Finishing out our stay in the state of South Carolina was a visit to Thomas Creek Brewery in Greenville on Saturday, 2/8/14. As soon as we walked into the brewery, the owner, brewmaster, and brewery manager, Tom Davis, put down his woodworking tools and kindly greeted us. He gave us detailed insights into the brewery’s past, present, and future state alongside his two border collies.
Tom started brewing about 30 years ago after he “Fell in love with one particular beer called Hofbrau Oktoberfest. If I had to nail down one beer that really started it, it’s that one. At that point I pretty much stopped drinking Bud, Bud Light, all those beers, and really started seeking out craft, but there wasn’t really much here.” After reading every homebrewing book he could get his hands on, he built a 10-gallon system out of a keg, two 48qt coolers, and bought a couple of used refrigerators for $25 each. He started brewing with the intent to brew beers like the big boys did; he filtered, force-carbonated and did no priming at all from the beginning. When the Brew Pub Law in South Carolina passed in 1994, Tom was working at Henney’s Restaurant in Greenville and was approached by the owner to brew for them. Tom and the owners of Henney’s convinced Tom’s father, Bill, to join them and purchase the equipment they needed. After about 4 years of brewing there, Tom’s beers were in high-demand so he and his father decided to start Thomas Creek.
It took them about a year to find a home for the used equipment they had purchased from Woodhouse Brewing Company, which was a brewery that had just gone out of business in North Carolina. After settling into their new warehouse on a plot of land where a junkyard had once been, they started bottling and kegging right from the beginning and were able to make 350 barrels of beer in their first year on a 30 bbl system. The first two beers Thomas Creek released in July of 1998 were a Multigrain Ale and Appalachian Amber Ale. The Multigrain is no longer in production, but the Amber Ale is still brewed all the time and distributed in kegs and 12oz bottles. Other year-round offerings include the River Falls Red Ale, Class Five IPA, Up the Creek Extreme IPA, Deep Water Dopplebock Lager, Pump House Porter, Dockside Pilsner, and Castaway Chocolate Orange IPA. They also have a seasonal line that includes their Octoberfest Lager, Stillwater Vanilla Cream Ale, Thomas Creek Pumpkin Ale, and the Coffee Oatmeal Stout that they are thinking about making year-round. We had the privilege to try their Banana Split Chocolate Stout and Conduplico Immundus Monachus Belgian-Style Imperial Porter, both of which are in their ‘Atypical Series,’ along with a Honeysuckle Saison that was made using a new yeast strain from Southyeast that was pulled from a honeysuckle plant per Tom’s request. They were all unique and delicious.
Thomas creek also contract brews somewhere in the realm of 58 different recipes for breweries in SC, NC, GA, and FL, putting their total barrel production at around 12,000bbl last year, 6,000 of which was proprietary beer. The brewery got to the point where they had no room to grow with twelve fermenters, five 60bbl bright tanks, and an extra 20bbl bright tank, so they are currently undergoing a large expansion with the hope that all construction will be complete by March 1st. Once everything is running on three new 120bbl tanks, a new 150bbl tank, a new keg washing room, and extra air-conditioned space for finished bottle storage, Tom hopes to increase production to around 23,000bbl per year. He has a five year goal of having a total of twenty-four 120bbl tanks and a capacity of 70,000bbl per year. Thomas Creek brews are distributed to 16 states as well as Sweden. In order to get their beer to Sweden, they send interesting one way bag-in-ball kegs called Key Kegs that you can read about here.
The brewery is a main sponsor of United Way subsidiary Hands on Greenville (HOG) and once a year Tom’s dad Bill makes around 75 piggy banks, gives them to local artisans who paint and decorate them, and then turns around and sells them with proceeds going to HOG. There is also an annual Brewery Bash event held on premise and around 1,100 people attended last year. Inside the brewery you will find a homebrew supply shop, where a local homebrewing club called the Upstate Brewtopians meets bi-annually; Tom likes to support his roots. For $5 you can get a glass with four 4oz samples accompanied by a tour of the facility, but they ask for you to call ahead and schedule a time with them. A taproom is being built as well, but they are not sure what the hours of operation will be yet since they are going to play that by ear. Big thanks to Tom and brewer Zach Newton for taking time out of their busy construction day to show us around the brewery!
Author: Michael Roberts