Quest Imperial Smoking Mirror – smoked porter: Boozy aromas of chocolate and dark fruit find my nose, offset with a just a hint of smoky dryness. The body is silky smooth and full of rich milk chocolate and vanilla. Sweetness overpowers what should have been a prominent smoked malt flavor. As the main body slips away, the finish reprises the sweet vanilla but leaves with only a disappointing touch of the huge peat flavor I had expected. 7.5/10
The second leg of my craft beer road trip was the drive home. It was a quick-fire beer tasting across the breadth of South Carolina, setting the record for my longest bar-hop (185 miles). I found out about the following breweries with some help from the lawyer, craft beer advocate, and prominent blogger, Brook Bristow, runner of the Beer of SC site.
In order to stay safe and lawful, I kept my drinks to half-pours and tasting glasses, and made sure to eat food, drink water, and plan on at least an hour at each brewery so that I wasn’t rushed into chugging full glasses before hopping behind a wheel.
Unlike the first entry, I have no family, friends, or other participants; I don’t have to guide anyone through the tasting notes; there is no cheesy family-friendly moral.
The morning I left the beach was gloomy, but I was excited to get one last chance to grab some brews that were unavailable in Georgia. Rain clouds were starting to form up as I was packing my car to leave. Wanting to get on the road soon, I filled the car up quickly, slammed the door shut, and helplessly watched my problematic passenger window rattle off of its supports and slide down into my car door. Not a great start.
I escaped ahead of the heaviest of the rain, but I still managed to take a bad GPS route down a dirt road and sling a bit of mud into my car.
My first stop, a bit more than an hour down the road, was in Florence, SC. A seemingly dubious decision, there, as the town is not exactly a craft beer Mecca. I went down to Southern Hops and made it in as their first customer at 11am. I apologized to the staff for waking them up, and then talked over our beer-for-breakfast ideas. The server and I agreed that the coffee flavors in porters and stouts were most appealing, but the bartender dissented suggesting the hoppiest of beers are the only way to start your day.
So I sat down to try a few of their recommendations and watch the pre-game show for the Argentina/Iran World Cup match.
Porter: Opaque, black-brown body yields an enticing deep brown head. The coffee aroma helps wake me up. Though it’s not a flavored beer, coffee and dark bitter chocolate are prominent notes in this slightly-heavier-than-style porter. The thick roasted malt body subsides into a touch of pine and dry chocolate finish. 8.5/10
Goldilocks – Belgian Golden: Beautiful golden body with white lacing. A light spicy aroma of pepper and sweet ginger wafts off the top. The body has some somewhat light biscuit flavors. A drying hoppy finish produces some spicy flavors like cinnamon and possibly nutmeg. Though abnormal for the style, I really enjoyed that twist at the end. 8.5/10
Leeroy Brown – American Brown: Translucent mud-colored body and thin white head. It had a lot of coffee aroma that gave me the impression that it was a light version of the porter. The thin body led into a deceptively robust hoppy finish. 7.5/10
Ellida (Quest Brewing) – Bourbon aged IPA: I don’t see many barrel-aged IPAs, and I wanted to make sure I got a taste of this one if the brewery didn’t have it further down the road. Bourbon booziness was somewhat solvent-like, compounded with the orange blossom aroma gave me an impression of citronella. Mild vanilla flavors in a relatively thick, malty body was capped off with earthy and floral bitter. 7/10.
My schedule requires that I get on the road, but I procrastinate until the kickoff of the Argentina/Iran game. I picked up a small growler of the Goldilocks and paid my tab. As I walked out, I confidently predicted that Iran would loose handily, and I would just be missing a slaughter.
A little over an hour and a half later, I made it to my destination in Columbia. The weather was clear, hot, and sunny. I parked my car in a dusty gravel parking lot in the swamp and walked in to a tiny taproom. A TV was hanging over the bar, playing the match I’d left two hours earlier. I looked at it just in time to see Messi score the only goal of the game. Clearly, they were waiting just for me.
Vanilla Porter: A black pour with a small tan head, and a sweet milk chocolate aroma introduced me to the brewery. The medium weight body was a bit sweet, but it was balanced with a good coffee undertone. It seemed like it would have a predominantly earthy bitter finish, but the vanilla came back on the aftertaste; a bit sugary, but not cloying. 8.5/10
American Kolsh Story [sic] – Kolsch: Grainy nose with earthy spice. Mild malt body showcased the super-fresh grain flavors. The beer was not sweet, but it had no sharp bite of the traditional style. I’m not sure if the beer was misspelled on the board or if the label was intentionally spelled this way, but Jason, the bar patron next to me, made sure that the first entry on Untapp’d for this beer was spelled without the “c.” 7/10
Moncks’s Corner [sic] – Belgian dark: Bright fruity nose. Kinda boozy, with a phenolic solvent undertone. It was subtle but noticeable, and somewhat off-putting. The lighter body and dry finish puts the beer on a good start, but a minty aftertaste was less desirable. We decided that the missing “c” from the Kolsch wound up in the Belgian dark. 6/10
I know I didn’t rate these beers very highly, but I really enjoyed my time at the tasting room. Like any young brewery, they have some polishing to do, but I’m confident that River Rat is on the right track and I’m looking forward to doing this again.
