Prost!: Bierkeller brings German beer experience to Columbia
Beer aficionados say brews are meant to be shared and enjoyed, and one Columbia resident hopes to make that more a part of Columbia’s budding beer community.
Scott Burgess, owner of Bierkeller, is launching his latest brew and bringing the Bavarian tradition of having a beer and a good time to Columbia with pop-up beer gardens, the next one scheduled for this Saturday at Craft and Draft on Devine Street.
“Columbia really has a sort of easy, laid-back feel,” Burgess said. “The same concept fits with the idea of a beer garden — you know people, it’s easy to get a beer and it’s easy to settle in.”
When Burgess was a University of South Carolina graduate student studying in Bamberg, Germany, in the 1990s, he learned that brewery owners would dig into the sandstone hills to create cellars to store their beers.
Burgess said locals would gather at the top of the hill to sip the freshly-made brew and to socialize, thus creating beer gardens. He’s now bringing that fellowship of sipping to Columbia in hopes of creating an opportunity for a relaxed setting where beer meets conversation.
“Sometimes in the South, I think it’s all about you either drink at home or you drink at a bar where you’re out of sight,” he said. “The beer garden is meant to be a nice, relaxed place for anyone — from families with kids to young professionals to students — to sit and enjoy the refreshing beer we offer.”
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Bierkeller is launching its Braunbier German lager with a pop-up beer garden.
Date: Saturday, June 11
Time: 4 to 9 p.m.
Location: Craft and Draft, 2706 Devine St.
More information can be found at the event page.
Bierkeller, which roughly translates to beer cellar, is Burgess’ line of original, German-inspired lagers. The Bierkeller line is produced out of Swamp Cabbage Brewing Co.’s facilities, and traditional German brewing methods and ingredients are what Burgess says sets Birkeller beers apart from others, including craft beers.
Burgess expects to offer four main beers and about two to three seasonal selections per year. He’s not one to experiment with his recipes, choosing instead to keep his beer traditional.
“I stick to styles that I really grew to love over there, and that I think I can brew well,” he said.
Bierkeller’s distribution is limited to local watering holes to make sure customers are getting the freshest product. Currently, Bierkeller beers can be found at the Whig, Craft And Draft, World of Beer and Flying Saucer in Columbia, as well as Krafty Draft and Keg Cowboy in Lexington.
Burgess already hosted a mini pop-up beer garden event in May to launch his Kölumbianer Kölsch brew. That party turned out nearly 700 people, more than what he expected.
This Saturday’s pop-up beer garden will feature an unveiling of the Braunbier, an auburn-brown lager that Burgess describes as “a little breadier” and richer thanks to floral German noble hops.
This weekend’s event also offers another preview of the full-size beer gardens Burgess wants to host later in the year.
The beer garden concept consists of a large shady area with tables and chairs for sitting. Burgess has purchased more than 80 bench-and-table sets from Germany in addition to beer steins and drinking glasses with the Bierkeller logo. And he has partnered with local food truck The Wurst Wagen to offer German food that will pair well with his beers.
Burgess also started a fundraiser on crowdfunding site Indiegogo to pay to ship an authentic German beer wagon to Columbia that will be the centerpiece of the beer garden. The fundraiser is already 135% funded, with 15 days left to go, and Burgess is offering extra incentives for “stretch goals.” The beer wagon will allow for easy serving of draft beer and, Burgess says, will allow Bierkeller brew to be served at different spots around town.
He also is in talks with a German band from Augusta to play drinking songs to keep the atmosphere fun.
“I kind of see it like karaoke,” Burgess said.
‘Competition is immense’
Since the Stone Law went into effect in South Carolina in 2014, the beer movement has taken off in Columbia. Burgess said the law freed up brewers to be able to produce and sell their beer.
Growth in the industry, Burgess says, means large brewing companies are opening facilities all along the East Coast with tried-and-tested beer at a good price point. The smaller guys have to make beer that stands up to the major players, he said.
“The competition is immense right now, he said. “Generally, you’re not going to beat them on price point. We’re doing something a little different by offering German-style lager.”
“The big, global lager brands, they can’t beat us on the quality of the ingredients and the freshness,” he added. “The local appeal that we care about, we think that gives us a little advantage and we have a niche that not a lot of people have explored.”