For local beer lovers, there’s something particularly Charlestonian about sampling well-made beers while strolling across the outfield of a handsome baseball park with a breeze from the nearby Ashley River rushing past the marsh grass and Palmetto trees.
If you go
What: Ballpark Festival of Beers
When: 6-9 p.m. Saturday
Where: Joseph P. Riley Jr. Park, 360 Fishburne St.
Price: $25 in advance at Piggly Wiggly locations, $30 at the RiverDogs Box Office or online; $15 for designated driver wristband
That laid-back feel nicely complements the lively fun and rich flavors and aromas of fine beer at the 10th annual Ballpark Festival of Beers at the Joseph P. Riley Jr. Park.
Celebrating the spirit of Charleston is a big part of the Ballpark Festival of Beers, but the core of the event is an impressive list of craft-brewed and popular ales and lagers available for sampling.
Scheduled for Saturday, this year’s festival will feature more than 100 different beers, many of which come from local and regional microbreweries.
With more beer styles, brewery representatives, games and live entertainment than ever, the Ballpark Festival of Beers is much bigger now than it was during the first few years.
Every year, it expands to include new brands and styles from national micros to new locals and regionals. There are still a handful of familiar major brands on the list, but there are more and more specialties and seasonals.
The festival has grown and developed into a serious event for beer connoisseurs.
“The changes over the past 10 years in how Americans, and specifically South Carolinians, enjoy their beer have been monumental,” says John Schumacher, director of food and beverage with the Charleston branch of the Goldklang Group, a national sports entertainment consulting and management firm.
From his office at The Joe, Schumacher has helped organize the Ballpark Festival of Beers since its inception.
“The number of microbreweries and craft breweries has definitely increased over the years and significantly changed the dynamics of our festival,” he says. “What wasn’t available five to 10 years ago is now prevalent. They’ve become a part of the ever-evolving food/beer culture.”
Schumacher says he’s personally a big fan of dark ales such as stouts and porters, but during the hot and humid Charleston summers, he tends to lean more toward pilsners and other golden lagers.
There’ll be plenty of his favorites and more to choose from Saturday.
During the festival’s early years, there were significant restrictions on which specialty beers might be available, mainly due to a state law preventing any beer over six percent alcohol by volume (ABV) to be distributed. In 2007, a bill was passed that eliminated the cap on beer alcohol content that had stood for decades. The new limit on beer became 15 percent ABV, the mostly national standard.
In the past six years, the variety of styles at the festival has greatly expanded and developed from exotic seasonal offerings to high-gravity beers.
The term “high-gravity” refers to the higher level of fermentable sugars in the beer, or wort, at the beginning of the fermentation process; the higher the level of sugar, the higher the final level of alcohol.
Many high-gravity ales and lagers are full-bodied beers with complex flavors and aromas that develop with age. Most require extra care while sampling, due to the bolder-than-usual strength.
“The change in the high-gravity laws has been the most significant change for South Carolina in terms of beer,” Schumacher says. “In the past, micro- and craft breweries stayed away from South Carolina, and local beer producers were handcuffed in what they could produce. Once the laws changed, the beer floodgates opened.”
In the early days, bottles of Samuel Adams Lager, Abita Purple Haze and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale were considered great finds. Nowadays, those examples are considered standards from the microbrewery world.
Such adventurous beers as Maryland-based Dogfish Head’s Chateau Jiahu (a strong herb/spice ale made with honey, fruit and rice syrup), California-based Lagunitas Brewing’s Lil’ Sumpin’ Wild (a strong, hoppy ale made with a special Trappist yeast) or Maine-based Shipyard Co.’s Pumpkinhead Ale (a wheat beer with pumpkin pie spices) will be available at the festival this year.
Local beer enthusiast and columnist Timmons Pettigrew, author of “Charleston Beer: A High-Gravity History of Lowcountry Brewing,” is well versed in the city’s history of brewing and the rise in craft microbreweries.
He’s attended many local beer pairings, festivals and special events over the years.
“As long as a beer event is well-executed and folks are having a good time, I think it’s a positive thing,” Timmons says of events like the Ballpark Festival of Beers. “Every event is different, of course, but as long as folks are coming together over craft beer, or new folks are being turned onto it, it’s good for our community as a whole.”
