June 13, 2012

Charleston, SC: Westbrook Brewing Co.



The first stop in Charleston -- literally, the very first stop -- was Westbrook Brewing Company. We were on our way to a dinner, but since I happen to be half-Westbrook myself (mother's side), we just had to visit.

Right away I was pleased to find several varieties of hops growing outside, climbing up the twine towards the sunlight. That's local hop production right there.

Zeus hops right out front
Walking indoors we found a huge, brand new facility and an impressive tasting room. We saddled up to the oval-shaped bar, full of people enjoying some Friday afternoon brews. Flat screens hung from the walls and this sweet center-piece was suspended over the bar.


We ordered a quick sampler and discovered several very interesting beers (from left to right)...
  • White Thai - One of Westbrook's two year-round, canned offerings, this beer is a spin on the Belgian Wit. Rather than coriander and orange-peel, White Thai is made with lemongrass and ginger. A modest dose of Sorachi Ace hops keeps this one at 16 IBUs -- a good summer beer.
  • Stillwater Premium - This was actually a guest beer from rogue brewer Brian Strumke of Stillwater Artisanal Ales. He travels and brews at different breweries around the world, including Westbrook. Premium is a "Post Prohibition style" ale made with adjuncts of corn and rice. It's well-hopped and fermented with farmhouse yeast and two strains of Brettanomyces, creating a truly unique brew.
  • Grätzer - Another very unusual sud. While it doesn't look much different from a common pilsner, a Grätzer is a very low ABV, smoked wheat beer of German/Polish origin. Westbrook's version is made with a grain bill of 90% oak-smoked wheat malt. Along with the smoke, I picked up on tropical flavors of mango and pineapple. It comes out to just 3.4% ABV.
  • Pacific Jade - This rye pale ale is part of Westbrook's Single Hop series, where the base recipe stays the same, but the type of hop changes for each edition. Pacific Jade is a hop variety from New Zealand known for its citrus and black pepper characteristics.
  • IPA - The second of Westbrook's canned beers, the IPA is probably the most familiar style on the line up.  
  • Vanilla Tree Dubbel - A Belgian Dubbel, brewed with caramel malts and Belgian candi sugar, then aged on vanilla beans and toasted oak. It reminded me of a vanilla latte with a shot of Jack.
  • Covert Hops - This Black IPA has a lot going on -- roasted malt flavors, but a light body; four varieties of hops for great complexity, but at 45 IBUs its still relatively sessionable.
If I had to pick one, I'd say the Vanilla Tree Dubbel was my favorite.

For a brand new brewery, Westbrook sets the bar pretty high for South Carolina. But there's a lot more great beer to be found in Charleston, and we'll encounter Westbrook again at the Charleston Beer Exchange...