There are two kinds of people: Those who find what they like, and stick with it, and those who find what they like — and then go seeking the next big thing. When it comes to beers and the art of brewing, there are two spots in Charleston that stand out for doing just that. We sat down with Rusty Bull Brewing Co., a North Charleston hotspot that experiments with everything — we're talking fun stuff like asking their fans to pick the next batch of beer (hint: it's cereal inspired). And we chatted with Munkle Brewing, a brewery that keeps it simple by sticking solely to Belgian beers with nary an IPA in sight. Two different breweries. Two different approaches. Kegs and kegs of beer. Here's how they do it:
"You want each beer to stand alone. It's about how you can add complexity but also stay balanced," says Brian Bogstad, who co-owns Rusty Bull Brewing Co. (3005 W. Montague Ave.) with fellow brewer Ben Mayer. Bogstad is talking about the beers Rusty Bull brews, from standards like a cream ale and IPA to seasonal specialities like their smoked ale, Pitmaster Old Fashioned and the fruit infused wheat beer, Berry Stomp. "The Pitmaster was a collaboration with Swig & Swine, modeled after an old fashioned," says Bogstad.
Thinking about how something tastes — the smokiness of a good bourbon, the bittersweet bite of cherries — and then creating a beer to recreate that taste is kind of like a science experiment. And Bogstad is very interested in science experiments. "We do still geek out on going crazy with beers. We call it mad science," says Bogstad. Some of Rusty Bull's mad science brews include a Hi-C inspired beer; the Tu Abuela Caliente (your hot grandmother), made with cayenne and other Mexican coffee spices; and the Cardigan, which Bogstad fondly describes as "liquid Christmas." And while their penchant for wild and wacky beers certainly stands out, it's not the brewery's only defining factor. Far from it, really, when you look at the careful process Bogstad and Mayer impose on each of their beers.
"I'd be lying if I was saying I wasn't constantly tasting all the beers," says Bogstad. "We're doing locally produced unfiltered, unpasteurized craft beer. What that means is constant quality assurance, making sure we're holding up our end of the bargain." That attention to detail comes after years of brewing.
"Back in the day when it was just two guys — and sometimes a girl — brewing in a garage, it was like the Wright brothers trying to fly, just trying to get it to where it works and makes sense," says Bogstad. "We're in a place where there's a lot of stuff we've tried." With that experience under their belts, Bogstad and Mayer want to make good beer — and they also want to offer their customers beers they actually want to drink.
"We take a beer style we appreciate and add our twist on it. It comes down to balance and complexity," says Bogstad. "That resonates with a lot of people, but for others we'll brew those beers that are one-dimensional to answer the call for those who don't want to taste their beer." And for those beer drinkers who want their brews to taste like something similar to well, cereal, Rusty Bull has just the brew for you.
"We'd tried some really cool [cereal] beers before and thought, 'We could do something like that,' so we flipped it over to our fans," says Bogstad of a recent science experiment. After a Facebook contest, Captain Nut Crunch won out. "We used 25 pounds of the actual cereal in the mash. It was completely gelatinized. And then it's about how you build a whole milk aspect, so we used lactose which is not a fermentable, it's a control, you can depend on it," he says. "Then we took a 50 pound canister of PB2 — it's peanut butter with the fat removed in a powder form." The end result? "It was legit," says Bogstad. More importantly, people loved it — even if peanut butter-infused beer isn't the brewers' first choice.
"You can't just brew the beers you wanna do," says Bogstad. "The day you stop learning is the day you stop trying. We're trying to keep our finger on the pulse of what people in the market want. We want to be relevant in everything we do. Except for politics, we stay out of that."[location-1]
Munkle brews Belgian beers. What more do you want?
Palmer Quimby loves Belgian beers; his uncle, who was a monk (hence Munkle), taught him how to brew Belgians a long time ago. Now, after years in the making, Munkle (1513 Meeting Street Rd.) is on the eve of its first anniversary. And just like Quimby promised from the get-go, the brewery is only turning out Belgian style beers. "The styles are inspired by Belgium, but I'm not from Belgium," says Quimby. "We're paying homage to them."
Before we go any further, Quimby would like to debunk any preconceived notions you may hold about Belgian beers. "To say you don't like Belgian beers is to say you don't like American women — there are so many styles out there," he says. After visting Belgium, Quimby realized that there may be a disconnect between how damn good Belgian beers can be in Belgium, and how they can be perceived as not-so-good by American drinkers. "I realized that the beers we get over here from Belgium, by the time we get them, they're past their prime. A lot of smaller stuff is meant to be drunk young, and I was blown away by the flavors [in Belgium] and how good and clean they were."
Good, clean beer? Yeah, you can find that at Munkle. "First and foremost we want to put out a good product, and then everything else will follow," says Quimby. In just under a year Munkle has been distributing throughout the state, with plans to move into North Carolina distribution next year. The brewery is also about to put in four new tanks and a canning line. "I was a little shocked," admits Quimby of Munkle's quick success, "but the market is demanding it. As quick as we make it it goes out the door, which is what you want."
Belgian beers, for those of you who are new to the style, have a couple of key factors that set them apart from other beers, namely: yeast and carbonation. While we recommend drinking a cold beer at Munkle and having one of the brewers explain the fun science behind the brews, Quimby lays out some of the basics for us, "Yeast is a big part of Belgian beer and the culture; we use a proprietary abbey ale yeast strain that we got from a yeast bank far away. Belgian beers also use a higher carbonation that carries flavors across the palate."
Munkle always has eight beers on tap, and Quimby references Belgian breweries that often only have three or four. "The American thing is, 'We'll put 40 beers on tap and some of them will be good, some of them we don't even know what they are,'" says Quimby. "For us I'd rather do a few beers and do them really well. There's more love and energy in each product."
And while Munkle sticks to Belgian inspired beers, they've added a couple styles that you won't find in the motherland. "We recently released a monastic-inspired pilsner, and ran out almost immediately," says Quimby. "Traditionally a porter is not a Belgian style but we've made a light porter and introduced a Belgian yeast strain."
"It's been fun opening people's eyes to the potential of Belgian beer, and I'm excited to continue to introduce people to it," he says. "We were in Spartanburg last week and I sat down next to a couple and the lady said she didn't like Belgian beers. She tried four or five of our beers and afterwards she was like, 'Well shit, I guess I like Belgian beers.'"[location-2]