The fourth-annual Brewvival beer festival has come and gone, and oh, what a time it was.
Even before the gates opened at noon on Saturday, this year’s festival was already shaping up to be one of the best. Fewer tickets sold, an expanded and improved layout and more breweries and food options all seemed very promising. But Mother Nature decided to not play nice that day.
From Friday evening on through Saturday afternoon, a massive stormfront moved across the coast, dumping three inches of rain on Saturday and threatening to dampen more that just spirits. The field across from COAST, where the festival has always been held, turned into a giant mud pit a couple of hours into the festival. Rain boots were a necessity – the $12 pair I bought at Tractor Supply Co. on Friday was the best investment I’ve made in a long time – as were umbrellas and rain gear. While the storms let up about halfway through the day, it didn’t help make things easier to traverse.
But even with all that, the estimated 1,800 people who showed up Saturday stayed in good spirits. Having a bunch of intoxicated people walking through shin-deep mud in a torrential downpour doesn’t sound like the best idea, but everyone made the best of it, and the day more or less went off without any big hitches.
I’ve been to the past three festivals and personally, this was by far the best year yet. The smaller crowd and increased amount of beer and breweries, along with the much-improved layout, was perfect. And the rain gave the festival its own unique character. (As a friend told me in line, no one ever says, “Hey, remember how much fun we had when it was sunny at that festival?”) In fact, if anything it helped me enjoy the festival even more. I wasn’t trying to run from one side of the field to the other to sample everything I could, mostly because I physically couldn’t.
That said, here were a few highlights for me:
- Funky Buddha – which I crowned as the best brewery of the 2012 festival – once again stole the show, and in my opinion had far and away the best beers of the festival. The lines for their tent did not diminish all day, buoyed by beers such as their Basil Lime Pale Ale, Sweet Potato Casserole pumpkin beer and Don’t Tell Reese Chocolate Peanut Butter brown ale.
- Aside from Funky Buddha, Florida breweries were in full effect in general. As expected, Cigar City set up shop, reportedly bringing 10 kegs (although I believe they got through only half) including Dos Años Kumquat Berliner Weisse, Cognac Barrel-aged Imperial Sweet Stout and Apple Brandy Barrel-aged Warmer Winter Winter Warmer. But what surprised me was that 7venth Sun was also in attendance. Their Graffiti Orange Creamsicle wheat beer and Making Love at Midnight Berliner Weisse – it tasted like a piña colada – were some of the winners of the day. Ashville’s Pisgah also made a surprise appearance, although I sadly wasn’t able to trudge over to their tent.
- I’m happy to say the hype surrounding Conquest has made its way to Charleston. Joseph, Matt and company were a big hit, and I heard plenty of people talking about how much they enjoyed Sacred Heart and Artemis. The cask version of Sacred Heart, which was double dry-hopped with mangos and papayas, was just as solid. But the Bipolar High Roller hit the spot for me. I was nervous about how Scotch Bonnets would work with a 4.5% Irish dry stout, but it worked incredibly well together.
- Jester King was a huge hit, plain and simple. The Texas brewery, a surprise show in the Palmetto State, brought six different beers to sample, and I made it a point to try each. It’s unique to see an American brewery – especially one from Texas – specializing in just saisons and sours, but everything I sampled gave me a good understanding of why the brewery is so popular.
As always, my hat’s off to COAST and the Charleston Beer Exchange for putting on the best beer festival in the Southeast. As I said, this was hands down the best year for me, and all the changes and accommodations made make me confident Brewvival will get even better in the years to come.
And with that, the countdown to Brewvival 2014 begins.