Euphoria’s ‘Brews & Biscuits’ panel talks Greenville’s craft beer scene

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Emily Pietras

Euphoria’s Saturday morning “Brews and Biscuits” class at PMC Commercial Interiors featured Brian Cendrowski of Greenville’s Fireforge Crafted Beer, Don Richardson of Greenville’s Quest Brewing Co. and Ethan Fixell, a certified cicerone (e.g. beer expert) from New York City. Fixell led the discussion regarding Greenville’s emerging craft beer scene and Cendrowski’s and Richardson’s own ventures in the industry.

Quest Brewing Co. is likely a familiar name for many in Greenville. The brewery, which opened in July 2013, was founded by Richardson and partner Andrew Watts. Richardson has been in the beer business since 1992. His first job in the industry was on the bottling line at a craft brewery in Bolder, Colo. After a stint doing beer distribution and sales in Moorseville, N.C., Richardson moved to Greenville.

“I felt like this market was primed for another brewery,” Ricardson said, “Other than Thomas Creek and RJ Rockers in Spartanburg, there wasn’t much of anything. … We were the first one to open [in Greenville] 15 years after Thomas Creek.”

Richardson said the major roadblock for Quest was finding the right location, which is why many Greenville residents may not be familiar with Fireforge Crafted Beer. Cendrowski and his wife, who have gone into the venture together, are still looking for a permanent home for Fireforge. He said he hopes to be open by April 2017.

Cendrowski, who had moved to Greenville in 2009, relocated to Tampa due to a career opportunity for his wife. But unlike in Greenville, Tampa’s craft beer scene was already booming and close to becoming oversaturated. “It turns out there were a dozen or so breweries already down there with another dozen in planning,” he said.

Cendrowski noted that another reason that he and his wife located to Florida was because the so-called Stone Bill hadn’t been passed yet in South Carolina. Before the bill, he explained, “Breweries couldn’t have tasting rooms. All you could do was give samples away, so it didn’t really fit our concept of what we wanted to do. We wanted to have small batches, tasting rooms, sell directly to the customer. I just felt like that was a better model for what we wanted to do.”

But only six months after he and his wife moved, the Stone Bill passed. The bill is named for South Carolina’s efforts to recruit Stone Brewing to the area. And even though the California-based brewery ultimately landed in Richmond, Va., for expansion, it’s been a key component to the growth of Greenville’s craft beer scene.

“With the Stone Bill, it allows you — as long as the brewery has a kitchen of some kind — you can serve unlimited in-house on the premises and you can also distribute. Whereas before, you were either a brewpub, like Blue Ridge [Brewing Co.] was here on Main Street, where they could not distribute but they could sell anything they wanted to on site, or you were a distributing brewery, and your in-house sales are very limited,” explained Cendrowski. “I think we’re still kind of in [Stone Brewing’s] debt for helping to push some legislation through that’s beneficial for all of us.”

(left to right) Don Richardson, Ethan Fixell and Brian Cendrowski
(left to right) Don Richardson, Ethan Fixell and Brian Cendrowski

 

In spring 2015, Cendrowski and his wife visited Greenville for Community Tap’s beer festival and were surprised to see that craft breweries hadn’t made much of a boom in the city yet. “I expected to come back and find a dozen more in planning, and there were like three,” he said.

The passage of the Stone Bill, as well the “tremendous opportunity” within Greenville’s craft beer scene, influenced Cendrowski and his wife’s decision to return to the Upstate. “We saw that things were headed in the right direction and the laws were loosening up. We just felt like there was still an opportunity to get in at a relatively ground-floor level and to shape the craft beer community here, as opposed to being in a … [larger market] where they already have that identity,” Cendrowski explained.

Fixell asked Cendrowski and Richardson about the role Greenville’s water has in the city’s craft beer industry growth, and they both agreed it’s one of the linchpins of the recent emergence of independent breweries.

“Some of the best water in the country is here,” said Richardson. “It’s really good for brewing. We treat it a little bit, but other than that, the water is spectacular for brewing.” He noted that “bad water makes bad beer.”

The mineral content of water is key for good brewing. While Quest adds some “brewing salts,” said Richardson, “for the most part, we don’t have to treat it as much as you would in other areas.”

The city’s water is another reason why Fireforge Crafted Beer will be opening in Greenville, not Florida.

“The water was a factor coming back here,” said Cendrowski. “From a brewing aspect, it’s like a blank canvas. … You can build your water profile to really brew any style you want.”

After the first part of the discussion, attendees were treated to the beer and biscuit pairing of their choice. The biscuits, courtesy of newly opened Biscuit Head, could be fixed with the following options: chicken gravy, sweet potato coconut gravy, raspberry jam, mango jam or sweet potato chai butter. Quest provided the beer options: Golden Fleece Pale Ale, Smoked Porter and Coffee Stout.

The Coffee Stout is a notably distinct selection. Quest uses West End Coffee, specifically the Jamaican Me Crazy blend, for the brew. Richardson said the “flavors of kahlua, hazelnut and caramel enhance the beer” and give it a “different characteristic.”

(Although it wasn’t available on Saturday, Quest and Fireforge collaborated to develop a limited-release beer last year, a lavender coffee stout. Richardson said they hope to make it available again soon.)

After the biscuits and beer tasting, an attendee asked about the identity of craft beer in the Southeast, specifically in South Carolina, and what it means to be a craft brewer here.

“I think it’s still kind of open. I don’t think there’s really an identity necessarily yet, but I think it’ll come,” Cendrowski said. “I think in the South, the light sours are starting to take off … I think the light beer style here could sort of define the South, because it’s so hot here all the time.”

Fixell noted that “the lighter, thirst-quenching beers” seem to be the most popular in the South. He also added that “food culture down here is really important, which seems to be influencing the beer down here.”

Richardon said that the quality of beer in the South is “way better now than it ever has been.” And as the craft beer industry takes off in the Upstate, he added, “We welcome these other new breweries to enhance this brew community.”

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