About a year ago, the beer scene in Columbia got a major shot in the arm with the arrival of The Vista location of World of Beer. While our two local Green’s locations have been increasing their clout and stock in recent years and Flying Saucer had become a second home for me, World of Beer has upped the ante for the craft beer culture in Columbia.
Founded by a couple Floridians in 2007 and gobbled up by the corporate entity behind Outback Steakhouse in 2010, World of Beer could have easily become a schticky, tchotchke-ridden BMC haven, similar to another bar with a black and yellow color scheme. One could even look at the company’s mission statement as hokey:
At World of Beer, having the most extensive beer selection is not enough. It is important that a broad spectrum of patrons, from the beer aficionado to the casual beer fan, can enjoy the best beers on the planet and increase their beer knowledge in a comfortable and upbeat setting.
But instead of going mainstream, the bar has bucked all BMC brews and instead focused on creating an environment that’s inviting and educational. Bartenders and waitresses take part in a beer school where they learn about ingredients, styles, presentation, etc., so when you order a beer, you’re getting it in the right glassware from someone who can tell you about the style. And should someone looking for a Bud Light wander in, the bartender will be happy to point them toward something similar, but far, far better.
There’s not a bar like World of Beer in Columbia. Don’t get me wrong: Flying Saucer is where I cut my teeth, and I’ll always have my name on the wall (Plate No. 661!). They got the ball rolling in the state as far as being a place to go and try new beers. And sure, some places in the Vista and Five Points have a great beer selection, but they’ll dump an imperial stout in a frosted pint glass and not think twice about it.
Speaking of beer selection … oh, man, the selection. I can’t think of a bar within a 50-mile radius that comes close to the bottle or tap list World of Beer puts out. There’s something new on tap every day, from your standard brown ales and IPAs to massive imperial stouts and barleywines, and as soon as something kicks, something new gets put on. Just about every week, a rare keg or a special cask is tapped, and there are brewery spotlights, tap takeovers and talks with brewers every month. You could go in every other day and find something new on the tap list and still be able to grab your old standby off the bottle list.
But most importantly – for me, at least, and a lot of other people – is their focus and strong promotion of local beer. Take, for example, Friday, Dec. 7, the day World of Beer celebrated its first birthday. While the standard great taplist was on deck, the focus on South Carolina beers was as strong as I’ve seen it. There were great, rare beers from Westbrook, including a Mourvedre Barrel-aged Quad, Mexican Cake (still phenomenal after a year) and an Apple Brandy Barrel-aged Imperial Stout; a keg of Holy City‘s Funkel Dunkel, the first time I’ve seen it out of the brewery; and a cask of Thomas Creek‘s Conduplico Immundus Monachus.
And when they talk about culture, they live up to their word. It really is a place where seasons beer geeks will be able to find something they enjoy, and newbies will be able to advance their knowledge. Better yet, it’s all done without ego and the focus remains on education and appreciation, as it should.
I don’t mean to wax poetic about a bar, but World of Beer really is a great thing for this city. Our beer culture is still playing catchup with Greenville and Charleston. We do have a way to go before we’re mentioned alongside them when it comes to beer cities in South Carolina. But since World of Beer’s come on the scene, I’ve certainly seen progress and the beer culture grow. I’ll drink to that.