We brought in the New Year with my wife’s family in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Our kids had never been that far south and it had been a long time for my wife or myself. The idea of the ocean beach was very appealing; however, I was not prepared for the commercialism and the shoulder-to-shoulder high rise luxury condos and hotels along the beach. Just a few blocks in, the strip offered shows and attractions of just about every variety.
We did take in the aquarium, which was extremely cool; however, we chose to bypass the rest of the glitzy spectacles for a day hiking around Huntington Beach State Park just a few miles south of Myrtle Beach. My son and I were pretty excited when we saw the sign that told us it was illegal to feed alligators, but none were sighted on our visit.
As a beer nut, I did my research before we left and networked with several people from the area on BeerAdvocate.com. If you are not familiar with this social networking beer site or RateBeer.com, both can be great tools for beer information. I gathered that the one place not to miss in Myrtle Beach was New South Brewing.
Even though most of my wife’s family was able to join our trip, only one of my three brother-in-laws was able to be there. It was then that I realized he was the only brother-in-law that had not been a part of my New Year brewery tradition. OK, it’s probably not worthy of actually being categorized as a full-fledged tradition, but last year on New Year’s Eve I visited Willimantic Brewing Co. in Connecticut with my brother-in-law Jim, and in 2012 I visited Surly Brewing in Minneapolis for a tour with my brother-in-law Karl. Maybe next year all four of us can visit a brewery together, but this year it was Todd’s turn.
New South is not a high profile brewery, and if we were not looking for it, I’m sure we probably would not have found it. We had to take a few turns off the main drag and head through a small industrial park, passing the big Anheuser Busch warehouse with hundreds of kegs stacked around the building. After a couple more turns, we found our destination. Had it not been for a few kegs and other brewery specific items lying around the yard, I’m not sure we would have known we had arrived. We took one of the few parking spaces in the gravel parking area and made a final confirmation of our arrival by seeing the brewery logo on the door.
I knew that a brewery with a beer named Dark Star Porter (Dark Star being a song written and sung by the Grateful Dead) was not going to disappoint me, and I was rewarded with the sounds of Pigpen (Ron “Pigpen” Charles McKernan was a founding member, singer, harp and keyboard player with the Grateful Dead) singing “Hard To Handle” over the speakers when we walked in. We were a few minutes early for the brewery tour, so we took a seat at one of the tables to wait.
The bar looked like it could seat about eight, and there was table seating for maybe another couple of dozen or so. The atmosphere was quite cozy with medals and music concert posters on the wall. It wasn’t fancy, but a place that I could easily enjoy a beer regularly. New South is mostly a small production brewery, giving tours on only Tuesdays and Thursdays, with limited tap room hours from 4:30 to 7 p.m. on the same days and Fridays.
Dave and Rod from the brewery were surprised at the larger than normal turnout. Being a self-proclaimed beach brewery and with the warm beach weather a bit out of season, they were not expecting a big crowd. Once they got everyone’s age checked and green bracelets on our wrists, we were ready for the tour.
Most breweries look the same with shiny tanks and kettles, so what makes a good tour is the guide and the beer — New South had both. Operations manager Rod Graham ran us through the brewing process with great detail but with language simple enough for even a beer novice to understand. Owner Dave Epstein poured samples.
Rod kept us entertained with stories and jokes about how he would love to be a yeast in his next life because the two jobs of yeast are to eat and reproduce. He also told us about his worst day on the job when he accidentally emptied a tank full of beer onto the floor. New South uses city water (which goes through a charcoal filter) and two yeast strains, American Lager and American Ale. In addition to Rod and Dave, there are two full-time and one part-time employees who produce about 3,000 barrels (about 93,000 gallons) of beer each year.
When Dave opened his brewery in 1998, it was a mission for what was missing in South Carolina at the time — good craft beer. He made a decision to keg his beer and get it out to the local people. In 2009, they began canning two of their beers; however, this is a very labor intensive process for a small brewery. The canning is completely manual, and Rod runs the “Rod-omater” that fills and cans its White Ale (4.5 percent ABV) and Nut Brown Ale (4.8 percent ABV). He is able to can about 25 cases an hour, but he could do much more if it wasn’t for the bottle necking of the Rod-omater.
Because they are a “beach” brewery and in a region that can be quite hot much of the year, many of their beers are lighter in body and alcohol level. That’s not to say they don’t make big beers like their bourbon barrel Lily the Great (approximately 10 percent ABV) and rum-barrel-aged Oktoberfest, both of which were on tap during our visit. My tasting included the White Ale, Red Ale and Brown Ale, and I ended with the Dark Star Porter (6.2 percent ABV), a seasonal available from November through February. Other beers included a dry hopped lager, IPA and Lily the Great Russian Imperial Stout (non-barrel-aged version). Not all of the beers were available during the tasting part of the tour, but all were available for purchase afterward, including the two barrel-aged beers.
Lily the Great was first brewed in the fall 2012 as a trial batch brewed with some local homebrewers. It was such a success that the recipe was brewed on the big system and named after New South brewer Brock Kurtzmans’ daughter, Lily. It was brewed again the following year, and some was put into Woodford Reserve bourbon barrels to age for 12 months. I got a pour of the bourbon barrel version, and my palate picked up notes of bittersweet chocolate, coffee, vanilla and, as expected, huge amounts of bourbon, which I love. Even with its high ABV, it was not overly boozy, and it was quite smooth and creamy with a good mouth feel. This was hands down my favorite beer of the day.
At the end of the tour, you can enjoy a reasonably priced pint in the tap room, or purchase growlers or cans to take home. Reservations are not necessary for the tours. Only those 21 and older get a bracelet and can participate in tasting. New South Brewing is at 1109 Campbell St., Myrtle Beach. To learn more about the brewery visit their website, Facebook page or call 843-916-2337