There's a difference between beer snobs and beer enthusiasts. Beer snobs are narrow-minded know-it-alls, generally uninterested in anything they don't already love. Beer enthusiasts are open-minded optimists, curious about any style of beer. Beer snobs exaggerate their criticism. Beer enthusiasts offer constructive criticism.
Last week, Chris Winn of Palmetto Brewing Co. delivered a freshly filtered and bottled Extra Pale IPA, the brewery's new spring seasonal, to the City Paper offices. Winn, a former Beer Ranger for New Belgium Brewing, spoke at length about his new boss Ed Falkenstein's creative engineering skills and diligence in the brewery. He went on and on about the old-world malting process and fancy new proprietary hop blend used in the Extra Pale IPA.
After we posted a small feature at charlestoncitypaper.com about the beer and its launch, one snob declared, "It will be a cold day in Hades before I consume anything more from Palmetto Brewery. They have been producing sub-par, insipid brews far too long to deserve a second chance." Ouch.
As Palmetto Brewing Co. is the granddaddy (or great-uncle, at least) of Charleston craft breweries, it's understandable that some locals think of their beers as unexciting old standards or generic classics from a previous era. Indeed they were producing beers during the state's arbitrary limit on beer's percentage of alcohol-by-weight. Until beer activists popped the cap in 2007, no brewer could make a beer above 5 percent a.b.w., thereby preventing Palmetto from experimenting with the headier craft brews that have exploded in popularity in recent years.
But Palmetto should not be counted out. Their standard ales have been refined, including the black, malty Palmetto Porter, currently made with cold-extracted, espresso-roast coffee from their Huger Street neighbors, Charleston Coffee Roasters. A new series of seasonal ales demonstrates the veteran brewers' newfound sense of adventure and experimentation.
Falkenstein and Louis Bruce founded the brewery in a warehouse on Huger Street in 1993, more than a decade before the cap was lifted. It was South Carolina's first independent brewing company since Prohibition. They used no preservatives. They filtered their bottled beer, but never pasteurized it. The lineup included three traditional ales — pale, amber, and porter — and one pale lager. These beers may not have been revolutionary, but they were respectable and made with care and passion.
The same care and passion can be found in Palmetto's latest release. The Extra Pale IPA (6.5 percent a.b.v.) is the fourth ale in Palmetto's Bocat series, which was designed last year to showcase new recipes and benefit the Charleston Animal Society (a portion of the sales from every six-pack goes directly to the ASPCA). A raggedy alley cat adorns all of the Bocat labels.
Previous Bocat releases include Watermelon Wheat, made with melons from Legare Farms on Johns Island, and the Chocolate Bock, brewed with dark malts, German and American hops, and a dose of bitter German chocolate provided by local chocolatier Johnny Battles of Sweeteeth. Last fall, the very clean and hoppy Hop Harvest IPA gained fans at local bars and at the annual Ballpark Festival of Beers.
The Extra Pale IPA may be the best Bocat release yet. Medium-bodied, light amber, and nicely conditioned with a lacy head, it's remarkably balanced with a bolder-than-expected pale malt graininess. The citrusy, grassy flavors and aromas of the Falconers' Flight hops have hints of tangerine, lemon zest, and grapefruit. The delicate complexity of hop and malt flavors is pronounced in the smooth finish. Falkenstein devised the recipe and brewing methods.
It's a refined beer, delicious, crisp, and highly drinkable. Too bad those judgmental beer snobs will miss out.