I am a New York-bred Yankee so picking on South Carolina is easy to me. From the confederate flag flap to the fawning over a mediocre college football program to palmetto bugs (Coackroaches. They’re cockroaches!), the northeast elitist in me cannot figure out where to start.
And, it’s not like South Carolina makes it easy on itself. It’s drivers (drunk and sober) are among the worst in the nation, the beaches are trying to kill you, it’s a hub of illegal gun trafficking, its schools are laughably bad and being a senior citizen is not much better.
Clear out the bad and what are you left with? Charleston’s nice. And so is the beer. The Palmetto State’s craft beer scene is small but growing. The Brewers Association places it 31st in number of breweries and 29th in economic impact. That’s not bad considering that the state only recently began loosening its beer-related restrictions.
And the brewers themselves are doing good work. Myrtle Beach’s New South Brewing, which has earned awards at Great American Beer Festival, makes a nice white ale that challenges the ubiquitous Blue Moon. Thomas Creek in Greenville brews on contract for a handful of breweries in addition to making its own beers. And, listicle farm Thrillist considers Coast Brewing one of the tops in the south.
None of them, however, touch the reach and impact of Westbrook Brewing Company in the Charleston suburb of Mt. Pleasant. Paste magazine called its gose the best new beer in the nation in 2013. It is an absolute joy to drink this sessionable sour (4% ABV) in the spring and summer, as the pungent salty-sour flavor profile quenches your thirst and leaves you wanting more. I missed the summer 2017 release of its Key Lime variant, which was supposedly better than the original. I still carry this as a personal failure, up there with working up the nerve to ask Jamie Buttiglieri to the junior prom. Westbrook puts its own spin on the Belgian-style witbier with White Thai, substituting lemongrass and ginger for coriander and orange peel.
The blend of Azacca, Galaxy, and Mosaic hops combine to emit a tropical fruit essence with hints of candied sweetness.”
There is, of course, the Mexican Cake as well. Released each May, it’s a luscious imperial stout brewed with cacao nibs, vanilla, cinnamon, and habanero peppers.
One of Westbrook's most underrated beers is the One Claw rye pale ale, which blends citrusy hops with peppery rye in a crisp pale ale. Last year, Westbrook debuted Two Claw, a rye IPA, in draft form only. For 2017, it earned a canning. It earned more than that, even.
The beer pours nicely into your preferred drinking vessel with a hazy brass hue and a foamy head as wide as my ring and pinky finger. Get up close and take a whiff. The blend of Azacca, Galaxy, and Mosaic hops combine to emit a tropical fruit essence with hints of candied sweetness.
On first taste, you are confronted by both bitter and candied citrus fruits; orange and grapefruit were noticeable. A medium to medium-high level of carbonation tickles your palate through the bridge, leaving a mix of flavors at the end. Rye spice is present, but you end up with a bitter hop profile with flavors of lemon and some nonspecific tropical fruit. The mouthfeel is watery and the body medium.
Let’s get back to that rye for a second. Ordinarily, brewers play up the rye to set the beer apart from its regular IPA. This one does not follow that pattern. The rye is more subtle; no pepper at the ending or overpowering spice throughout. This was more of a sustained moderate spice that existed from sip to swallow.
It’s easy to make fun of the Palmetto State for being backwards, but the one thing moving forwards are its beers. Westbrook does well here.