World Beer Festival Columbia showcases shallow beer fun

Image by Timmons Pettigrew COAST represents at WBF.

In the interest of full disclosure, I'm a committed beer geek who has long since drank the proverbial craft beer kool-aid.

I'm always seeking out the next release, the next new brewery to hit SC, and the beers getting the most hype on sites like BeerAdvocate.  It's an obsessive hobby, which is great for me because I only have two speeds when it comes to interests: total geeked-out devotion and utter disdain.  This probably explains why I love comic books so much.

But I digress. This weekend my wife and I made the trip to the state capital for All About Beer Magazine's second annual edition of the World Beer Festival held at the Columbia Convention Center. This was our first WBF, so we splurged for VIP tickets, got a nearby hotel, and hoped for the best.

I knew a little about this festival before attending. Basically, the magazine does its best to get breweries to send free beer for samples, and the staff is largely volunteer. This makes for very few brewery reps, and a debatable balance of low ticket prices and high profit margin.  

This business model was very apparent throughout the festival, in what I would consider a bad way. One couldn't deny this was a beer-centric event, but the experience of trying a brewery's wares consisted of walking up to an uninformed volunteer (no fault of their own), getting a fill, and walking off.  There was plenty of opportunity to sample a vast selection of beers, but relatively little info was available.  Likewise, because of the "free sample" business model, most breweries were represented by beers that are readily available in any sizeable beer store.

That said, there were exceptions, and these exceptions were largely along regional lines.  Charleston's own COAST Brewing was fully represented by Jaime and David's warm presence, both in their own booth and the adjacent SC Brewers' Association booth. The entire Thomas Creek gang was on hand in their matching coveralls. Foothills was gracious enough to send up some of their yet-to-be-released 2010 Sexual Chocolate Imperial Stout, a real unlisted treat and festival highlight. The list could go on, but not for very long.

In retrospect, I had fun, and so did everyone I talked to that attended.  I got my beer geek itch scratched by COAST and Foothills in particular, and sampled a lot of beers I might not have bought otherwise.  However, if you care about the story of beer, the process of that delectable treat getting from the fermenter to your lips, this was largely not the fest for you. It's time to start looking forward to Brewvival, which promises to be a smaller, more focused, and more geek-oriented event.  WBF left me with more festival fever than I started with, and the only cure is more cowbell. Er ... you get the idea.

A few photos of this year's WBF can be found at my Flickr page.

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