Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Latitude Adjustment

You know what I love about coming to South Carolina? You might say it's the thousands of bright magenta and white blooms of the state's crape myrtle trees; or the warm, ocean breeze, flapping umbrellas at Huntington Beach State Park. You might think it's a sunset walk along Murrells Inlet's boardwalk that parallels it's beautiful salt water marsh; or even the fresh scallops, grouper, shrimp and oysters offered up by every restaurant along the Grand Strand. You'd be right. I do love all of those things. Although there's another thing I love—all of the little beery differences. The things I can only wish for in New York. The Christmas morning like anticipation of beery gifts. The south has been a little slow to catch onto the craft beer craze, but recently, South Carolina seems to have embraced it.

Shiner Bock and some friends.
Saturday was our first full day in Conway, so a quick* trip to Kroger, for some malty treats, was in order. Kroger's selection is good, offering the standard grocery store American macro fare, along with beers from Terrapin Brewery, out of Athens, Georgia and New Belgium products, both unavailable in Albany. What got me, however, was Shiner Bock—the beer that built Texas. I actually could feel my heart race when I saw the six pack. I've been told it's available in New Jersey, but I've never seen it, not that I'm in Jersey that often, anyhow. I can see why this simple little beer, crafted in a simple little town is so popular. This crisp, sweet, lager really lives up to it's neck label's description as a delightfully drinkable dark beer. Genny Bock is great, but Shiner plays second fiddle to no one. Any idea when Shiner is really amazing? When it's boiled with fresh clams, shrimp, corn-on-the-cob and baby new potatoes. Throw in some Zatarain's, onion and lemon wedges; boil that all together on the grill and you've got a party.

While the beer selection at Kroger's was good, hands-down the best beer selection I have ever seen in a grocery store, has to be in the Piggly Wiggly. The beer aisle is truly amazing. Here's a very brief run-down: Bells Two Hearted Ale, Great Divide's Samurai Ale, Saison Dupont, North Coast's Acme IPA, Fuller's ESB, London Pride and Porter, a whole bunch of Rogue's best, and just about everything available from Sierra Nevada, this time of the year. There is almost no place in the states unrepresented, let alone the rest of the world, by the wiggliest of pigs beer coolers. PW is like a beverage center that also sells deodorant and frozen pizza. So what did I buy, you ask? South Carolina's own Pig Swig Pig Tail Ale. Never hoid of it? That's because this fantastic amber ale has just come on the market and it's brewed exclusively for Piggly Wiggly by the Greenville, South Carolina brewery–Thomas Creek. This beautiful little beer pours deep copper with a rich, creamy off-white head and brings a sweet caramel aroma. It's decidedly tart with a nice plum and stone-fruit quality and it's bitterness, while there, doesn't overpower. Talk about being pleasantly surprised!

Some of Bubba's love.
Okay, enough about grocery stores. As of yesterday, the best South Carolinian beer experience for me, has to be last night. Amy and I do a date night once a trip to South Carolina. It has to involve three things—the marsh-sided village of Murrells Inlet, seafood and no children. This year was no different. The locals like to refer to their amazing home as a quaint drinking village with a fishing problem. The main drag, Highway Buisness 17, is lined with restaurants and ice cream shops, bars and marinas, and backs-up to one of the most amazing salt water marsh in the entire continental United States. I'm not exaggerating here, it really is breathtaking. Boats bob along the boardwalk and ruddy workers scrub their fiberglass decks after a hot day on the water. Shore birds float overhead and that amazing sea air fills your lungs. It's really and truly perfect.

After a tasty dinner of broiled, fresh seafood —while overlooking the swaying marsh grass and rolling tide—we ended up, at the quintessential coastal South Carolina beach bar, and most appropriately named, Bubba's Love Shak. Popping a squat we spent an hour teetering in Bubba's brightly painted rocking chairs, watching both the snowy egrets and tourists walking past our perch. I sat and truly relaxed—forgetting about work, the drive home or any other bothersome issue—nursing a (frustratingly unavailable in New York) Bell's Oberon, as the sun dipped below the palmettos behind us.

Spiritual Nirvana, perhaps. Beery Nirvana, most definitely.

*Anyone who has travelled any distance on South Carolina Highway 501 between 9am and 9pm during the months of May through September, knows that there is nothing quick about this road. The traffic lights have the ability to turn from red to green and then warp the space time continuum. People have lived whole lifetimes waiting for those lights.

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