So, Franklin and I have been wanting to go on the Columbia Brew Bus tour for the better part of a year. Our first (unsuccessful) attempt was for my birthday in June, but they were booked for a private event. We decided to take advantage of our one free weekend in December to finally make this happen.
We started the day at Grill Marks in the Vista (well, we actually started by calling an Uber to take us to Grill Marks… #responsible). They had the fire going, which was quite nice! Franklin tried to order the River Rat Pilsner, but they were out. I took that as a positive for River Rat but also for the tasting at their brewery. After all, it’s bad form to drink the beer you’ll be tasting before actually going to the tasting.
Instead, we started with two staples – a Bell’s Two Hearted Ale for me (see our prior post about it here) and an Allagash White for Franklin. I’ve historically preferred Allagash White with an orange, but I kind of think that you can taste lemon and the carbonation better without it. I’ll have to try it again to be sure. 🙂 Both had great lacing and are all around delicious beers if you’re looking for something with a little bit of “umph” on a chilly day like most December days. I’d say go for the Allagash White if you prefer something a little lighter, but the Bell’s Two Hearted is one of the most highly rated beers for a reason, so I’d encourage everyone to try it at least once.
For food, it’s important to build a base for a day like that, so I ignored my go-to Cobb salad for the Game Clucker (a chicken sandwich with avocado – my fave – bacon, cheese, aioli, etc.). Franklin wasn’t that adventurous, so he went with a plain (read: uninspired) cheeseburger. The fries were delicious – perfectly crispy and seasoned. All around a great lunch! Now, back to the beer…
At 1 o’clock we met the rest of the patrons for the day’s tour at Liberty in The Vista. I found it to be an ironic choice for the meeting location given how bad their beer is. I hate to say it, but I can’t think of a single instance in the dozens of times that we’ve been to Liberty where I enjoyed one of their own beers. If I’m being really honest (which I am), I’ve even been disappointed in their draft non-Liberty beers as of late. Now, at the Lake Murray location, they do it right. Perhaps the view is the key!
We started out at Conquest Brewing Co., which was the first brewery to open in Columbia since prohibition and holds the stat for the closest of the three Columbia breweries to Williams-Brice stadium.
My Conquest Line-Up (foreground):
1) Out of My Gourd – This is based around an amber ale, but over 40% of the mash is pumpkin. It was darker than I expected. I would say it tastes more like a porter to me than an amber ale, but without the bitter aftertaste.
2) Seven Seas Pale Ale – It’s very smooth for a pale ale.
3) Artemis Blonde – Very easy to drink when paired with the rest of this flight, but I think I’ve had it before and found it to be average.
4) Sacred Heart – This is an IPA and is probably their best known beer. They advertise it as an IPA for people that hate IPAs. I have to say, I love the marketing. Cam said that his experience on the brew bus tours is that a lot of the people that hate IPAs end up tasting it and liking it, so I’d encourage any of you that fall into that category to add this to your tasting list at some point, if for nothing else, to support local Columbia breweries.
Franklin’s Conquest Line-Up (background):
1) Seven Seas Pale Ale – Franklin really liked it. He said he was stunned at how it lacked the bitterness we usually associate with pale ales.
2) Medusa Stout – Neither of us are a huge fan of stouts, but Franklin decided to use this tour to try to branch out and acquire a taste for the stouts. He said this one “wasn’t half bad.” He’s tried others that he had to spit out and didn’t have to do that with this one, so I guess that’s a plus?!
3) Coconut Porter – Franklin enjoyed this one. I, unfortunately, hate coconut, so it goes without saying that I wasn’t a fan. I could smell it in the beer, which didn’t help. He thought it was a mild taste that complemented the porter, for those of you who also like coconut.
4) Artemis Blonde – Like me, Franklin said the Blonde was better than he remembered. We’ll have to try it again – sans heavy co-conspirators – to judge it unbiasedly.
Next up was Swamp Cabbage Brewing Co., which is the only one of the three that we had not previously visited. It’s about a block over from Conquest (going away from the stadium). It really did sneak up on us when we drove up. We found it to have a very inviting atmosphere; you walk into a room filled with comfy, leather couches (almost like a living room) and the tasting room is off to the left. It’s painted with murals on the wall of South Carolina forests with plenty of picnic-style tables. They also have an outdoor, covered porch that I bet is quite enjoyable in the summer.
Just like Conquest, we got to choose our four beers at Swamp Cabbage.
1) Merry Cinnamas – As a big fan of cinnamon, I really enjoyed this beer. I’m not sure I could drink 12 oz of it, but I completely enjoyed this reminder of the holiday season.
