Eight years on, Brewvival continues to win the hearts of finicky beer nerds

Hunting the great white Whalez

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Brewvival returns for its eighth year this weekend - CHRYS RYNEARSON
  • Chrys Rynearson
  • Brewvival returns for its eighth year this weekend
Beer nerds, they are a fickle bunch, never satisfied and always on the hunt for the next ultra-scarce beer. You know, the one you might get a chance to try only if you wait in line overnight and sell a kidney, just for the chance. They are the Whalez bros — likely a reference to Moby Dick, the nickname generally refers to beer enthusiasts on the hunt for that elusive white whale of beers. Whether it’s the “dankest” of juicy opaque Northeast IPAs or a Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial stout with vanilla and chilies picked by eunuchs and rested on the souls of your ancestors. Bro, give them the Whalez. The quest for the most outrageously rare and tasty beers is the real never-ending story.

This Saturday Brewvival, arguably the best Beer Festival in the Southeast, will be pouring many of these exact beers. They don’t release the beer list ahead of time but rest assured, beer nerd foamy dreams will be answered.

Brewvival was started eight years ago by COAST Brewing owners Jaime Tenny and David Merritt and founders of The Charleston Beer Exchange (and later Edmund’s Oast) Rich Carley and Scott Shor. They wanted a festival that served the beers they wanted to drink. In doing so, they changed the typical beer festival paradigm by buying the kegs from quality breweries, which allowed them to get premier and special release brews, you know, the rare shit. Ticket prices, of course, reflected this. The thought was those dedicated beer nerds would pay higher prices for access to beers that would quench their avidity for all things unique. They were right. Apart from the inaugural year, Brewvival has sold out every year.

In the standard beer festival model, breweries donate beer for marketing and buzz sake. This practice tends to get festivals the flagship beers, the ones you can usually find on shelves. These are quality beers and are the backbone of many breweries businesses; unfortunately, they don’t lead to exciting discoveries or rare treats for the discerning beer enthusiast or the “whale hunter.” This hype for rare beers has beer nerds trading beers across country, waiting in long lines for special releases, and leads to excruciatingly tedious conversations when trapped in a discussion with one of them. But it’s hard to fault them. Those damn beers usually live up to the hype. But that hype can cause some weird things to happen at festivals. All those neck-bearded Captain Ahabs get fixated on landing as many of these “Whalez” as they can, often ignoring all else. This frequently creates long lines for currently hyped beers directly next to no-line tables for less-hyped beers and even tables full of world-class offerings like the Belgian brewer Cantillon going unnoticed. This has been a criticism of Brewvival and other festivals, something the organizers have taken steps to address.

The good thing about Brewvival is, despite the inevitability of the great whale hunt, you do not have to be a part of that. You can avoid long lines and sample more great beer than you might get a chance to try until next year’s festival. Stand in a line or two for that ultra-rare beer then spend the reminder of your five hours trying the multitude of other amazing beers on tap. Buy your ticket, don your pretzel necklace, and you can definitely get your inner, and depending on how many samples you drink, outer Beer Nerd on. [Full disclosure: I have worked for the festival as a photographer for years so I know what the hell I’m talking about.]

I spoke with co-founder Scott Shor on the state of Brewvival, some of the recent format changes and how they are dealing with the strategic queuing up for Whalez.

City Paper: Can you explain the reasoning behind not releasing the tap list ahead of time?
Scott Shor: We’ve been doing it a number of years now and the evolution of the beer scene has pushed things in a direction where at festivals that have hyped items, sought after items, rare items, in demand items, you tend to see people sort of strategizing how to line up for those items first. They make them a focal point and you see these long lines at select tables next to some of the best beers in the world with no line at all. It makes no sense and it’s stupid. iIt’s not something we support and it’s not the reason we do it. We felt like starting last year when we stopped announcing things we could de-emphasize some of the hype train on single beers and just allow people to focus wholly on the quality of the beers at the festival overall. So if you’re coming into it without a strategy you’re more likely to hit upon some gems that maybe you wouldn’t have thought of before. It is a five-hour festival and you can spend all your time lining up for four beers and missing out on some of the best beer in the world.

CP: With the above focus by the hard-core beer fans, do you have a hard time making sure that classic standards in style and brand get some exposure at the festival for those that may be new to craft beer?
SS: This is a very welcoming beer festival. This is a beer festival where there are going to be beers that are engaging and interesting for anybody, be they novice or hardcore seasoned beer geek alike. But it’s not really designed for those that aren’t already walking the path of beer enthusiasm. And that’s OK. We don’t think it’s for everyone. This is the kind of beer festival we would enjoy going to ourselves. Which is always a guiding philosophy of how we do things in business here. We try to create an experience that you all would want to have. I think that it’s not obnoxious to say that we think everyone should come give it a shot but it’s OK if some people that want or are looking for a more basic beer festival and don’t want to pay $75 to attend. So we don’t really seek to try to balance satisfying beer fans. We try to create a particular kind of environment.

CP: Can you explain the factors that go into choosing the breweries that are invited? I know that some local breweries were not invited last year. How was that received?
SS: The factors that go into invitations are certainly multifaceted. Unfortunately and fortunately we are unable to invite every local brewery or even to invite the majority of local breweries. Which is unfortunate, but it’s because of the fortunate reason of there being such a flourishing local beer scene. Brewvival attendees are mostly coming from Charleston and are not mostly looking to come for a vast array of beers from their own back yard. Brewvival has become a platform to visit with breweries and beers they wouldn’t normally have access to. So the local beer scene is amazing and the driving force behind everything that the beer culture has become here. We don’t take that for granted for a second and we hate that sometimes it seems like we are excluding people from this festival. That’s why it was such a great happening when the Brewers Guild decided to launch the all South Carolina beer festival as a fantastic counterpoint to what Brewvival has become. When we started Brewvival, there were only a couple local breweries. Now, as everyone knows, there are many, many more. So now we offer our support to the Guild festival and allow them to be a true showcase for what South Carolina brewing is all about.

CP: Is the Brewvival format inspired by other beer festivals in the south or elsewhere?
SS: We started it because it wasn’t reminiscent of any other beer festival. We saw a need, and I think it was Jaime who first said “we have this field across the street, we need to have a beer festival”. There was no one doing high end, cool, rare beer type festivals in our region. When we started it we didn’t model it off anything else, we modeled it off festivals we wanted to go to. Nowadays, maybe not specifically speaking of Charleston, but just regionally or in the country, now we see these other great festivals like Shelton Brothers or Hunahpu’s Day that are fantastic. The beer landscape has changed and we’re putting forth the best product we can. It’s got a little bit more of a down home feeling. It’s kind of real and home grown and that’s cool.

CP: Anything you can tell me about food this year?
SS: Food vendors this year are John Lewis BBQ, D’Allesandro’s, Short Grain, Frank Satan [hot dogs], BKeD and Sweet LuLu’s.

CP: Anything else you want to get out there before the festival?
SS: The best fucking live band in Charleston is playing, Black Diamond. Coming to see Black Diamond is worth the ticket alone.

Tickets to Brewvival are still available here for $79.99. The festival takes place Sat. Feb. 25 from noon-5 p.m. on the field across from COAST Brewing Co.


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