After a couple days enjoying the history, architecture, and nightlife (and by necessity the public library) of Savannah, GA, on 2/6/14 we moved along the coast towards another important historic city – Charleston, South Carolina. Our first brewery stop in the area was to Holy City Brewing (HCB), located in North Charleston on the peninsula between the Ashley and Cooper Rivers. The brewery was opened in 2011 by a team of four gentlemen: Joe Carl and Sean Nemitz are local business partners in the Charleston rickshaw/pedicab industry, Mac Minaudo worked in Asheville’s biodiesel industry, and Chris Brown had been working in food and beverage prior to going through professional brewers training then working at Gordon Biersch in Atlanta. The four cut their teeth homebrewing together on a 15 gal three tier system made with used bike parts where they developed the recipes for their flagship beers and many more. The brewery and taproom are now housed in a 4,000 sq ft warehouse that Mac bought previously for his biodiesel business, though the space has been expanded since opening. They celebrated 2 years of brewing success this past July 21st at an anniversary party with over 1,200 fans in attendance. This afternoon we showed up at the beginning of their Thursday taproom hours and enjoyed a couple flights, then got a tour from JT Stellmach, Holy City’s tasting room manager, as well as the opportunity to speak with the brewing staff.
Chris Brown serves as co-owner and head brewer of HCB and was the only paid brewer on staff for quite a while prior to bringing on assistant brewer Tim Bettencourt then much later another assistant who goes by Captain. The brewery operates a 2 vessel, 15 bbl brewhouse about 5 days a week and have seen a doubling of production each year. With the coming installation of additional fermenters and a 60 bbl bright tank, they expect to max out production in their current space at around 6,500 bbl in the 3rd year of operation. Rather than upgrade the full brewhouse, the crew plans to install a second 15bbl vessel and do a double mash to push out 30 bbl batches, extending the brew day by just a couple hours.
Chris’ approach is unique for such a small brewery in that he graciously takes the time and tank space to provide patrons with a variety of lager styles, 3 of which were available upon our visit. The flagship lager is their Holy City Pilsner, a Bohemian style pils with a dry finish and extra flavor from ample hop addition. This, along with their 2012 GABF Gold medal winning Pluff Mud Porter – a medium bodied porter with chocolate notes – makes up the year round flagship beers which account for roughly 70% of total production. Both are also available at times aged in Seagrams whiskey barrels. Of note, the barrel aged Pils was a unique tasting experience in our adventures and was named Smells Like Rick in honor of a brewery friend who was reminded of the occasional smell of her father – light beer and whiskey. The Slanted Porch Pale Ale is also brewed year round and experiences a tweaking of hop profile upon each new batch. For the designated drivers or soda aficionados, a Holy City root beer is always available on tap and we were happy to sample the spiced winter version.
Despite the large proportion of time dedicated to the flagship brews which predominate the majority of their keg sales to local accounts, the brewing staff is not shy to mix it up with a wide range of styles. We were fortunate to try the Hail All Pale Ale, an American style pale which was made for the College of Charleston’s men’s basketball team and, outside of the brewery, can only be found in some private rooms at their arena. An interesting comparative experiment was the New Year’s Resolution Doppelbock, clocking in at 10.5%, which was available in Jack Daniels barrel aged and keg aged versions. Holy City has spread the love of pork through their Notorious P.I.G, a 7 bbl batch of their Pluff Mudd Porter made with 100 lbs of pecan wood smoked pork belly. It can also be found in limited quantities with a chocolaty kick from the addition of 25 lb of smoked Papua New Guinea cocoa beans as Notorious P.I.G.: Mo’ Chocolate Mo’ Problems. To round out the creativity, HCB has dabbled with some collaborations with a couple popular North Carolina breweries. Shades of Grace is a collaboration with Charlotte’s NoDa, blending imperial versions of each brewery’s award winning porters – HCB’s imperial Pluff Mud, Graveyard Shiftee, and NoDa’s Imperial Coco Loco made with toasted coconut. This beer will be made available for Charleston’s 2014 Brewvival beer festival in addition to another collaboration with Wicked Weed in Asheville. Holy Weed is a Double IPA brewed with green tea leaves from Charleston Tea Plantation added after the whirlpool. Sister City Saison is another collaboration done with the last brewery we visited, Southbound in Savannah. Finally, keep an eye out for canned and bottled offerings from HCB in the coming year.
The kid and dog friendly tasting room boasts 20 taps and is open Mon-Tues 4-6pm, Wed-Fri 3-8pm, Sat 12-8pm, and Sun 12-4pm. We definitely encourage a visit to grab a game of pool or darts, explore the diverse offerings on tap, and take advantage of the recent law changes that increased consumption allowances from 16oz (four 4 oz samples) to a cap of 48 oz (3 pints). In addition, you can take home up to 288oz in growlers of some quality, affordably priced craft beers. Tours are available during tasting room hours, though there are no set times – just ask. Food is typically available Wed – Sun, ranging from a homemade sausage cart, fresh soft pretzels, to the brunch truck on Sundays. Also come check out the live music every Friday. Take a look at their events calendar for up to date postings and come by for special events like the Toys for Tots Christmas party or events partnering with Pet Helpers, a local pet rescue and adoption center. Thanks again to JT for his special tour of the HCB facilities and to the entire brewing staff – Chris, Tim, and Captain – for sharing their expertise with us.
Author: Brandon Wurtz