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Cream of the Crop Beer Fest closes out Soda City Suds Week

Map for Cream of the Crop Beer Fest
Map for Cream of the Crop Beer Fest Handout

Vanessa Driscoll Bialobreski is the mastermind behind the first (and hopefully annual) Cream of the Crop Beer Fest, noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, March 28, at City Roots. She was kind enough to answer some questions about what has become the finale event of Soda City Suds Week.

What was your inspiration behind the festival? Did you see Columbia reaching a tipping point with new local breweries?

I lived in Asheville for about five years and they had the Bluegrass Festival. It wasn’t a huge festival, but it was fun, a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon outdoors. Since I had been organizing events in Columbia (through her Farm to Table Event Co.), folks had been asking about a beer fest. I was finally convinced after the success of last year’s Pig and Oyster Roast to try one and, with the new breweries and places like Craft and Draft opening in Columbia, the timing is good.

What sets this event apart?

I went and asked the different parties “What do you want in a beer festival?” and got feedback from local breweries. The Palm FM Radio weighed in on music, Kristian Niemi (Rosso and Bourbon Columbia) had food suggestions and Eric McClam (City Roots) had ideas about the venue set-up.

We’re limiting the number of tickets so that there shouldn’t be a huge crowd. This will give people time to talk to the brewers in a more relaxed, comfortable environment.

We’re also buying all of the beer for the event. Some smaller craft breweries cannot always supply or donate beer for events, so we’re picking up the tab. Attendees will be able to bring their own growlers, or buy one from Craft & Draft at the festival, and fill them up with any of the remaining craft beers for $10-15.

I see River Rat has a special brew for this event. Are any of the other breweries debuting something new?

Yes! Seminar Brewing, from Florence, will be debuting Hay Y’all, their interpretation of the classic farmhouse ale. And there may be a few others.

What's the idea behind the staggered tapping times?

It was something that the Bluegrass Festival did. Staggering the tap times allows beer aficionados to pick and choose between the seasonal and special taps without bum-rushing one vendor or another.

We started out asking, and hoping, for 18-20 breweries in North and South Carolina to participate. We have 29 breweries serving about 90 beers total at the festival.

What are you most excited about or anticipate most about Cream of the Crop?

That it becomes an annual event showcasing brews in the Columbia market and growing craft beer enthusiasm.

Susan Ardis

If you go: Cream of the Crop Beer Fest, noon-5 p.m. Saturday, March 28, City Roots, 1005 Airport Blvd. $35 includes tasting glass, beer guide and all beer tastings, sold in advance only. $10 for designated driver ticket. Want more beer? Pints available for $5, fill your own growlers $10-15 (depending on brewer). Something else: Tap times are staggered at 30-minute intervals; food will be available from Bourbon Columbia, The Oak Table and The Wurst Wagen; music by The Ramblers and The Moustache Brothers; other vendors include Craft & Draft, Girls Pint Night Out, Soda City Suds, World Beer Magazine and Old Mill Brew Pub. www.farmtotableevent.com