Revelry Brewing Co. has been on a tear. The popular Charleston brewery's Smooth Like Jazz Eisbock beer just took home its fourth gold medal of the year, this time from the Great American Beer Festival, held in Denver, Colo., Sept. 20-22.
Unfortunately for beer drinkers in Charleston, though, they probably won't be able to taste this critical darling anytime soon. "We brew a lot of different beers," says Revelry co-owner Sean Fleming. "And it always seems like the ones that win are the ones we don't have a lot of."
Quadtum Leap aged beer also took home a gold medal for Revelry.
Munkle Brewing, which won a gold medal in the Belgian and French Style Ale category, made sure to enter a brew they'd be able to serve to customers, says co-owner Palmer Quimby. The brewery, which will celebrate its one-year anniversary Oct. 19, will feature its award-winning Five Branches Bier de Garde at a rescheduled Charleston Beer Week event with 167 Raw, but this version will be a tad different as it's been aging for four months in a rye whiskey barrel from High Wire Distilling Co.
Quimby says this is the first competition and the first beer they've entered. "We're still coming down from the high of being in the Mile High City," he says. "For all the beers we entered, we wanted to make sure we had them on hand and available."
Chris Winn of Tradesman Brewing, which did not enter this year since his brewery moved from James Island to the peninsula and is still setting up its new process, says Munkle winning a gold in its first year is absolutely epic, and so is Revelry winning two golds and Low Tide Brewing on Johns Island taking home a bronze in just its second year.
"They should be super proud," he says. "GABF has grown so much in the last decade. As cool as it was to win 10 years ago, it's exponentially harder to win today. It's a real testament for South Carolina breweries to bring home some hardware. They've absolutely earned it."
A total of seven medals were won by breweries in the state. In addition to the three Charleston-area breweries that won, Birds Fly South Ale Project in Greenville and River Dog Brewing in Bluffton also took home medals.
While seven awards might seem pale in comparison to California's 72 or Colorado's 30, Fleming points out that South Carolina's brewing scene is still in its infancy. If you consider that California is the state that started the craft brewing industry with Anchor in the 1970s, followed by law changes in the 1980s that allowed breweries to sell food, they have four decades on South Carolina.
Before a law change in 2007, South Carolina breweries could only brew beers with a 6 percent ABV or lower, about the strength of a Budweiser.
California is now home to more than 900 breweries while South Carolina has around 50, with more than 5,000 breweries in the U.S., according to the Brewers Association.
The crowded marketplace means competition is fierce at these beer events. As Fleming of Revelry points out, the GABF accepted 8,664 entries from 2,404 breweries. "Only 3.5 percent of entries took home medals," he says, and South Carolina has never taken home more than two awards in any given year.
"It's a good showing," agrees Quimby, who says many people he encountered in Denver from big beer towns were aware of South Carolina and talking about it. "We're on their radars."