South Carolina craft breweries will be making a big splash during Saturday’s 6th annual World Beer Festival in Columbia.
For the first time, the state’s growing craft industry will have heavy representation at the festival, which features 75 breweries and about 200 labels from as far away as Czech Republic.
Organizer Chris Rice, vice president of All About Beer magazine, which sponsors the one-day beer fest, said that 13 of the state’s 15 breweries will be represented.
“It’s a whole section,” he said, from the magazine’s offices in Durham, N.C. “The number of breweries in South Carolina is growing very quickly, and they are becoming a very important piece in the U.S. craft brew scene. We are very excited to have them at the festival.”
Columbia’s Conquest Brewing Co. will be featured at the festival. It brewed a special Beer Fest Beer in collaboration with Rice and other All About Beer brewers. It is a special English Porter made with all American ingredients.
Other South Carolina breweries to be featured include Westbrook Brewing Co., and Holy City Brewing Co., in Charleston, Windy Hill Orchard in York and R.J. Rockers in Greenville.
Brook Bristow, the Greenville-based attorney for the S.C. Brewers Association, said inclusion in regional and national beer festivals is a boost for the craft beer movement here, which has taken off in the last year few years.
“All these breweries are small businesses looking to be successful,” he said. “Anytime you have a chance to showcase your product it’s a great opportunity, especially in an industry that is growing and developing.”
South Carolina has only recently come into to the craft beer game.
• In 2007, the General Assembly allowed beer with higher alcohol by volume.
• In 2010, brewers were allowed to serve their beer on site.
• This past spring, lawmakers passed the “pint law,” which increased the amount of beer customers can consume in craft brewery tasting rooms to 48 ounces – or three pints – from four 4-ounce samples. It also allows patrons to purchase up to 288 ounces (the equivalent of a case of beer) in large jugs, called growlers.
That made craft breweries more profitable, and as a result, they are popping up all over the Palmetto State.
Presently, Conquest, located near Williams-Brice Stadium at 947 S. Stadium Road is the only Columbia brewery that is up and running. River Rat Brewery at 1231 Shop Road has just started to brew its first batch. Swamp Cabbage Brewery is still building its facility at 801 Brookwood Drive.
Breweries differ from brew pubs like Hunter-Gatherer in Columbia in that brew pubs can serve beer, as well as food, but can’t distribute alcohol outside of the pub. A brewery can distribute its product in bottles, cans and kegs both statewide and nationally.
So brew pubs can’t offer their labels at the festival.
“That’s too bad, because folks like Aiken Brewing would really like to show off their product,” Rice said.
The World Beer Festival started in the 1980s in Denver, with Daniel Bradford, one of the forefathers of the craft beer movement in the United States. In 1996, Bradford moved to Durham and founded All About Beer magazine. He also started the first World Beer Festival there.
Since then, the annual festivals have spread to Raleigh, Cleveland and Columbia. Rice said Columbia was chosen because studies showed it was a large, untapped market.
“It was one of the growing markets, along with Austin (Texas),” said Rice, who also owns and operates two breweries in North Carolina. “It has a lot of the creative class of people: retirees, university folks, a lot of people who were interested in food and the arts.”
Last year the festival drew 5,000 people to the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center.
This year, sponsors have added more specialty beers. Green’s Discount Beer and Wine will have a table showcasing several import craft beers that are normally hard to find. For the first time, the World of Beer bar chain will be sponsoring the VIP section. They will have two special tappings every hour for VIP ticket holders, private bathrooms and a full meal paired with beer.
Breweries most recently added to the festival include Carolina Brewery in Chapel Hill, Red Hare in Marietta, Ga., Lonerider in Raleigh and the popular Magic Hat in Burlington, Vt.
The mission of the World Beer Festival is to educate the public in beer appreciation and beer quality, according to a press release, and to build the local beer community. The festival also will feature seminars and a mobile brewing operation.
A portion of the proceeds from the festival will go to Columbia Opportunity Resource, a nonprofit organization that aims to promote Columbia.
Bristow, a 2003 University of South Carolina Law School graduate and self-described “beer lawyer,” said the World Beer Festival was one of the first of a growing number of festivals that are popping up as regional craft brew becomes more popular. In addition to the World Beer Festival in Columbia, Charleston hosts Brewvival in February, and Greenville had the Greenville Craft Beer Festival in November.
“Beer festivals are fairly common,” Bristow said. “But with the increase in the popularity and distribution of craft beer in recent years, there are starting to be more and more of them.”
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