June 14, 2012

The Charleston Beer Exchange

The Charleston Beer Exchange ought to be a certified craft beer Mecca -- any beer fan passing through the area MUST make a stop here. From the top regional brews to the most obscure beers from around the world, CBX has just about every kind of craft beer you can think of, and then some. They've got hundreds of bottles and cans, more or less arranged by region, plus nine taps at the growler station that change on a regular basis. Stay up to date with what's on tap here.

I went by on a Sunday afternoon and did my best to restrain myself. There were so many choices, with tons of hard-to-find beers from craft importers like 12% and Shelton Brothers, plus a good representation of local brews to round things out. Given that there were so many beers at CBX that just can't be found in Panama, I drifted a bit outside my loosely-enforced, 'buy local' guidelines, but made sure to fill a couple growlers with some Charleston beers as well. Among the selection we took home, and worth every single penny:

  • Cuvée de Ranke - This Belgian ale from Brouwerij de Ranke was recommended by CBX staff when I asked for something "funky as f***" -- a friend's request, verbatim. The "de Ranke" in the name was definitely appropriate. More or a less a lambic, the Cuvée came in a 750ml bottle wrapped in paper, clearly marking it as a specialty beer. We found it to be somewhat sour, just a little tart, with some definite farmhouse funk. This kind of beer opens the door to a whole new world for a lot of people -- sour beers. It'll just take some practice to develop the palette and vocabulary to describe all the new flavors.
  • Two Gypsies - Our Side - This farmhouse ale was a collaboration between gypsy brewers Stillwater Artisanal Ales and Mikkeller. Having sampled Stillwater at Westbrook Brewing Company, I figured this would be a good bet.  Discovering that each brewer's first releases were both called "Stateside," Mikkel and Strumke created "Our Side," a mash-up of both recipes.
  • Dogfish Head Aprihop - It's not often you call Dogfish Head "conventional" but compared to the first two, this apricot-flavored IPA tasted much more familiar. My girlfriend called it "the perfect balance between a fruit beer and an IPA. I would definitely buy it again."
  • Rochefort 8 - When I spoke with Ignacio of Treintaycinco, he told me this Belgian Dubbel was his all-time favorite beer. $7 for an 11oz. bottle? Sure, why not! After all, the monks at Brasserie de Rochefort have only been making beer since 1595. I figured it was time to give it a try. Funky aromas right off the bat led to brown sugar and spice. Very complex flavors, some caramel goodness followed by spice, finishing just a little warm, but with the alcohol very well masked. The taste was simply exceptional. I did my best to savor it slowly.
  • Holy City Slam - To fill the 64oz. growler we had in tow, I wanted to get something relatively straight forward. Charleston's Holy City Slam, brewed with Chinook and Cascade hops, proved to be a great, all around American Pale Ale.
  • Westbrook Gose - As long as I was in the mood for shopping, I picked up a CBX mini-growler (32oz.) to grab another local brew. Taking part in a Gose revival, Westbrook's rendition of this sour wheat beer brewed with salt and coriander turned out to be very drinkable. Maybe it's hard to imagine sour beer? Think of the acidity of Sauvignon Blanc or the sourness of a margarita -- these flavors can be quite refreshing.
I could have spent hours perusing the selection at CBX, but there was a world-class beer bar calling my name...

For another great write-up on the Charleston Beer Exchange and more photos, check out CHSbeer.org.