After talking with Jason for a while, I mentioned my road trip. He recommended that I try Conquest Brewing while I was in town. So I filled a growler with the River Rat IPA and got on my way.
A ten minute drive up the road from River Rat placed me by the warehouse that Conquest brewing is located in. You enter through the brewing area, where they were selling pulled pork and brisket from a local barbecue shop; Yellow Dog Barbeque. The taproom here is tucked away behind a nondescript door that appeared to me to be a storage closet. Entering, I was greeted with a powerful aroma of incense- provided by a bartender smoking an e-cig and wearing some unsettling black contacts. Doing my best to avoid commenting on his appearance, I commenced the tasting.
Artemis – Belgian Blonde: Pretty simple flavor profile yet still very tasty. It was light and crisp with an good sweetness that gave the lemony citrus a refreshing finish. 8/10
Medusa Stout: Huge coffee and chocolate aroma poured off the top of this beer. The body was smooth and creamy with sweeter chocolate flavors and vanilla. A relatively mild roasty finish. 8.5/10
Belma – Black IPA: The Belma hops is a strain I had not heard of before; some quick Googling showed it to produce a fruit-forward tasting profile, and a high alpha-acid content. The Belma black IPA had a full roasty chocolate aroma and body with overwhelming dry and earthy notes. A very bitter finish rounded out this beer. I got the feeling that the hops were misused, though, and perhaps a more delicate application of them would be beneficial. 7/10.
Sacred Heartier – Double IPA: Tropical fruit aroma of mango, pear, and tangerines cleared my palate. A relatively full sweetness through the body accentuated those flavors, eventually tapering off into a good balancing bitter finish. High alcohol, but it didn’t have the characteristic warmth. 9/10.
Though I was confused about why a service industry employee would choose the appearance that he did -and be so obnoxious about smoking flavored e-cigs inside (he ignores the intense aroma and touts the ubiquitous line “it’s just water vapor, so there’s really nothing that anyone could be bothered by”)- he knew his beer. The guy answered every question I had, even about the relatively unknown Belma hop strain used in their black IPA. I’m willing to forgive the in-your-face-alternative vibe to go back for some really good beer. I took home a small growler of the Sacred Heart single IPA to enjoy.
The stop at conquest was unplanned, and puts me over an hour behind schedule, but I’d still make Greenville with plenty of time to get to a few breweries there.
First on my agenda in this city was Quest. I’d heard about them from so many different people over the last two years, that I needed to be sure that they would not get skipped.
Smoking Mirror – smoked porter: A campfire aroma introduced a fairly light body that was filled with semi-sweet chocolate. The flavors quickly turned into a palate-drying finish with plenty of the peat and smoke flavors that I was looking for. The beer drank like I was pairing chocolate with scotch (which I love doing). Delicious. 9/10
Ponce de Saison – pepper/cucumber Saison: Jalepeno nose with vegetable flavor underneath. Apple and tropical fruit lent sweetness to the body. Sweet/pepper flavors makes this reminiscent of a mango salsa. A nice medium burn hits the palate on the second or third sip, as well as a small amount of a rough floral aftertaste. 8.5/10
Shiver – Imperial Saison in Cabernet Barrels: A boozy nose of red wine emanates off the top. It has a sweet body. I could tell it was complicated, but by this point I had a burnt out palate from the spice of the previous beer. I guess I’ll need to go back to try it again. 7.5-8.5/10
Melasine – Biere de Garde in Cabernet barrels: Booze aroma and tangerine sweet body. It has a fairly heavy malt presence for a Biere de Garde, but it dried out nicely on the end. The red wine was more subdued in this beer than in the Imperial Saison, imparting a nice cherry flavor and oak-like finish. Still, a little bit warm though, 8.5/10.
All of these beers were fairly high ABV. Coupled with several generous samples provided by the bartender and manager, I was forced to maintain my position on the stool and drink water for an extra hour. That meant that I had to cut my plan to go to Brewery 85. However, this gave me some time to meet the staff and discuss their future plans. Some exciting beer will be coming out of this building as they continue to ramp up their barrel program. I’ll be planning another trip in January for sure.
After sitting around for a while, I decided to fill my last growler with the Imperial Smoking Mirror and got on the road. I managed to prop my passenger window up by bracing a fork underneath it. About ten minutes down the road, a bump jostled the fork loose, catapulting it right out the passenger side, and the window sunk completely out of reach in my door. It was a windy, rattling ride home, but well worth the trip.