I had so much fun doing my story on the breweries in Asheville, NC (The Best Beers in Beer City - read it HERE), that I decided to follow it up with a brewery tour down the road and across the state line here in Greenville. I have taken quite a shine to this town, and have really enjoyed my stay here. It feels like such an up-and-coming kind of place, like Asheville before it was Asheville. Prices are still reasonable, and there's a lot of opportunity here. One of the businesses which has been on the rise here in Greenville is the brewery business. There are about 8 breweries in the area and more on the way. I figured I'd take a little tour around and check them out. My rule for this crawl was the same as it was in Asheville, I would ask for the bartender's favorite beer - not their best seller or newest or freshest, but the one they would drink if they could only have one. Some of the beers I had were pretty awesome.
I started at Brewery 85 out in the warehouse district by the interstate. It was a typical warehouse style brewery and tap house, but was very bright and airy. There was lots of space to sit and enjoy a cold brew both inside and outside on the back deck, and plenty of parking. They had live music on a Sunday afternoon, food trucks parked out front, free WiFi and 1980s WWF wrestler stickers on the brew kettles. The beer of choice there was Tea Time (5.5% ABV, 18 IBUs), an English style brown ale infused with vanilla beans, almonds, coconuts and black tea. This was a super mellow and mild brew with a wonderful rich reddish-brown color. There were definitely strong hints of the added flavors, but nothing overwhelming. It was a very drinkable beer and on a cool spring day such as the one I visited on, I could imagine quietly sipping these all afternoon. It was an excellent choice and a great way to start the tour.
From there, I headed to Thomas Creek Brewery, one of the oldest players in the South Carolina brewing game. Founded in 1994 as Heni's brewpub downtown, they moved to their current location in the middle of the 85-185-25 triangle back in 1998. The brewery was another big warehouse, which was immaculate on the outside but showing its age a little on the inside. Having been to dozens of breweries this year already, Thomas Creek was a little less clean than I am used to, and I am only judging that by the appearance. I loved the fish tanks by the entrance though, and there was a nice outside patio area to enjoy your beers. The taproom was small and a little stuffy and there were weird flower arrangements in beer cans around, something I would expect more in Bangkok than Greenville, but I liked the wood tables and the cast iron stools. I was neutral at that point - the proof would have to be in the beer. The bartender went with their Sour Surfer IPA (6% ABV, 35 IBUs), a sour ale with hoppy tendencies. This was a pleasantly tart brew, with a nice flavor that hit me on the back of my tongue. It had a great light color, and the finish was good. This would make an excellent summer sipper. They managed to balance a sour beer with a slightly higher alcohol content and pulled it off really well. While the place could use a little spring cleaning, I had zero complaints about the beer.
Next I headed over to Birds Fly South Ale Project at Hampton Station northwest of downtown. They call themselves a "progressively old school urban farmhouse brewery" which suited it well. Hampton Station is an amazingly restored and rethought cotton warehouse housing not just Birds Fly South, but a crossfit gym, an axe-throwing club, a White Duck Taco and several small businesses and studios. Very hipster, but also incredibly well done. Birds Fly South has a really awesome space, both inside and out. The inside has a warm, welcoming feel to it, a place I could see enjoying with the windows open in summer or being warm and cozy with the windows shut in the winter. It was definitely the nicest taproom I had been to so far, but it was also probably the newest. I do love the old-school warehouse brewery, but this place was really cool. In an interesting move, the bartender went with a blend - about an 80/20 mix of their ISM Geist and their Apricot D'or. The ISM Geist (5.2% ABV) is a single-hop farmhouse style beer brewed with grungeist, a new German hop which "produces a blend of lemon, peach, and peppery floral essence". The Apricot D'or (3.5% ABV) was a golden sour brewed, obviously, with a hint of apricots. The mix was an interesting choice, and certainly not one I would have gone with on my own. It hit my tongue with lots of good flavor, enjoyable but not overwhelming. It went down smooth, but left a bit of a strange aftertaste in the finish. It was good, but it wasn't my favorite, and I would have loved to have tried one of their other beers but alas they were closing and I had to move on. I was actually surprised that many of Greenville's breweries weren't open on Sundays (South Carolina's antiquated blue laws require a special and expensive Sunday license), but the others would have to wait another day.
Shoeless Brewing is located inside Grapes and Grains, a homebrew and wine making shop south of downtown. They are proud to be upstate South Carolina's smallest brewery, but they are definitely not to be overlooked on your beer tour. Located at the end of a strip mall, this tiny tasting room is cozy and friendly with just four tables, a small bar and a big wrap-around couch. There are beer steins and bottles on high shelves around the room and beer mirrors and signs on the wall. The taps on the wall have handles made from wood, bone and antler and the Joe Bonamassa Pandora station is playing through the speakers. A South Carolina state flag is hanging, as are those of the two big universities in the state: Clemson and the University of South Carolina. There's even a dartboard. When your dad dreamed of a basement bar, this was probably what he had in his head, and that's not a bad thing. The beer of choice here is a Z12 (8.5% ABV), an ultra hazy New England IPA packing a serious punch. This beer is so hazy it looks like pulpy grapefruit juice, and the citra hops make it taste a bit like that too. On my nose, this is a super clean beer which smells nothing but fresh. It drinks very smooth, gliding over my tongue and down my throat with a nice clean finish. Great atmosphere, great music and fantastic beer make Shoeless a great place to visit. For such a small place, it sure packs a punch.
My next stop was at Quest Brewing Company out by the airport. Quest has a clean, modern taproom, nicely appointed in wood and brick with a beautiful granite bar. The bar is a reasonable size, but there are also a handful of tables and a wall rail as well. There is outdoor seating for those beautiful days and a nice outdoor stage for their frequent live music shows. The brewery is behind big glass windows, but looked clean and tidy. They also had a cool barrel set up with a beer tap for water which I got a kick out of. The bartender also went with a New England IPA: the Sun Wukong. Brewed with a pale malt, wheat, oats and three kinds of hops, this is a nice, hazy, drinkable IPA. It went down smooth and left a great feeling on my tongue. A little but of an aftertaste in the back of my mouth, but nothing to complain about - this was a good beer. On top of all of this, there was a wonderful group of people at this taproom. Locals and visitors enjoying an afternoon beer together and some good conversation, I had a really good time at Quest. Good beers and good times make for a great brewery experience. Of the breweries I visited, this would be the one I would go back to first.
I am going to try and swing by the northeast breweries next week and add to this list, but these are the major players close in to the city. While there aren't the number of breweries there are in Asheville, Greenville is an up and coming beer destination. In addition to the breweries, there are quite a few good craft beer bars downtown and scattered in the suburbs. There are any number of great reasons to come to Greenville, which I hope to write about later this week, but when you're done doing those things, it's nice to know there are some great breweries around to sip a cold one and unwind.