Getting Back to Basics
In the past 15 years, local beers have sprouted up in the most remote places, and people in the United States have developed a beer-tasting culture around the new industry. Some establishments feature 50 or more beers from across the country, where patrons might order a “flight” of beers, allowing them to savor four to six of their choices in a fourounce pour. Though the beer-tasting culture deserves its due, it’s challenging to find a locally brewed favorite among the contenders that can be savored in quantity.
Scott Burgess picked up on this cacophony and created a local, familiar and refreshing beverage brand. He’s a South Carolina native but spent much of his life in Europe, at first as a child in Wales, and then later in Germany as an exchange student from the University of South Carolina.
“There’s always a festival there [in Germany], where people sit around in groups and enjoy beer,” says Burgess. While studying abroad, he and his roommate heard traditional German music down the street from their dorm and decided to investigate. What they found was a small pop-up Biergarten. He was hooked from that moment. For the next 10 years, his immersion into their culture left an indelible imprint on him regarding how beer should be created and consumed.
Bierkeller tiptoed its way into the industry after Burgess and his friend were consistently disappointed in several brands of self-proclaimed German-style beers purchased at $12.99 per six-pack.
“That is the price of an entire case of beer in Germany,” he explains. Sampling these poor substitutes prompted them to create their own versions of the beers they enjoyed while studying in Germany. They purchased used home-brewing equipment and began a sevenyear odyssey to perfect a handful of their favorites, using traditional recipes—some dating back to medieval Germany. One night while Burgess’s wife hosted some of her friends, the ladies polished off a keg of his beer and raved about it. He started thinking there might be a market for authentic German-style beer in Columbia, but cautiously entertained the idea.
After befriending the owners and brewers of Swamp Cabbage Brewing Company, he noticed they occasionally had some extra tank capacity and asked if they’d be interested in allowing Bierkeller to be brewed at their facility under contract. This practice is common in the industry, and Swamp Cabbage agreed. Burgess raised enough capital to buy additional equipment to have his first large batch of Bierkeller brewed, and the brand has been wildly popular ever since, catering to sell-out crowds at their mobile Biergartens.
Bierkeller does more than produce amazing beer. They deliver a piece of German beer culture to the South Carolina Midlands by recreating the entire experience Burgess enjoyed while living in Germany. He purchases used Biergarten furniture from renowned breweries such as Paulaner, which has been brewing beer in Munich, Germany, since 1634. Of course, the furniture isn’t that old, but it delivers a level of authenticity to his Biergartens, thinking of how many people from around the globe have enjoyed a beer seated at these tables. He meticulously serves Bierkeller in authentic German glassware with a perfect crown of froth, which may be unpopular in our culture but is considered proper in Bavaria. He’ll often partner with The Wurst Wagen to ensure only the most authentic German food is served at the Biergartens.
The Oxford Dictionary defines “craft beer” as “a beer made in a traditional or non-mechanized way by a small brewery.” Though Bierkeller utilizes recipes and methods dating back several hundred years, it’s not considered craft beer by the Brewers Association because it’s brewed under contract. Burgess isn’t bothered by this in the least.
Like any business, Bierkeller is not without problems. Demand for Bierkeller exceeds supply.
“People say it’s a good problem, but I just view it as a problem. I don’t want to guarantee we’ll have enough supply for restaurants and businesses, then not be able to deliver.” Though supplies are limited after his Biergartens, Bierkeller is featured sporadically at places such as The Whig, Craft and Draft and The War Mouth.
In the interest of avoiding any confusion with craft beer, we’ll call Bierkeller “artisan beer,” in homage to the meticulous care and research employed in its creation.