More and more Charleston-area and Carolina-based breweries show up at the Ballpark Festival of Beers each year, from local micros and brewpubs to well-established Upstate breweries.
“Without a doubt, a heavy amount of attention is paid to making sure we can get as many local and regional breweries into the festival as possible,” Schumacher says. “It helps the local beer scene and, of course, it’s what our attendees want to taste.”
The rich variety comes from a concerted effort to invite and include as many local and regional breweries as possible.
This year, Charleston’s own Holy City Brewing, Palmetto Brewing Co., Southend Brewing and Frothy Beard Brewing are on the bill with some tantalizing seasonals and flagship brands.
River Dog Brewing in Ridgeland, Thomas Creek Brewery in Greenville and RJ Rockers Brewing in Spartanburg will be in attendance, as well.
“We’re seeing more local and regional beers, which is great, but we also have a lot more local and regional beers being produced,” Pettigrew says. “Maybe the most interesting trend is this surge of these craft-like products from the macro producers, like this Hoppin’ line from Miller-Coors, multiple ShockTop beers from Anheuser-Busch InBev and others. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”
What does the increasing number of participating local breweries say about the state of commercial craft brewing in the Charleston area?
“Growth and more growth,” Pettigrew says. “We’re up to five production breweries now, three of which opened in the last three years, and there are at least two I know of in planning in the area. To hear it from them, these five operate at capacity, and there’s more demand for their beer than they can keep up with.”
Music and more
Every year, the Ballpark Festival of Beers books local bands and musicians to entertain attendees with a mix of old favorites, original tunes and beer-friendly jams.
Kicking off the live music Saturday will be Charleston-based bluegrass/Americana quartet Blue Plantation.
Multi-instrumentalist Allan Thompson, guitarist Aaron Gdovicak and bassist Roman Pekar have been performing together in and around the Lowcountry for more than 10 years. Singer/mandolinist Bob Sachs will be stepping in for longtime picker David Vaughan.
Blue Plantation will handle a lively mix of folk, country, hillbilly and Celtic styles. The musical chemistry and technical proficiency allows the group to explore jazz, blues and rock pieces, as well.
Charleston rock band Weigh Station has been jamming on a mix of Southern-fried blues, classic rock, soul and funk since forming in 2006.
Lead singer/guitarist Tom Leonczyk assembled the group with friends during his College of Charleston days. The current lineup includes guitarist John Heinsohn and drummer Stu White. Guest saxophonist Michael Quinn will join the band for the beer fest set.
They stylistically lean toward an Allman Brothers vein of jam-rock and will showcase several songs from their 2011 album “Past the Tracks.”
Local radio station Q104.5 FM will host a cornhole tournament with a special twist.
“Let’s just say you may want to bring your rubber gloves,” says Schumacher.
The winners of the tournament will receive a chartered fishing trip.
Rounding out the festivities will be local food trucks Geechee Island, Roti Rolls, Tokyo Crepes, and Dulce Sweet Tea and Treats.
Fine-tuning the music events and extra amenities was something Schumacher has worked on in recent years.
“When we sit down to plan our events each year, we always are trying to come up with ideas that will have a positive impact on the local economy and businesses,” he says. “In the past, the craze was ‘organic,’ but research is showing that ‘local’ is far more important to consumers. Besides, it’s just the right thing to do.”
In his opinion, Schumacher believes that the special setting of The Joe enhances the beer festival experience more now than its early days. On average, more than 3,000 attendees regularly show up each year to sample beer.
“The early festivals took place on the concourse with 200 people, and it featured 30-40 brands,” Schumacher says. “The event quickly mandated the need to move to the field, which allowed us to offer more types of beer and also the ability for far more attendees to participate.
“In addition, because beer and baseball are so intrinsically tied together, it just provides for a cool atmosphere for the event. What’s better than kicking off your shoes, sitting in the grass and enjoying a tasty beer?”
As an experienced beer expert and author, Pettigrew would advise rookies and novice beer drinkers who wanted to seek out and try new, high-quality craft beers at the Ballpark Festival of Beers to moderate and hydrate along the way.
