Blue Ridge Brewing Company, Greenville, SC circa late 1990s
Blue Ridge Brewing Company
Greenville, South Carolina
Beer is at the center of Pittsburgh’s working man culture. Industrial beers for an industrial town makes perfect sense, but it was not until his college days in Colorado that Pittsburgh-native Ryan Kurlfink discovered the wonderful world of craft-brewed beer. As an undergraduate student in Boulder, locally brewed beer became an infatuation. It “blew [him] away that [he] was from a town that took such pride in beer only to find that Pittsburgh had a lot to learn.”
While sampling and learning about beer, Ryan searched for a job in the industry. Literally begging for a chance, he found work in the Colorado mining town of Loveland Pass at Silver Plume Brewing Company in early 1995. Though he toiled only a few months at this 20-barrel, open fermenter brewery, it was good training indeed, especially since Ryan had never been a homebrewer. Returning to family and friends in Pittsburgh, the novice brewer found that craft brewing hadn’t taken root in his hometown. Jobless, he made the rounds, finding plenty of advice but no offer of employment. From these contacts Ryan “learn what being a brewer in a big brewery was like- pushing buttons and lab work,” something he had absolutely no interest in.
While working in South Carolina for his in-laws, Ryan met Bob Hiller just weeks before this new acquaintance was to open Blue Ridge Brewing Company in revitalizing downtown Greenville. Ryan hired on as assistant brewer working for Charles Lloyd. An Englishman who learned to brew the UK way before taking his first stateside job in Seattle, Lloyd taught his employee the intricacies and “neat little tricks” of brewing before moving on to his own San Francisco venture 18 months later. Ryan has been the man beer man ever since.
Blue Ridge beers are now all Ryan’s. Kurly Blonde Ale even carries his name. This hybrid, 1/3rd wheat ale uses all-imported grain. The brewpub’s biggest seller, the malt bill is complex but its Kurly’s hop profile that “sets it apart.” The brewer takes pride in producing a beer that helps wien people from domestic beer, especially when they don’t realize how hoppy it is. Noble pils hops makes for a pils-like wheat ale that “attenuates nice and dry” like a nice crisp pilsner albeit it with an English Ale yeast and its noticeably fruit flavor results. A heavy dose of crystal malt and other English-only grain goes into Rainbow Trout Amber ESB, resulting in an “almost candy cherry sweetness.” With English Kent Goldings and Challenger hops, this ESB is as English as Ryan can make.
German-grown Munich malts give character to Hurricane Hefeweizen. Though it has a “heavy” appearance, this lightish brew is rich in banana-clove aroma and taste. A light sprinkling of German Perle hops, for bittering only, is buried in the swirling flavor profile. Hops flavor and bitterness dominate Colonel Paris Pale Ale. Named for a notorious Confederate soldier, this West Coast-style American Pale is a little less filling than its California counterparts but it still provides a solid Cascade “hoppy punch in the face,” while making a great session drink. Ryan’s recipe calls dry-hopping with more Cascades hops.
Blue Ridge seasonals include the bronze Total Eclipse Stout, which stakes territory somewhere between the Sweet and Dry Stout categories. This brooding brew won a bronze medal at the 1998 World Beer Cup in the Foreign Style Stout category. Brown Bag Ale is done proper English style, exuberant in suggestive malty sweetness. A robust porter, Santa’s Little Helper requires beechwood smoked malt which yields a big, heavy wintertime porter that’s “chocolate, chewy and smoky.” Hmmm. In the midst of the Bible-belt, Ryan defiantly strives to makes “beers that aren’t boring.”
Ryan works with a 10 barrel brewhouse that sits just inside Blue Ridge’s front door. No glass, partitions or rope barrier separates brewing activity from curious diners. Step infusion mashing is common in his recipes. All beers, save the Hefe, are filtered. Four 10 barrel fermenters and five equally sized serving tanks provide life to the long, wooden bar. State law prohibits off premise keg sales, though 1/2 gallon growlers are often seen leaving the scene. The year 2000 saw 749 barrels produced. 2001 is running at the same pace.
Blue Ridge, the brewpub, is known as the “best place in town for steak.” Everything on the interesting menu is made to order. No freezer to fryer fare here, there’s barbecue buffalo, catfish ettoufe, pecan crusted rainbow trout, shrimp & grits, pork tenderloin and more.
Downtown Greenville is one of the South’s few success stories. Its revitalization has inspired store owners, restaurateurs and others. In business since June 1996, Blue Ridge Brewing Company plays a major role in the city’s resurgence. It’s not all about the beer, but Ryan Kurlfink’s capable brewing has sure helped.
Blue Ridge Brewing Company
217 N. Main Street
Greenville, SC 29608