Earlier this spring, Revelry Brewing put a call out for fresh, local fruit. "They said, 'Hey, bring fruit by the brewery we'll give you merch, buy you a round,'" says Amen Street bar manager Vince Lendacki. "I'd never heard of loquat beer, so I decided to reach out to them because I knew at least they were interested, plus I like their artwork and I had this grand idea for a label."
Lendacki didn't just want some merch and a pint — he wanted to weave the brewers a tale, one which began four years ago, a tale of fit-to-burst loquats and South of Broad homes, of infused rum and skateboarding in the wee hours of the morning. The tale, as Lendacki tells it, of the Broquat.
"I started at Amen Street four years ago and was redoing the cocktail list and needed a rum drink," Lendacki says. "I thought, 'What's local and unique?' I was walking back to my car and saw a loquat tree staring at me." (That same giant loquat tree is still in front of Gin Joint, BTW.)
Loquats, also known as the Japanese plum or Japanese medlar, produce a tangy and sweet golden orange fruit, in the springtime. Lendacki knew about loquats from going to school here, he says, and knew their potential. Soon, Amen Street had the Loquation, still a popular seasonal staple, made with loquat-infused rum, loquat simple syrup, fresh lime, a dash of bitters, finished with ginger beer and garnished with a lime twist and loquat.
Every year, once the loquats are ripe and ready, it's game on. "It depends on the winter, but when this [warm] weather started to hit I got my ass whooped." To gather his fruit, Lendacki hops on his skateboard and stuffs the golden globes in his backpack. The image — bearded dude bro skateboarding South of Broad, helping older ladies tend to their messy loquat trees — inspired Lendacki's sister, Fran, to dub him, "Broquat."
This year, with Revelry signed on to brew a loquat beer, Lendacki says it was "less casual and more business." While driving around in a car with a ladder "kind of takes the fun out of it," Lendacki admits he got a lot more fruit.
To brew the Broquat, a 7 percent ABV, loquat-infused IPA, Revelry said they'd need at least 200 pounds of fruit. That's a lot of tree climbing, even for someone who has mapped out nearly every loquat tree downtown (there are at least 170 South of Calhoun, according to Lendacki's research). He usually picks about 75 pounds worth of fruit for Amen Street and for his friends across a season. Lendacki says he was able to bring the brewery the amount they needed in just five days. "I went balls to the wall."
- Ruta Smith
Lendacki, who knows a lot about beer given his profession, but not as much as say, a brewer, was excited to help throughout the brewing process, from inception to final pour. On brew day in early May, Lendacki was onsite, helping to throw "700 pounds of pilsner malt into a mill that went into a tank ... all the grain kind of looks like this hazy, malty, hot sugar water." The freshly picked loquats were put in a freezer, and from experience, Lendacki knew that a transformation would take place if he wasn't careful.
"You get this almond amaretto bitter cherry sweetish flavor that comes from the seeds," he says. If you don't take the seeds out of the fruit, well, "I didn't pick so much for it to end up tasting like a cherry IPA."
The seeds (which, fun fact, like the apple fruit, contain cyanide and when eaten in large quantities will make you sick) have to be extracted — by hand — from the frozen fruit in order to preserve the original loquat flavor. "It's not the worst process when they're fresh and perfectly ripe they come right out," says Lendacki. "Sometimes you get five, sometimes one giant one, but when they're frozen it sucks." Lendacki took a day and sat in the The Hold extracting seeds "and my thumbs were so numb, but it was worth it."
When the Broquat is ready to be tapped, Revelry will throw a release party (date TBA), with a portion of the evening's proceeds going to Lendacki's charity of choice, the Parks Conservancy's Charleston Trees. Amen Street will also be donating $1 from every Loquation to Charleston Trees. The reason why Lendacki chose this charity? "Over the past four years, I've watched my favorite Southern city change, a little for the better, and a lot for the worse. I'm constantly watching great spaces, great old buildings, so much green, be replaced with stuff you can find everywhere else in America."
Lendacki hopes that between some killer rum cocktails, a fresh IPA, and the goodwill of his fellow tree climbers/huggers/lovers, he'll be able to slow down the progress train, if only for a few more Broquat sessions. "For these reasons I keep spending the vast majority of my free springtime knocking on doors, climbing trees, and making new friends, tossing loquats to curious passersby looking for a genuine and memorable experience."