Water, tea, beer and coffee, in that order, are the top four beverages consumed around the world. That makes beer the number one human-manufactured beverage worldwide, and its production dates back to at least the fifth millennium B.C. Clay tablets from ancient Mesopotamia indicate that brewing beer was a fairly well respected occupation, and despite the fact that the beer production industry of today is male dominated, the majority of brewers back then were women. Today, interest in beer spans all nations, races and sexes.
Budweiser, Coors and Miller are among the most popular beers in the world. These beers belong to the lager family, the most commonly brewed beers. According to Beeradvocate, lagers (from the German word lagern, which means “to store”) are brewed with bottom fermenting yeast that work slowly at around 34 degrees F, and are often stored at cool temperatures to mature. They produce few by-product characters, allowing other flavors to pull through, such as hops. Ales use yeast that ferment at the top of the fermentation vessel at higher temperatures, resulting in a quicker fermentation period and by-products, called esters, which are “flowery” and “fruity” aromas.
Within these two families of beer are more than 135 styles, according to the Brewers Association 2012 Beer Style Guidelines. So where is the best place to start?
Columbia hosts the World Beer Festival each January at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center; the 2012 event sold out. The mission of this event is to impart upon the public an appreciation for good beer. Additionally, several Midlands restaurants, bars, pubs and ale houses offer impressive selections of beer. But World of Beer (WOB), which recently opened in The Vista, gives all-new meaning to the term “impressive selection.” According to Dan Albert, general manager, WOB offers 60 beers on tap that change regularly and more than 500 beers in bottles, representing about 65 different styles of beer.
Dan Albert, general manager of World of Beer, which recently opened in The Vista, wants to introduce folks to good craft beer.
WOB does not carry the typical big-name brand beers, only because Dan wants to introduce folks to good craft beer. “We want to expand people’s knowledge, offer something different and encourage people to explore and try new things,” Dan says. For those who have a favorite beer, Dan assures that there is usually a craft beer similar to what they like. The staff at World of Beer goes through intensive training and is happy to find a beer, or several, that anyone who enters its door will enjoy.
“No one has to worry about lack of beer knowledge here,” Dan says. “That’s our job. We have a vast culture of clients. It is not unusual to see a 22-year-old woman sitting near a 75-year-old man exchanging information on the beers they are tasting.” World of Beer also offers a Loyalty Program, which stores information on the beers that an individual has tried and offers rewards and freebies for reaching certain milestones.
WOB offers 60 beers on tap that change regularly and more than 500 beers in bottles, representing about 65 different styles of beer.
The beer cicerone at Green’s on Piney Grove Road is the store director, Wes Patrick. He enjoys convincing customers to take chances and getting them excited about trying a new beer. He admits that there are misconceptions associated with beer drinking. “Over the years, beer has developed a negative connotation about people swilling it in large quantities. That is not what we want to promote,” he says. “And honestly, people tend to paint beer into corners, but every beer has its time and place. A light beer is great after mowing the grass, but if you’re sitting by a fire, something heavier is nice. Beer is more versatile than wine.”
What’s the Difference?
-Craft brewers, microbreweries and brewpubs are good places to heighten an interest not only in beer consumption, but also in overall beer education.
-Craft brewers are small, independent, traditional breweries that make beer on a small scale, fewer than 6 million U.S. beer barrels per year. Boston Beer Company, which makes Samuel Adams, is the largest example in America.
-A microbrewery usually produces fewer than 15,000 barrels per year; Dogfish Head Brewing and Full Sail Brewing Company are examples.
-A brewpub is a pub or restaurant that makes its own beer and sells at least 25 percent of it on-premises, such as Hunter-Gatherer in Columbia.
Wine may simply be fermented grapes, but the beer brewer can change grains (wheat, barley, oats), starch sources (rice, maize, potato, agave) and the variety of hops (an herbal perennial which adds flavor and stability to beer) to change the flavor profile of a beer. Nontraditional ingredients such as chili peppers, chocolate and fruit also help to create many new and delicious flavor combinations.
“No wonder you don’t hear about wine causing lines!” Wes says. “When certain beers are released throughout the year, lines form at stores. We received 10 cases of Mexican Cake from Westbrook Brewers in Mt. Pleasant. This stout is brewed with vanilla, cinnamon, cocoa and peppers and has 10.5 percent alcohol by volume. It was the first anniversary year, and it sold out quickly. Beer gets people excited and, thankfully, restaurants are gradually picking up on this and starting to offer better beer selections on their menus, as well as beer dinners.”
Green’s on Piney Grove offers free tastings of eight different beers at their growler stations on Thursdays and Fridays from 5 to 7 p.m. Wes is also involved in on-line beer trading, a great way to obtain hard to get brews.
For more than 16 years, Kevin Varner, brew master and owner of Hunter-Gatherer on Main Street in Columbia behind the Capitol, has treated Midlands residents to fresh beer brewed in-house. “What I’m most proud of about this place,” he says, “is that so many people love coming here.” Hunter-Gatherer has created a unique niche with its comfortable, casual warm atmosphere, great food and exciting selection of drinks. Kevin is a native South Carolinian who graduated from USC. During a semester spent in Scotland when he was 19, he learned that beer isn’t just something that comes out of a can. “I was intrigued by the whole U.K. beer culture. When I came home, I knew I was going to open a brewery.”
Kevin spent a summer vacation working at Hales Ales in Seattle, Wash., one of the first microbreweries in the United States. He returned to Hales for three years following his graduation. “In 1994, South Carolina passed a law to allow brew pubs in the state.” Kevin says. “Until then, South Carolina had a three-tiered system defined by production, distribution and retail sales. An operator could only do one of the three of these in South Carolina. Eventually, though, the state gave an exception to brewpubs.”
This change provided Kevin with his dream opportunity. He quit his job at Hales, bought some brewing equipment, moved to the Midlands and opened Hunter-Gatherer in October 1995. Kevin describes his brews as “more traditional.” He uses all English malt in making his English style pale ales, and most of the hops he uses are English.
His wheat beer is 70 percent malted barley and 30 percent malted wheat, and his Extra Special Better (ESB) is fashioned after an ESB from Hales Ales and after a beer called HSB from Gales Brewery in Hampshire, England. Kevin also brews a different seasonal about once a month. One special secret ingredient that Kevin uses is a particular strain of yeast, which is proprietary since only Hales, Gales and Hunter-Gatherer can use it. “I brew about 50 batches of brew per year, or one per week,” shares Kevin. “One batch is equal to 10 barrels, which is around 310 gallons.”
Kevin, Wes and Dan all recognize that cost is a factor in beer purchasing, and they understand why some prefer an inexpensive large batch brew instead of a craft or microbrewed beer. However, with the educational avenues opening up around the Midlands in respect to beer, maybe a true appreciation will overtake the concept of vast consumption. An ice cold beer on a summer day in Famously Hot Columbia is the epitome of relaxation, and there is an ocean of beer out there just waiting to be discovered.