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Breakout Brewer: Holy City Brewing Co.

With a respect for style guidelines, Holy City Brewing’s Chris Brown produces some traditional beers, but as the brewery has grown, he’s loosened up, creating award-winning boundary-pushing beers to complement the food scene in Charleston, South Carolina.

Emily Hutto 9 months ago

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Chris Brown makes the best Brown Porter in town—go figure. Unexpectedly, though, his town is one where you’d expect imbibers to reach for light lager to sip on the beach, if they’re even choosing beer at all. Charleston, South Carolina, is a foodie seaport city where wine is king.

“The food scene is very sophisticated here,” says Brown, explaining why most of the state’s now fifty plus breweries are concentrated in Charleston. “It’s unique compared to the rest of South Carolina, with way more restaurants and bars than anywhere else. It’s a food and beverage town, and food towns attract breweries.”

When Brown and his three business partners—Joel Carl and Sean Nemitz of Charleston Rickshaw Co., and Mac Minaudo who came from the biodiesel industry—opened Holy City Brewing in 2011, they were the fourth brewery in Charleston and only the seventh in the state.

“To make a year-round porter was something new for this area, unexpected for the heat,” Brown says. “But our porter filled a niche in Charleston. There wasn’t anyone doing that style, locally or regionally. It really took off.”

Pluff Mud Porter might be dark in color, but it’s medium in body and easy to drink at only 5.5 percent ABV. That’s all by design. “The idea was to have something that you can drink year-round,” Brown says. “This isn’t a big, robust porter. It’s subtle.”

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That subtlety and its clean, crisp finish make Pluff Mud a great food beer, too. It’s a great complement to the small, inspired menu at Holy City that includes items such as a falafel burger, a buffalo chicken sandwich, bread from a local bakery, and lots of local cheese. “We’re getting more and more into our cheese game,” Brown says.

“Porter is a great pairing for cheese. Something like Wensleydale cheese would be really good with Pluff Mud. It has a little acidity and can have dried fruit in it that would pair nicely.”

Holy City has a deep respect for porter, Brown says. There’s always a nitro Pluff Mud on tap, and there are two beer engines onsite that regularly serve porters as well. Holy City is also well-known for its Washout Wheat, a German-style hefeweizen that took home a bronze medal from the 2014 Great American Beer Festival in the South German-Style Hefeweizen category. This beer nods to Brown’s background as a German-style brewer at Gordon Biersch—it’s a simple recipe that relies heavily on yeast to create its flavor profile.

“We ferment a German hefeweizen strain high to give off more banana than clove,” Brown explains. “This yeast has really particular flavor profiles, and this is a beer style that really lets the yeast shine.”

Washout Wheat and Pluff Mud Porter belong to Holy City’s year-round canned beer line alongside Chucktown Follicle Brown hoppy brown ale, Paradise (an American IPA), Overly Friendly IPA, and Yeast Wrangler (double IPA). These beers are available in cans across South Carolina and in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Brown also crafts a draft-only Berliner weisse called Strawberry Beards Forever, the German-style Holy City Pilsner, a Vienna lager, and a Helles, among other German styles. His lineup has inevitably included more and more IPAs as well. “Now suddenly, we sell a lot more IPA,” he says. “Our canned Overly Friendly IPA has taken off, plus we make several other American IPAs and a session IPA.”

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The brewhouse at Holy City is different from your average brewhouse, Brown says. “It begins in a mash kettle, then we transfer all the grain and liquid to the lauter and then transfer the liquid back to the kettle for the boil. This gives me more control over my mash temperature. I can mash-in lower and then raise [the temperature] as opposed to infusion mashing where if you miss the temperature, you miss. I step mash almost everything for control.”

That control that Brown has over his system is demonstrated in his clean beer lineup and proficiency in brewing a variety of diverse beers. In his first five years, Brown brewed more than 1,800 batches on his 15 bbl brewhouse, some true to style and some not. “Most of our canned beers like Pluff Mud or Washout Wheat are really traditional in style, but if a beer stays in-house, I don’t have too many rules. As we’ve grown, we’ve played around a lot more. I have appreciation and respect for style guidelines, but it wouldn’t be fun if we did that all the time,” he says.

One of Brown’s outside-the-box beer styles is what Holy City called an imperial hefeweizen. “We had extra hefe yeast one year that I didn’t want to dump, so I designed and amped up a version of Washout Wheat and pitched the remaining yeast. It was a little boozy, but it still put out a lot of banana. I love playing around like that and seeing what happens.”

This imperial hefeweizen was named Bathroom’s Outside to the Right. “Our brewery is in a garage and the bathroom used to be inside the building across from the production floor. People would ask us where the bathroom was twenty times a day ... I’ve been wanting to name a beer that for a long time.”

Next up for the brewery is a series of canned, small-batch kettle sours. With a reverence for traditional beer flavors, an open mind to experimentation, and a deep commitment to process and technique, Brown continues to wow the Charleston beer market and beyond.

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