I’m still recovering from the 6th Annual Myrtle Beach Beer Festival that was held at the House of Blues in North Myrtle Beach on Saturday, March 29. As I predicted in last week’s column, this year’s event was the biggest and best one yet. Boasting a huge selection of world-class brews, the House of Blues provided an excellent venue for the perfect afternoon and evening of beer sampling.
The beer tables were set up in three different areas of the sprawling HOB campus. Outside on The Deck, you could find Holy City, Lagunitas, Sam Adams, Smuttynose, Woodchuck, Highland, Railhouse Brewing and Sweetwater. Inside the restaurant was Foothills, Oskar Blues, RJ Rockers, Stone Brewing, Bells and a selection of English beers. Upstairs in the Indigo Room was Sierra Nevada, Red Hare, Thomas Creek, Goose Island, Founders and Myrtle Beach’s own New South Brewing.
I was pleasantly surprised to see Goose Island pouring not only the Backyard Rye and Bourbon County Stout, but also the Bourbon County Coffee Stout. Another surprise was the appearance of one of my favorite beers, Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout. Not available locally yet, this year’s KBS is delicious – with a great dark-coffee nose with tastes of chocolate and bourbon. KBS was my first sample of the afternoon, and I sipped it while helping New South set up a randall for its IPA. The randall held fresh grapefruit, blackberries and whole leaf Cascade hops. The IPA filtered through all those ingredients produced a delicious, citrusy IPA that could’ve torn the enamel off your teeth with all its fresh bitterness.
I headed over to the Goose Island table while I grooved to the sounds of Prettier than Matt and got a pour of the Bourbon County Stout Backyard Rye. The velvety-smooth and jet-black stout had an amazing fresh berry taste. The room was already getting full of excited and thirsty festival-goers when I noticed that it was time for the first scheduled beer seminar – “All About Hops” given by New South Brewmaster and owner, David Epstein. The seminar was held in one of the downstairs rooms off of the courtyard. The seminar may have been short, but it was packed with great information. Epstein spoke about the origins of hop usage and the different varieties of hops and the regions they come from. He passed around small Tupperware containers of several different types of hops and let those in attendance smell the pungent little green pellets.
After the seminar, it was time to go and explore the festival and see what other beers were being offered. I walked through the restaurant and saw that Terrapin’s table was on the lower level of the restaurant, so I headed down the steps to get my sample of the Cinnamon Roll’d Wake n’ Bake. The cinnamon flavor was very prominent, but not overwhelming. I sipped on this one while I headed outside to The Deck – it got better as it warmed with the coffee and cinnamon flavors taking center stage.
I hit the Lagunitas table first and got a pour of the Rye Barrel-aged Cappuccino Stout. This would turn out to not only be a huge surprise, but also be the best beer of the day. Big, creamy cappuccino taste balanced with a lightly boozy bourbon backend. Everyone was under the impression that this would be just the plain Cappuccino Stout poured from a cask, which I was excited to try, but this version turned out to be even better. The Rye whiskey barrel treatment added big notes of vanilla and oak.
After Lagunitas, I went to the Holy City table and got a sample of the bourbon barrel-aged New Year’s Resolution, a malty and delicious doppelbock. As you can tell, bourbon barrel treatments of beer is very trendy right now and for good reason – the complex tastes imparted by the barrel create another dimension to the flavor. Like any flavor addition, too much can be a bad thing, but the right amount can make an already good beer a great one.
I tried the Ashevilliner Weisse from Highland Brewing and the red wine barrel-aged KA-BAR brown ale from Railhouse. Both were really good, but besides the Cappuccino Stout from Lagunitas, the other big winner on The Deck was the Straw-Barb Berliner weisse from Smuttynose. As the name suggests, this tart German wheat beer was aged on strawberries and rhubarb. The fruity berry taste played well with the lactic sourness of the cloudy, light-colored beer.
Home brewers Michael Byrd, Kristen West, Mike Nagle and I joined up with the owners of the Home brewers Pantry, Thomas Lucas and Melissa Lucas to sit on the home brewer’s panel and talk about brewing and their new store in Conway. After a short discussion, we rejoined the festival – heading back into the restaurant to try the excellent barrel-aged Old Chub from Oskar Blues.
When you have recovered from the beer fest, don’t forget that there are several more upcoming events on the beer calendar. This Saturday is the grand opening party at the Homebrewers Pantry in downtown historic Conway. There will be music, homebrew to sample and plenty of folks to talk beer with. April 19 is the inaugural Beer, BBQ and Bluegrass event at the Market Common. A new event has been announced in Conway – the Rivertown Music & Craft Beer Festival, sponsored by the Crafty Rooster on May 3. For a full calendar of events and more information, check out www.MyrtleBeachCraftBeer.com/events.