2) Harvest Amber – OMG I absolutely LOVED this pumpkin amber ale. I was so disappointed that I couldn’t get a growler of this deliciousness (they were on their last keg). Instead, I got a pint following our tasting and absolutely loved it. It puts some of my traditional pumpkin faves to shame… I’ll definitely be looking out for this beer next year.
3) White IPA (pictured) – it kind of reminds me of the Westbrook White Thai, but is a little bit sweeter. I’d recommend it for my friends that are Bud Light drinkers but that like a little bit of sweetness in their beer. They put coriander and orange peel in this, which is probably why.
4) Sabal Palm Blonde – it has a slight sweetness from the malts and is an, overall, smooth, light beer.
Franklin’s Swamp Cabbage Line-Up:
1) Harvest Amber – I am embarrassed to even type this, but Franklin thought this was a bit too sweet. Of course, we already know my opinion on the matter and I will say that I am TOTALLY right on this beer… I did have the pint of it, after all. 🙂
2) White IPA – Franklin really enjoyed this beer. His notes: Very good!
3) Chocolate Brown (pictured) – Franklin says this is the lighter of the two (between this and the Stout). I did try it, and it wasn’t bad.
4) Stout – This one, on the other hand, I couldn’t even drink. It was very pungent from an aroma perspective. Franklin, impressively, drank his entire 4 oz sample. I’ll give him an A+ for effort! He says it was “creamier and coffee-ier” (if that’s a word) than the chocolate brown.
A couple of interesting notes about Swamp Cabbage before we move on…
1) They don’t filter their beers. It gives them a stronger coloring and a unique, totally craft beer flavor, in my opinion.
2) Their facility is used by Bierkeller Columbia to brew German-style beers for pop-up beer gardens throughout Columbia. In fact, they posted on Facebook earlier this week that they have just been named one of eight breweries to watch in 2017 by CoolMaterial.com. I’d say that speaks to the quality off the facilities at Swamp Cabbage and is an overall positive for the craft beer industry in the Midlands.
River Rat is, by far, the most well-known of the three fully functioning breweries in Columbia and one of our favorites to review. It was absolutely packed when we arrived shortly after 4pm. That’s a great thing for River Rat and for the Columbia craft brewing scene. Unfortunately, it isn’t great for those of us on a brewery tour as we had to fight with the rest of the crowd for our experience and tasting. Unlike the other two breweries, there wasn’t someone from the brewery that welcomed us when we arrived. Also unlike the other two, we weren’t allowed to select our own beers to taste. It was a pre-set tasting (read: half of the beers I hated)…
Our we-have-no-choice-in-the-matter line-up (clockwise, from top left):
2) Metal Man Pale Ale – We honestly don’t remember much about this beer… (no, it has nothing to do with the amount we had already had to drink…) Franklin has a bottle of it in the refrigerator and promises to blog about it later.
3) Peanut Butter Porter – While this sounds like it would be delicious, I found it to be false advertising. Peanut butter and beer should make a lovely combination, but I was definitely not feeling this combo. Franklin says he didn’t taste any peanut butter and found it to be forgettable.
4) My Morning Stout- You can deduce from the name that this is a coffee-style stout. He really enjoyed it and would probably try it again. I’m still not seeing the appeal of stouts, so it goes without saying that I wouldn’t have chosen this and won’t be ordering it in the future.
While our River Rat tasting left much to be desired, I am happy to say that the experience was all up hill from there. After ordering a pint of the Broad River Red (read our prior post on it here) to relieve my taste buds from the tasting, we were able to take a tour of the newest portion of the facility. Franklin chose the Pilsner for the tour, which we’ve also previously reviewed.
We were taken back to the newest section of the facility where they’ve started their canning operation.
It’s pretty cool to see up-close and to think that the beer you’re buying at the store is made – and canned – just miles away. After giving us a brief overview of the canning operations, a River Rat team member offered us tastings of two of their beers that weren’t available in the tasting room. First, we tried a blackberry-cayenne Saison. It was very peppery and, as is typical of this brewing style, very carbonated. Next, they introduced us to Smoke on the Lager, which is a beer that is the result of a collaboration between River Rat, Brewery 85 (out of Greenville), Holy City (out of Charleston), and Frothy Beard (out of N. Charleston). We both really enjoyed this beer. It was Franklin’s favorite of the entire tour, in fact. I’m not sure when it would be available again, but we would both recommend that you give it a try.
All in all, this was a great way to spend a Saturday. We supported local businesses, local craft breweries, and tasted our way through Columbia. #firstpostof2017