I woke up at the crack of dawn Saturday to get an early start on my trip to South Carolina for the evening's show at Columbia Craft Brewing Co. As you probably know by now, I hate cold weather and one of the main reasons for these southern winter runs is to try to avoid it as much as possible, so after a ridiculously cold run of shows in Ohio and Indiana I was more than ready for warmer temperatures.
I was on the highway well before sunrise, with an ETA that would put me at the brewery more than an hour before showtime, which is generally my goal so I have plenty of time to just chill out before playing. As this was a longer trip, I was traveling in the tour van, which is in great shape and perfect for these longer hauls, with its only problem being that the fuel gauge is currently on the fritz... which is why on this morning, for the first time since high school, I ran out of gas on the highway. Somewhere in the hills of southern Kentucky.
Columbia Craft Brewing Co. - Columbia, SC
In addition to the drafts sold in the taproom, Growlers are also available to-go, as well as can 4-packs.
Google said the nearest gas station was 10 miles away (too long to walk, plus it was crazy cold out), so I called roadside assistance to deliver gas. Two hours later a guy who looks exactly like Billy Bob Thornton's character from "U-Turn" shows up and charges me $75 for delivering two gallons of gas. When I finally got rolling again my GPS showed I had 6 hours to Columbia, and should arrive 30 minutes before show time, assuming I encountered no more problems (and that didn't factor in additional gas, food, or bathroom stops). So the BEST scenario was that I'd arrive at the brewery just barely in time to start on time. No pressure....
Luckily the rest of the drive was fine, a beautiful clear (albeit cold) day through the mountains of Tennessee, the Asheville area of North Carolina, and into South Carolina, passing through the Pisgah and Cherokee National Forests. My other car is a 2008 BMW 535 with AWD, and makes these mountain roads a blast to fly through (Road & Track said this car is so fast and handles so well it “feels like you're being guided by the hand of God”), and the van is a totally different experience than that, but the scenery was still spectacular for a less ambitious drive.
Just as the GPS predicted, I arrived at Columbia Craft Brewing 30 minutes before my scheduled start time. Upon stepping out of the back of the van, without shoes on, I broke the middle toe on my left foot by stubbing it on one of the door latches. Being in a rush, I unloaded the van, setup for my set, and didn't really realize that the toe was broken until the end of the night.
From there on out, though, it was a fun night. Columbia Craft is a free standing brewery, taproom up front, and a decent sized patio/beer garden outside. The building looks a bit like an airplane hangar from the outside, and the taproom is comfortably sized for an acoustic setup like mine. They've only been around for a little more than a year, but business has been accelerating steadily, and they already had a reputation of being one of the region's finest breweries. While their selection was rather well rounded, their specialties are more in the pale ale and sour categories, so that's what I focused on.
My first drink of the night was their Famously Hop IPA (6.2%), which is brewed with 4 grains, 4 hops, and dry hopped with citra. Medium bodied, crisp, and definitely rich in hops, leaning less on the piney side and more on the hints of citrus. After a long and trying day, it was a solid beer to start off with, refreshing and satisfying and putting my nerves at ease as I dug into my first set. I ended up stretching the first set out quite a bit, and took my break after playing for 2 hours.
At the recommendation of the bar, during my setbreak I enjoyed a Bier Hall: Study Hall New England style Sour IPA (5.3%). As the name indicates, it's an IPA in the ever popular New England style, but with a very lemony sour flavor and hints of passion fruit in the scent. Hazy and crisp, that lemon really made it another very refreshing beer, and with my extended first set leaving me sweating like a whore in church it hit the spot in a big way. I'm thinking this would be a pretty spectacularly lemon-tinged beer for a really hot day.
My next two brews were both Brut IPAs. My favorite was the Over A Ten Brut IPA (8.3%), a nicely dry beer with hints of grapefruit, orange, and kiwi... which was a very interesting follow-up to the previous lemony Bier Hall Sour IPA. These brut IPAs can be hit or miss... they are quite interesting and refreshing if done well, but can seem a bit dull depending on what else you've been drinking. While the Over A Ten had enough citrus flavor to compliment the dryness after the lemon brew, the next brut I tried, the Brutally Honest Brut Pale Ale (4.5%) had a much more subtle taste, which in this context seemed a bit bland... but might be more satisfying as the first beer of the night. It was nicely dry, light, and crisp, it just seemed a little hard to find the flavor after having a few relatively bolder selections.
Columbia Craft's menu had a few others that I would love to come back to try, including a couple of porters, and a New England style dry-hopped Double IPA... but on this night I was worn out and couldn't handle more than the four enjoyable pints I had consumed.
The staff and clientele were very friendly, and I enjoyed several great conversations about the brewery, beer, music and the tour. I would definitely make a point of stopping here again, not only to dig deeper into the beer selection, but also to check out the city of Columbia itself, which on this night I literally spent about 20 minutes in as I drove towards and then away from the brewery.
Next stops: a couple of days off in Chapel Hill, NC, an interview in Athens, GA, and three shows in Alabama....
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