“They serve different purposes for a different crowd at a different price point,” Pettigrew says of the major beer festivals around town, including Brewvival in North Charleston and the Charleston Beer Garden at Brittlebank Park.
“As long as people there are experiencing the variety of flavors you can get from craft beer, and hopefully getting ‘converted’ away from boring old (beers), it’s a good thing.”
If Pettigrew were to search for a summer-friendly beer style at this week’s festival, he’d initially seek out “something crisp, medium-bodied and refreshing, especially if I’m having one outside in the heat ... a pale wheat like Washout Wheat from Holy City would do the trick.”
“It’s a long event, and there’s no need to rush and get your money’s worth,” he adds. “I’d tell attendees to keep tabs on the high ABV beers, especially.”
In terms of sequence, he recommends saving those bolder flavors toward the end of your session, but not at the expense of your safety.
Abita Brewing: Abita Restoration Pale Ale, Purple Haze
Boster Beer/Sam Adams: Octoberfest, Angry Orchard
Boulder Beer Co.: Hazed and Infused Dry-Hopped Ale, Mojo IPA, HOopla Pale Ale
Breckenridge Brewery: Agave Wheat, 471 Double IPA, Vanilla Porter
Carolina Brewery/Sky Blue: Golden Ale, Flagship IPA
Charleston brewing Co.: East Bay IPA, Lagerhead Lager, Halfmoon Hefe
Crispin: Crispin Original, Fox Barrel Pear, Honey Crisp
Crown Imports: Negra Modelo, Pacifico
Crown Imports: Somersby Hard Apple Cider
Diageo-Guinness USA: Guinness Black Lager, Harp Lager, Smithwick’s Irish Ale, Smirnoff Screwdriver
Dogfish Head Craft brewery: Festina Peche, Punkin’ Ale
Foothills Brewing: Ocktoberfest, Carolina Blonde, Hoppyum, Cottonwood Pumpkin
Full Sail: IPA, Pale, Sessions
Highland: Gaelic Ale, Oatmeal Porter, Mocha Stout
Holy City Brewing: Pluffmud Porter, Holy City Pilsner, Shiftee
Lagunitas: IPA, Lil’ Sumpin’ Wild, TBA
NAB-Mhat: Circus Boy, Blind Faith
New Holland Brewing: Golden Cap, Mad Hatter IPA
North America Breweries/Magic Hat: Circus Boy, IPA on Tour, Blind Faith
North Coast: Old Rasputin, Blue Star Wheat
Oskar Blues Brewery: Dale’s Pale Ale, Mama’s Little Yella Pils, Deviant Dales
Palmetto brewing Co.: American Pale Ale, Espresso Porter, Ginger Slap
Pig Swig: Pig Pen Pilsner, Pig Tail Ale
RJ Rockers Brewing: Bell Ringer
Southend Brewery: Rip Tide Red, Castle Pinckney Pale Ale, Watch It Grow Wheat
Starr Hill: Northern Lights IPA, The Love
Stoudt’s: Hefer in Wheat, Scarlet lady ESB
SweetWater: IPS, Blue, Motor Boat
Terrapin Beer Co.: Easy Rider, Hopsecutioner
Thomas Creek Brewery: Dockside Pilsner, Class Five IPA, Appalachian Amber Ale
Vermont Hard Cider: Woodchuck Hard Cider in Amber, Granny Smith and Pear
Weinstephan: Hefeweissen, Vitus
Widmer Brews: Rotator IPA, Drifter, Seasonal Citra Blond
World Brews: St. Cloud Belgian White, Four in Hand IPA, Barrel Trolley Nut Brown, Barrel Trolley Pale Ale
Yuengling: Oktoberfest, Light Lager, Porter
The cornhole tournament at a past Ballpark Festival of Beers.×
Provided Tents fill The Joe at a past Ballpark Festival of Beers.×
It’s been estimated that an average of 3,000 people have attended the Ballpark Festival of Beers in the past few years.×
Palmetto Brewing Co. will again be in attendance.×
Samuel Adams will again be in attendance.×
Local beer enthusiast and columnist Timmons Pettigrew is author of the recent book “Charleston Beer: A High-Gravity History of Lowcountry Brewing.”×