beer festival on that spot one day," remembers Jaime Tenny. "It's been in my mind for two and a half years. But I knew I couldn't do it on my own. It took the knowledge and connections of the Beer Exchange along with ours. It was kind of a perfect duo/combination thing."
Shor agrees. "It's a very daunting project for any one person to take on alone," he says. "We each had this dream of putting on a super-serious, super-geeky craft beer festival, and both of our visions were able to intersect as if it was meant to be."
Two large tents will hold the Brewvival, and each brewery will have its own serving table with jockey boxes (compact cooling systems) set up for draft and cask beers. At the gate, attendees will receive a five-ounce tasting glass (with the Brewvival logo) to use for samples throughout the afternoon.
"We want to encourage people to move around and take their time trying things," says Shor. "A lot of these beers will be strong and will require a lot of contemplation."
Music and food will add to the festivities with performances by The Butterbeans, FolkGrass, The V-Tones, and Jason & The Juggernauts. Street Foods, Ted's Butcherblock, and D'Allesandro's Pizza will be selling food to help soak up the suds.
In addition to hosting the event, COAST will have samples of their stronger brews, including two versions of the Blackbeerd Imperial Stout, one that has been aged for six months in Jack Daniel's oak casks.
Tenny and her co-organizers have been shocked and awed by the number of head brewers that are coming to town for the Brewvival.
"Having someone like Greg Koch of Stone Brewing Co. coming all the way out here from California to be the keynote speaker is fantastic," says Tenny. "He's just about the biggest rock star in the craft brewing scene."
Other notable craft brewers making the trek are Oscar Wong from Highland Brewery in Asheville, John Cochran from Terrapin Beer Co. in Athens, Patrick Rue of The Bruery in Orange County, Calif., and Dave Fougeron of Southern Star in Texas, among several others.
"These guests are the heroes of the scene, and people will be able to hang and interact face-to-face with them," says Shor.
Participating breweries include Allagash, Avery, Bell's, Brooklyn, The Bruery, Dogfish Head, Duck-Rabbit, Foothills Brewing, Highland Brewing, New Belgium, Ommegang, Oskar Blues, Palmetto Brewing, RJ Rockers, Rogue, Southern Star, Southern Tier, Stone, Sweetwater, Terrapin, Thomas Creek, Victory, and Weyerbacher.
"This is a huge stepping stone in the growth of craft beer and appreciation in our region," Shor adds.