Monday, June 6, 2016

South Carolina brewery launches successful Beer & Bluegrass Festival

By Dathan Kazsuk | June 6, 2016

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Jen and I made a vow to steer clear of “large” beer and wine festivals in the past. And to be honest, we’ve actually done pretty well in avoiding large crowds of people standing in outrageously long lines just to try a sample of that rare beer or that California Cabernet. But for the Barrels & Bluegrass Festival in Hilton Head Island, it was agreed upon that this would be one of the few exceptions.

Why? Well, there are several reasons. 1) Being the inaugural event we figured the crowd won’t be as crazy as an established event. 2) We have friends living on the island which we haven’t seen since December. 3) It was a nice opportunity to try out some South Carolina and Georgia beers which haven’t yet made it up to the Raleigh market.

So we made the longer than expected trek from Raleigh to Hilton Head Island on May 27 to meet up with our friends David and Debbie. After a quick pit stop at Southern Hops Brewery in Florence, for a quick bite to eat and a mediocre flight of beer, we continued our journey. Arriving in Hilton Head, we met our friends at their condo overlooking the Harbor River, then hopped in their Jeep for a brief tour of HHI and some of their local hangouts.

The next day, after a quick breakfast, we got in the car for the short drive to Honey Horn Plantation where the Barrels & Bluegrass Festival was being held. Located off the William Hilton Parkway at the intersection of Gum Tree Road, the plantation seems to be a hot-spot for local events such as an annual Chili Cook-off and other community festivals.

The Barrels & Bluegrass festival was essentially the brainchild of River Dog Brewing Company out of nearby Ridgeland, South Carolina. The festival brought in 50 breweries to pour samples of some of their favorite suds. 

From the well known breweries such as Anderson Valley, Crooked Stave, Stone, Allagash, 

Founders, New Belgium and Ballast Point – to some N.C. locals like Hi-Wire, Carolina Brewery and Charlotte’s Unknown Brewing Company.

But we were more interested in the beers being poured by some of the South Carolina breweries.
  • Seminar Brewing Co., Florence, S.C. – Alpha Crucis, PHD, An IPA with grilled pineapple and habanero peppers.
  • River Rat Brewery, Columbia, S.C. – Imperial Milk Stout, a 12% ABV stout.
  • Holy City Brewing Co., Charleston, S.C. – Barrel-Aged Holy Coast, a black rye IPA aged in Woodford Reserve Barrels for a year; and the Barrel-Aged Quintuple, a Belgian Triple barrel-aged in red wine barrels for 6 months.
  • Birds Fly South, Greenville, S.C. – Brand New Eyes, table saison blended through red wine puncheons; and a very sold Juniper Berry Saison.
  • Tradesman Brewing, Charleston, S.C. – Barrel-Aged Coconuts and Bolts, bourbon barrel-aged with notes of oak, coconut and chocolate.
Those were just a few of the 30-plus beers we sampled that afternoon.

Now let’s not forget the the food. Admission to the Barrels & Bluegrass Festival included two tickets good for a meal courtesy of Chef Brandon Carter of FARM and Chef Orchid Paulmeier of One Hot Mama’s. I’ve never heard of either one of these chefs before today, but our friend Debbie swears by the food produced by Paulmeier and the One Hot Mama’s restaurant.

We stood in line for a good 10-minutes to get our food, and that was the longest line we stood in that entire afternoon. No long lines to get any beer that afternoon, so none of us felt we had to slam beer after beer just in order to try something new before it runs dry.

Chef Paulmeier’s plate was two pieces of Sweet Tea Brined Fried Chicken with Honey Drizzle and Smoked Sea Salt and Mexican Street Corn. Now the chicken was tasty, but it was the corn that made the meal. An entire ear of corn, roasted on a charcoal grill, lathered with a mixture of mayo, sour cream, chili power and cayenne, then sprinkle some Cotija cheese crumbles on the corn.

By this time remnants of Tropical Storm Bonnie started to fall upon our heads. But it was off for a whole new round of drinking. We all enjoyed No Hero, a 7% ABV Stout from Evil Twin Brewing. We followed that up by trying beers from Freehouse Brewing, Green Flash, Hilton Head Brewing and Revelry Brewing, which offered a barrel-aged stout that would give Westbrook’s Mexican Cake a run for its money.

The rain started to fall a little more steady by the time we decided to head back to shelter and pick up our last food dish of the afternoon – a Mibek Beef Burger with Charleston Artisan Cheese, Chow Chow, Black Pepper-Garlic Mayo and hand cut fries.

We all had a great time at the event, and being with friends who love to drink as well made this event something we’d look into doing next year. But we all agreed on one thing – if the event title featured “Bluegrass” in its name – the bluegrass should have been a little more apparent. There were a couple bluegrass bands playing that afternoon, but it almost seemed second fiddle to the beer.