Saturday, July 16, 2011

The South Shall Rise Again

Brock giving his speil during a tour.
Earlier in the week I mentioned that the south has been a bit slow to catch on to craft brewing, or even just craft beer, for that matter. I also mentioned that South Carolina however, has started to embrace it. Well, some fellas' down in Myrtle Beach are darn right bear-hugging it. New South Brewing is Myrtle Beach's first, and as far as I know, only craft brewery. There are a few brew pubs, but New South is the only true brewery operating in the Grand Strand. The brewery itself is tucked away amongst Myrtle Beach's lumber warehouses and it's wind and sand blown exterior hides a cool, 20 to 25 seat tasting room. The bar sits adjacent to a chemistry room, plastered with beer posters from other breweries, and overlooks the stainless fermenters of the main room. My dad and I stopped by on Thursday and we got a chance to shoot the shit with Brewer, Brock Kurtzman and Operations Manager Roddy Graham, and they gave us the low-down on New South.

Opened in 1998 by David Epstien, the brewery initially started as the draught-only, proprietary brewery for the South Carolina based, T-Bonz restaurant group. As the brewery's reputation grew, so did demand. Fast forward ten years to the next phase of New South's rise—the canning machine. In 2009, New South began canning it's flagship, and wildly popular white ale—A crisp Belgian style wit with all the hallmarks of that classic style and a light body and sessionable quality. The brewery utilizes a 20 bbl system and produces on average 2,500 barrels a year, although this year has been particularly good so they expect closer to 3,000. Along with the white ale New South now produces six beers—a lager, a nut brown, an oktoberfest, an IPA and Kurtzman's favorite, their Dark Star Porter. New South is being distributed across South Carolina and is making it's way into North Carolina and Georgia, as well.

Now, it hasn't been all picnics and unicorn farts for the boys at New South. South Carolina's laws can be a little behind the times, especially when it comes to booze. It's actually been a tough row to hoe. According to Roddy Graham, as of three years ago they weren't even allowed to drink any of the beer they produced on the brewery premise—let alone have a tasting room! That may have made brewing a bit challenging, but the brewery charged ahead, anyhow. Another stumbling block came with the State's maximum level of 6% ABV for beer. Years of lobbying with the state's other breweries and wholesalers alliance finally resulted in the raising of the limit.

Roddy and a white ale
Part of New South's success is the enthusiasm of their head brewer, Brock Kurtzman. I asked him how he got involved with the brewery and in a nut shell, he said he graduated from Coastal Carolina University with a microbiology degree and promptly went to work as a bartender. After meeting David Epstien though the T-Bonz group, he convinced Epstien to let him clean kegs. One thing led to another an Brock worked his way up the ladder—of stale beer, steam and caustic—eventually brewing his first batch of beer ever with New South. Oh, by the way, that batch was 750 gallons—You home brewer's are crying your eye out right now, aren't you? What impressed me about Brock was his obvious intention to move forward. No laurel resting for this guy. As we were talking he was sipping on a prototype Black IPA he's been tinkering on his with his brand new ten-gallon system.

Now, you might say, big whup? What brewery doesn't do that? And you're right, a lot do use small systems to perfect recipes; but New South is in a unique position. First off, it's in an area where three years ago they had both kinds of beer Bud and Bud Lite, so local palates might not be used to some styles. Secondly, and most importantly— Myrtle Beach is hot. I mean fucking hot. On Wednesday the heat index was 115º. The smaller system really allows them to fine tune their beers. Of their six offerings, I've had three—The lager, white and nut brown. All have been full of flavor, exceptionally slaking and surprisingly light bodied. Even the nut brown, while bringing both chocolate and caramel tones, still was lithe and easy to drink—even on a day well into the 90ºs. Roddy summed it up best when he said, "We're brewing for our environment, and we don't have a problem with that." This is all not to say that New South won't produce a Dry Stout for St Paddy's day, but they are well aware of where the proverbial bread is buttered. Their beers are intentionally light bodied and their white ale is a perfect example of this. It was originally produced as a summer seasonal, then put on as a stable beer, upon request from the local restaurant community. The public demanded light and refreshing and who were the boys at New South to argue?

So, all said and done—I went. I saw. I drank. And so should you. Plan a trip to South Carolina, go to the beach, see an alligator, and then grab your growler and stop down and see the boys at New South Brewing. You'll be glad you did.

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