Food & Drink

Bluffton's International and Craft Beer Festival is hops lovers' paradise

Beer lovers were in seventh heaven at the 5th annual International and Craft Beer Festival at Oyster Factory Park in Bluffton on Saturday, and even those who weren't normally "brewskie" drinkers seemed, well, pretty cheerful.

And how could they not be? With more than 160 beers from around the world to sample and more than 30 styles alone to choose from, it was a veritable hops lovers' paradise.

The festival -- which boasted a tasting event on one side of the park and a food court, live music and vendor village on the other -- had already played host to about 500 people as of 2 p.m. Saturday and were expecting more before it closed.

For Lisa Ashcraft from the Moss Creek area, it was all about trying new things.

"If left to my own devices, I'd drink Corona Light for the rest of my life," she said as she stood in front of one of the numerous tasting stations serving up one- and two-ounce samples at a time.

As she and other members of her six-person party discussed what they liked -- some liked IPAs, some liked stouts -- Ashcraft said she was just glad to be near the May River.

"We're excited that it's down here because the atmosphere is so great," she said.

For those in the industry, the festival provided ample opportunity to compare products and talk a little shop.

"I can definitely taste the cinnamon," said Courtney Pici, of Greenville, who was sampling the River Dog Brewing Co.'s latest brew.

The Ridgeland brewer had joined forces with Bluffton brewer Southern Barrel to create a special beer -- "Smoked Oyster Stout" -- just for Saturday's festival.

Pici, who works as the sales manager for the Global Brewers Guild's Southeast Division was chatting with River Dog's John Federal.

A bonafide brew expert, Pici said sampling beers was similar to sampling wine in that you start by looking at the brew's color and smelling the beer.

Pici went on to explain that you then want to sample the beer, taking stock not only of how it tastes and what "notes" or flavors you can detect, but also how the beer actually feels in your mouth or on your tongue.

"I love it when a beer entices me to drink more of it," she said, making the whole process sound rather seductive.

"Hey, beer is sexy," said Federal, adding that he agreed "100 percent" with everything Pici said.

"It used to be thought of as like a working man's thing," he said. "But that's changed."

Pici said part of her job with the guild is to educate people on the wide variety of beer and styles now available, something that seems to have increased in demand in the Palmetto State now that recent changes in state law have loosened what breweries can manufacture and sell.

"To people who say, 'I don't like beer or craft beer,' I say that's a lie,'" Pici said. "You just haven't found the beer you like.'"

Follow reporter Mindy Lucas at

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