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Nov 24, 2014

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Columbia

August, 2000

By Bobby Bush

No, not that Columbia. Get your mind out of the weeds.

It had been almost four years since I traverse the streets of downtown Columbia, South Carolina. During that period, there have been some changes in the Capital Cityís beer scene. Three brewpubs opened in 1995, and one, Columbia Brewing Company, a college-age hangout of a brewpub, closed last year.

But just around the corner, Vista Brewing & Bistro is alive and thriving. This fancy restaurant-meets-brewery was preparing for a midweek lunch crowd as we walked through the portal. The kitchen wasnít quite prepared, but we came to drink. Seated at a long glass top bar which ends, like an exclamation mark, with a rounded raw bar on the end, we ordered a taste of all four beers on tap.

Sunlight flashed from passing autos through the large glass storefront windows in near stroboscopic effect as we sipped clear gold Taney Ale. This lager-like light ale was a perfect tricycle beer for novices. Wheat was clean and refreshing. Beneath its frothy head was a medium bodied malty brew with a sweet finish. Orange-brown in hue, IPA had a floral hoppy nose and left, as it departed down my throat, bitterness on my tongue. The bitter aftertaste was satisfyingly long-lasting. Scottish Ale, a deep copper colored medium bodied ale, was near the end of its potable life. (We learned later that brewer Jamie Bartholomaus had just brewed a new batch of Scottish the day before our visit). A complex malty brew with a tiny hint of coffee, Scottish was marred by a prune-like sour taste. Thatís the thing about craft brewed beers- no preservatives. Vista usually keeps five beers on tap. Unfortunately, the Porter had just run dry. Mega beers and a few imports were available in bottles, but we werenít interested.

An industrious person, Bartholomaus is also head brewer for Olde Hickory Breweryís new microbrewery in Hickory, NC, about 150 miles away. Jamie commutes to Columbia when they call him. His brewery is located in the corner beyond the oyster bar. His counterpart in the kitchen, Chef Thierry Goulard, creates some wonderful meals. Dinner selections include Sashimi Tuna, Seafood Bouillabaisse, Roasted Duck, Braised Lamb Shanks, Filet Mignon au Poivre, Steak Tartare and Grilled Halibut. One of his specialties is Choucroute, a slow-cooked porkloin and knockwurst dish, smothered in sauerkraut and cooked in Vistaís beer and Riesling wine. The coconut cream pie, which was all we had time for, was thick and deadly delicious.

Though we realized that our next stop didnít open until 4:00 and it was only noon, we stopped it at Hunter-Gatherer Brewery & Alehouse anyway. As luck would have it, the door was unlocked and we were soon introducing ourselves to brewer/owner Kevin Varner. Chairs were upright on the tables, but he took a moment to talk and allowed us a taste of his brews.

With primitive artwork from around the world (hence the brewpubís name) surrounding us, we tried the Hunter-Gatherer Wheat. Gold, malty and American-style, this ale was not bashful in the hops department. Best selling Pale Ale presented a fruity mid-taste followed by plenty of hops bitterness. Varnerís ďsignature beer,Ē the dark orange color ESB had a toffee/coffee flavor and swift, dry finish. Seasonal Brown Ale was malty with a bittersweet chocolate effect. He also brews, rotating among four tap handles, Porter, Stout and Scottish Ale.

Asked about the late opening time, Varner said Hunter-Gatherer had never opened for lunch just because he didnít want to work that hard. Within walking distance of the Capitol, lunch would most likely be a big success. As it is, dinner looked interesting with entrees ranging from The Bad Trip Pizza (spinach, feta cheese and green onions) and Salmon & Grits to Portabello Pasta, Gyros and Irish Lamb Stew.

I canít confirm it, but Iíve been told that South Carolinaís state drink is milk. Thatís reason enough to add Columbia to your next beer excursionís destination list. Got beer?

This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.

© Bobby Bush

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