From The State
Soda City Suds Week, created to highlight Columbia’s growing craft beer movement, starts Saturday on Columbia’s Main Street and ends March 28 at City Roots, the urban farm near Owens Field Park. In between are two dozen creative events designed to get people out to experience what makes locally brewed beer unique.
To get started, here are snapshots of six people at the center of Columbia’s independent beer scene.
Joseph Ackerman, 30, head brewer at Conquest Brewing Company
“A lot of brewing is discovery and experimentation.”
First beer: Guinness. “I saw light beer as wimpy from the time I was a little kid.”
The push: Started home-brewing in college at USC after a friend found online instructions for brewing beer in a coffee pot. The effort was an abject failure, but got him interested in brewing. He joined Palmetto State Brewers, where he reconnected with a childhood friend, Matthew Ellisor; the two started brewing beer together. That was about eight years ago. In January 2013, with the help of 35 small, private investors, they opened the city’s first production brewery in Columbia since prohibition.
Favorite: Barrel-aged finisher, which comes out once a year for the Conquest anniversary. “It’s just world-class.”
Weirdest ingredient: Bacon.
Where to buy his beer: The taproom is at 947 S. Stadium Road, near the USC football stadium, and the beer is sold at bars and package stores in Columbia, Rock Hill and Greenville.
The future: Conquest is about to start producing six-packs and is looking to expand its equipment so it can distribute statewide – and, eventually, throughout the Southeast.
Ashley Bower, 31, a founder of Soda City Suds Week
While working as a beer distributor for a small, niche company, Bower holds several volunteer jobs promoting the craft beer movement in South Carolina. Among them, she’s a founder of the group putting on Soda City Suds Week.
First beer: “Budweiser. I wouldn’t touch it now.”
The push: Armed with a business degree from Limestone College, Bower became immersed in the craft-beer movement as part of her interest in supporting small, independent businesses. She began by sampling different craft beers at Flying Saucer, then joined a home-brew club and eventually became certified as a beer expert, a “cicerone,” one of only six in the state. She’s also the only woman in South Carolina certified as a beer judge. She started the Columbia chapters of Girls Pint Out, a group dedicated to the appreciation of craft beer, and the Pink Boots Society, a professional organization for women in the beer industry. She’s president of the Midlands Craft Beer Supporters, too.
Favorite: “It changes so often. My favorite right now is probably Westbrook Gose,” a German-style wheat beer.
The future: “More and more businesses are involved now, and the scene’s really growing (in South Carolina). We’ve got 23 breweries and a lot more on the way.”
Doug Boyd, 42, founder/brewer of Swamp Cabbage Brewery
“We do a wide variety of beers, something for everybody.”
First beer: “I’m sure it was some Budweiser product.”
The push: Twenty years ago, Boyd picked up a home-brew kit at local brewing supply store Bet-Mar Liquid Hobby. About seven years ago, he started visiting production breweries to learn about the business. He and his brother Ed, who handles the business side of the operation, opened Swamp Cabbage in August.
Favorite: The ESB, extra-special bitter.
Weirdest ingredient: “I’ve never used a weird ingredient.”
Where to get his beer: Bars, restaurants and growler stations in the Columbia and Rock Hill markets. The tasting room is at 921 Brookwood Drive, off Bluff Road, across from the S.C. State Fairgrounds.
The future: By the end of the year, Boyd should be bottling his beer for sale.
Matt Rodgers, 32, a farmer and brewer at Hop Yard Brew Supply and Old Mill Brewpub
He is knowledgeable about the history of brewing beer; his niche is using primitive brewing techniques.
First beer: Michelob Light, his dad’s brand. “I was probably 10 when I snuck a sip out of one of his bottles.”
The push: He got into beer through farming, recognizing an opportunity to create a new market in South Carolina for hops after an international shortage in 2006. As a result, he grows organic hops on the family farm in Camden. In 2011, Rodgers attended a three-month program at the Siebel Institute of Technology, the oldest brewing school in the country, founded in 1872 in Chicago.
Favorite: Farmhouse Ale, a wild, 100 percent homegrown beer using all local ingredients.
Weirdest ingredient: Rainwater.
Where to get his beer: The Old Mill Brewpub at 711 E. Main St. in Lexington. Customers can get growlers – that’s 64 ounces, or a half-gallon of beer – to take home.
The future: Expanding the home-brew store, moving into online sales, too.
Kevin Varner, 44, brewer and owner of Hunter-Gatherer Brewery & Alehouse
Varner was an early advocate for changes in state law to allow brew pubs, and in 1995, opened the city’s first brew pub.
First beer: Probably Busch.
The push: As a college student, Varner studied abroad in Scotland for a semester in 1989, discovered that all beer didn’t come from a can and became fascinated with the pub culture. He brought back a home-brew kit and started making beer in his mother’s kitchen in Greenville, then talked his way into a job at one of the country’s first craft breweries, Hale’s Ales, in Seattle before going into business for himself in Columbia.
Favorite: “I really like our stout, which we brew a couple of times a year.”
Weirdest ingredient: “I’m really into the traditions. I’ve always stuck with the main ingredients: malt, yeast, hops and water.”
Where to get his beer: Not available in stores – yet – but patrons can take home a growler from the pub, at 900 Main St., on the corner of Main and College streets.
The future: To open a second brewery this year, allowing him to bottle, keg and sell beer throughout South Carolina.
Drew Walker, 29, brewmaster and pitmaster at River Rat Brewery
Walker brews at the largest production brewery in Columbia, where they steer clear of “wild and crazy” and stick to making classic beer appealing to any taste. He also barbecues the beef, pork and chicken served at River Rat. The sauces are made in-house, too.
First beer: “A Coors Light in the back of somebody’s truck when I was 15. But the first craft beer that changed my view on beer was SweetWater 420 about 10 years ago.”
The push: A good friend’s father-in-law, who lives in Japan, started home-brewing because he couldn’t find any beer he liked. In 2005, the three of them made a batch together, and Walker fell in love with the art of brewing beer. He studied up on it, then got a job at Abita Brewing Company outside of New Orleans, where he worked for almost six years. He moved to Alaska for a job at Kassik’s Kenai Brew Stop before being recruited by River Rat about 10 months ago.
Favorite: River Rat Oktoberfest, which came out last fall. “A real clean, crisp beer that’s perfect for October coming.”
Weirdest ingredient: Chai tea.
Where to get his beer: Brewery and taproom, with dog-friendly lawn, at 1231 Shop Road. Also sold at bars, restaurants and stores throughout South Carolina. (See listing at www.riverratbrewery.com.)
The future: “The goal of River Rat is ‘California to China and everywhere in between.’ ”