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Monday, May 17, 2010

Charleston Pub Tour

Cheers from Charleston!

Les and I just returned from a terrific week in Charleston, SC. What a beautiful, fascinating city this is. We stayed at a charming bed and breakfast-ish inn called The Anchorage. It is located in the city's "French Quarter" area just a short walk to the waterfront. Charming would be the word to describe both the place and the people who worked there. Continental breakfast, wine and cheese at 4:00 and Sherry at 8:00. How cool is that? We walked (or biked) everywhere (didn't even rent a car - only bikes) and everywhere you turn there is history. Charleston was such a key city during the Revolution as well as the Civil War and is steeped in tales of pirates (both Blackbeard and Stede Bonnet met their ends here).
On top of all this, they produce some pretty good beers down there. Right next door to us was a bar called The Griffon which has a nice bunch of craft beers on tap and most everywhere you can get some decent local brews. And we stumbled upon the best way to sample these - it's the Charleston Pub Tour. Imagine kicking back with some good brews as you listen to a guy with a wealth of fascinating stories about the city and often about the very bar in which you are drinking. That gives you some idea of the Pub Tour.
The Original Pub Tour of Charleston is owned and operated by Becca Lesesne, who has been involved with craft brewing for some time. Right away we were greeted by her and her friendly staff. As it turned out, this particular tour included us and another couple. Our guide, Dave, was about as easy-going and laid back as could be and by the end of the tour it really felt like the five of us were old friends, laughing and joking and completely drawn in by Dave's tales of old Charleston.

We Begin At the Church of Our Lady of Beer

We started out at the Mad River Bar and Grill. A very interesting bar since it was originally an Episcopal Church. All religious artifacts were removed when the building was converted, although the stained-glass windows are still there. The ambiance was pretty cool, with Kayaks hanging from the vaulted ceiling and various college and pro athletic team banners hanging about. Excellent nachos. The beer selection was so-so if you're a hophead. They had Long Hammer IPA on tap - but they were out when we were there. The other options besides the typical Bud Light/Coors Light/Miller Lite line up were Newcastle Brown Ale, Shock Top and Guinness. I went with Guinness. Went well with the warm atmosphere and Dave's tales of pirates and Colonial politics.

The Griffon - Cool Bar - Nice Selection

Next we went to The Griffon. The bar is literally papered with dollar bills. Goes back to a tradition of sailors about to ship out leaving money with their name on it nailed to the wall so when they returned they would be sure to have money to buy drinks with. The bar has a kind of neat biker-type vibe to it. This place had an excellent selection of beers on tap: Harpoon, Fat Tire, Palmetto, Avery's, Dogfish Head, Sweetwater and others. I choose Rockhopper's IPA from R.J. Rockers Brewery out of Spartanburg, SC. I found it a nice, solid hoppy IPA. Good hop flower bouquet, golden color, wonderful hops presence with grapefruit notes. Good beer. I could have stayed there a while longer and sampled a few more, but we did have a schedule to keep.

A View to Drink By

We moved on to the Rooftop Bar and Restaurant. A great view of the city and Dave was able to fill us in on the history of several of the buildings we could see. There were no drafts and the bottled beer selection was somewhat limited but I was able to get a Palmetto Amber Ale. Palmetto Brewery is right there in Charleston. The Amber Ale is an excellent session beer. Nice balance of malt and hops. Palmetto is available most everywhere in the city. Good solid beer.

You Gotta' Love American Ingenuity

The last bar was the Blind Tiger. Cool backstory here too. At one point it was illegal to sell booze in the city, so at this establishment they advertised animal performances - a tiger often. People paid an admittance fee for the "show" only to be informed that the tiger was ill and couldn't perform. Perhaps they could compensate them with a drink? Of course everyone who came in knew the routine and the "show" was attended by Charleston VIP's including the mayor.
I had the Palmetto Pale Ale. Actually, I liked the Amber Ale better. The Pale Ale was fine but not particularly memorable. Again, a decent session beer.

Below - Courtyard at Blind Tiger

Soutend Brewery - Good food, Good Beer

I might also suggest if you visit the city to make a stop at the Southend Brewery. It's a really nice brewpub with a pretty impressive array of beers. Most tend toward the malty (Oatmeal Stout, Scarlet Ale) or lighter (Blonde, Blonde Light, Ironman Wheat) but their Bombay Pale Ale was very good (in a hoppy vein). The Oatmeal Stout was excellent - more carbonated than the typical stout. Deep black in color, big tan head, nice lacing. And a really bold flavor.
Inside Southend Brewery


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