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