Sunday, July 31, 2005

PC in SC: Hilton Head Brewing Company.

It isn’t so bad joining a snail’s pace queue at the departure gate to await an explanation as to why airplanes don’t carry spare tires in the trunk like cars do, and it’s even tolerable in such an emergency to depend on a corporate entity like Starbucks to provide caffeine sufficient to ride out the bureaucratic process, but to be forced to endure mid-1970’s musical dreck like Tony Orlando & Dawn, the Starland Vocal Band and Bread goes beyond the pale of acceptable stress in a civilized society, proving yet again that torture is not the best way to solicit compliance.

In the end, the tire wasn’t even bad, although US Airways didn’t make the call until after painstakingly rerouting most of the steaming passengers in front of us, and our flight from Louisville to Charlotte was only minutes late. After the connection there, touchdown in Savannah, and a visit to Budget, we hit the highway in search of the fabled recreational paradise of Hilton Head and my family reunion headquarters for 2005.

Had the reunion not been held at Hilton Head, it is doubtful we’d have visited any time soon, but in the end, it was a good experience.

In short order, we learned that Hilton Head is a 42-square-mile island off the South Carolina coast that was the home of a dozen antebellum cotton plantations (overseers and slaves only, owing to the pestilential conditions), and as recently as 1950 was without electricity and still strictly agrarian.

There are now 30,000 year-round residents, two million annual visitors, bicycles galore and whole families atop them, 300 eateries, 25 gold courses, more gated cul de sacs than Arlington National (cemetery, not golf course – Jesus, put the clubs away, will you) has tombstones, and one museum devoted to the only truly unique and interesting sociological phenomenon on the island, African-American “Gullah” culture.

Hilton Head itself is an open-air museum not so much of the wealthy, who indeed are different than us, so much so that like certain species of wildlife, they’re only seen at dawn before retiring for the night behind the very poshest of the velour gates, but of the upwardly mobile nouveau riche, the Bush-voting, golf bag-toting, chardonnay-sipping former occupant of the middle class for whom Hilton Head and places like it have been specifically constructed in the fashion of a Disney-like homage to serve the interests of the culturally clueless.

But there’s a brewpub on Hilton Head, so we went to check it out.

Hilton Head Brewing Company is located just off the traffic circle that leads into the Sea Pines area of the island, where we had the questionable fortune to be booked into a room in the South Beach/Salty Dog complex of tourist establishments. That being said, at least we had beach access a few hundred yards away, and immediate proximity to the Land’s End Tavern, where Palmetto Pale Ale (Charleston), as good a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale clone as you’ll find in the Low Country, is available on tap.

Thumbs up to that, and back to the brewpub. It’s hard to find, being one of several pubs and restaurants comprising a freestanding food court of sorts just off Greenwood Drive.

Like many brewpubs, perhaps even the majority, Hilton Head Brewing Company sends out numerous mixed signals, touting mass-market swill by means of typically obnoxious point-of-sale materials alongside an attractive, exposed brew house, and having not one but two “kid’s nights” weekly while selling all the foo-foo mixed umbrella drinks their parents can throw back … and so on.

Ultimately, one must judge the beer, and I was pleasantly surprised. The four styles sampled were Pub Light, South Atlantic Pale, Calibogue Amber and Raspberry Wheat, and only the latter was perfumed and forgettable.

The light is golden and bears hints of Kolsch-like fruitiness, and the pale ale is mild and Cascade-driven. The Calibogue is chunky for the style, with an a.b.v. in the 6% range, and malty sweet. I was tempted to mix the amber and the pale ale to take a bit of the sweet edge off the stronger ale, but in the end went with a full pint of South Atlantic to accompany moderately spicy chicken wings and my yearly hamburger with mushrooms and blue cheese.

That’s right, yearly. My previous burger was consumed in St. Louis at a Cardinals-A’s game in June, 2004 … but of course, White Castles and other hangover medicines don’t count.

We purchased a 2-liter signature growler with a swing-cap stopper for $20, and called it an evening. The Calibogue stood up nicely to a catered reunion barbecue feast on Saturday that boasted a mustard-laced, vinegary sauce atop finely pulled, almost grated pork, with collard greens and sweet potatoes on the side.

The grocery stores and supermarkets on Hilton Head island are reasonably well stocked with craft beers (Palmetto, Sierra) and the usual mainstream imports like Guinness and some of the German pilsners, a few of which are to be sighted on tap at various establishments.

Combined with the ales available at the brewpub, the situation is by no means desperate – and certainly helped with navigating the family festivities, which sometimes resemble the ambience of the airport musical selection.

Next time: Savannah, Georgia.


GrayNewt said...

Enjoyed the descriptions, history, and summary "thumbs up" to HHBC.

I was there in June 2000 and also was pleasantly surprised. And of course have the shirt to periodically remind me of the good experience.

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