I have in previous posts written about the World Beer Festival in Raleigh and Durham, NC. Since 2009 the World Beer Festival is hosted in Columbia, SC. I had the opportunity to be a part of the festival this past January.
The Columbia World Beer Festival is a little different form the other two festivals. It’s held at Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center in downtown Columbia. The other World Beer Festivals are held outdoors under huge tents. You would think that a convention center significantly changes the atmosphere. That is not the case with the Columbia festival. The modern convention center and the effort by people to make this a great event really helps. But best of all is the attendees.
The average age is a little higher than in Raleigh and Durham and they seem to be more interested in learning about beer. When I go to a beer festival I want it to be a complete experience. I’m not only interested in the festival it self. I also want to experience the town the festival is in. So lets start with Columbia as a beer town and what it’s like.
The first time I visited Columbia was in August and it was hot, very hot. It kind of make sense that their slogan is Famously Hot. It was 40C (105F) or something that day and 95% humidity. During the resection Columbia have been hit hard with unemployment and troubled city finances. That is something I really didn’t noticed. I always felt a positive spirit in Columbia.They have been working on vitalizing the downtown and Vista area which I think they have done really good. I was fortunate to stay at the downtown Hilton most of the times I was there so I had walking distance to many of the most interesting beer places. Right across the street from Hilton is Flying Saucer. The Flying Saucer is a regional beer bar chain with locations in Texas, Arkansas, Kansas, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina. They
are known for having 50-80 beers on tap all of the domestic and imported craft beers. The Hunter and Gatherer is Columbia’s only brew pub. It’s located in an old brick building that gives is an great atmosphere. Their beers are OK, not any WOW! beers but enjoyable. Columbia also have two Carolina Ale Houses. Carolina Ale House is a region sports bar chain with a good selection of beers. Their downtown location has a roof-top bar with is great to sit at during the evening when it cools down. The place to go to buy a beer at a store is Green’s Discount Beverages. They only operate in South Carolina and Georgia and they have a great selection of beers.
Columbia is a growing beer town with a great beer community that have the potential to grow and the World Beer Festival will help doing that. The
Convention Center in Columbia is maybe not the traditional venue for the festival but it’s a perfect venue to have an event at that time of the year. It’s right down town close to bars, restaurants and hotels. It might not present the same atmosphere as an outdoor venue with tents but it’s still a great place. The Columbia festival is a little small than it’s siblings in North Carolina and more sized according to the market. The South Carolina laws also put some restraint on what beers can be presented at the festival. According to the South Carolina Brewers Association’s website South Carolina have 11 brewers. The most know are RJ Rocker Brewing Company and Thomas Creek Brewery. They were both of course at the festival.
At the World Beer Festivals there are volunteers pouring the beer. In South Carolina brewers and brewery representatives can’t pour them selves so all the beer tables have to be staffed by volunteers. Volunteers can often come up with really interesting things to talk about. A volunteer was serving Young’s Double Chocolate Stout and Wells Banana Bread Beer at the same table. He managed to run out of beer half way in to each session by pitching the beers together. Chocolate and banana goes great together so chocolate and banana beer does too! When sampled in sequence they taste like chocolate covered banana marshmallows. The Wells Banana Bread Beer have a very chemically tasting banana flavor. I really like the chocolate stout though. It’s just fantastic on cask.
I have really enjoyed the times I have been in Columbia. The people there are fantastic and have a energy that you wouldn’t think existed in a relatively small and hot city in the south. The beer scene is growing and can become really interesting in a few years.