Vista Brewing & Bistro, Columbia, SC

Josh Quigley, David Fowlkes, Jamie Bartholomaus, Frank Hughes, Dave Merritt
Vista Brewing & Bistro
Columbia, South Carolina

Barton Dumas, in the scenic Vista area of Columbia, South Carolina opened Vista Brewing & Bistro in 1997.  The concept was French cuisine with fresh micro-brewed beers.  The food was excellent as the original Chef was from France, and the beers equally as fabulous.  Unfortunately the bars focus was on mixed drinks and Bud/Miller/Coors and the beers never were the highlighted or promoted by management.

The original brewer was Josh Quigley, who was running a home brew store in Charleston, SC called Charleston Beer Works, and brewing at the original T-Bonz Brewery in Mt. Pleasant, S.C.  Josh would travel once every other week or so to the brewery to maintain the brews, serving tanks, and to do general upkeep and brewery maintenance.  The brewery was composed of a small seven-barrel Specific Mechanical brew house system with three seven-barrel fermenters.  Josh had installed similar system in Mt. Pleasant at his T-Bonz brewery and he was to leave his brewing equipment mark on Columbia as well.   Grundy tanks were utilized as serving tanks, and they were located in a walk-in cooler in the basement of the old brick building.  That walk-in also housed all of the food for the restaurant so working in that space had its challenges!

Water would be heated by the restaurant staff the night before a brew day in the kettle, and when Josh would arrive he would mash-in using pre-crushed Briess malts and then scramble to re-fill the kettle and boil the water needed to sparge the mash.  That hot water was transferred to the fermenter to be used later in the brew day, and that would serve to act as additional sanitation on that tank.  It was not uncommon to arrive and the water to be used for the mash-in to be cold, adding to the length of the brew day.  Once mash and the sparge began the kettle would be filled and the small Bistro would fill with the sweet smell of hot wort!  After the beers had fermented and been conditioned, all of the beers would be filtered using plate and frame filtration.

The standard beers were Tanny Ale – golden ale named after the USC Quarterback, Scottish Ale, Raspberry Wheat, and Pale Ale.  A fifth tap was offered up as the “Brewers Choice” and these were usually the best beers on tap.

Josh began to work on new projects for T-Bonz, like planning the opening of Liberty Steakhouse & Brewery in Myrtle Beach at Broadway at the Beach and he needed to pass on the torch as part-time brewer for Barton and the Vista.  He found David Fowlkes in Athens, GA awaiting the chance to run his first brewery solo.

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David’s professional brewing career began in his hometown of Athens, Georgia in 1994 where he worked as an administrator for now-deceased Double Barrel Brewing Company. But it wasn’t until his next employment opportunity, a two-year stay as an assistant brewer for Marthasville Brewing, that Fowlkes experienced hands-on, large scale brewing.  David left Marthasville before the microbrewery, one of Georgia’s first, folded.  He headed to Columbia, S.C. to take over for Josh.

David Fowlkes first garnered a degree of notoriety at the 1997 Southeastern Microbrewers Invitational festival in Durham, NC. As head brewer for Vista Brewing, he offered one of the most distinctive beers at the fest that year. Fowlkes’ Belgian Dubel was strong and sweet, as true to Belgian style as can be made under South Carolinas’ arcane alcohol regulations (6.0% maximum alcohol by weight).  As was his brew, David was unusually outgoing and friendly, enthusiastically encouraging everyone to try his tempting brews.  Some other Brewers Choice brews that David brewed for the Vista were a Downtown Honey Brown, Black Out Porter, and Golden Mild.

His tenure at Columbia, SC’s tiny Vista Restaurant and Brewery was short-lived, partly because the establishment’s beer turnover was slow, therefore hampering his creative urge. At Vista, the now experienced brewer was a one-man show.  While the restaurant continued to fill up every evening the focus was not on the beer, a fact that continued to hamper the brewery until it closed its doors as it would go through part-time brewer one after the other.  In addition to manning the mash tun, David eventually hired and trained his own replacement, Jamie Bartholomaus who had been brewing at Blind Man Ale in Athens, GA.  They had been friends at The University of Georgia and it was a natural transition.

Jamie continued to hone his brewing skill as the Head Brewer at Vista, traveling back and forth from Athens, Georgia several times a week.  His stint lasted a good three years, longer than any other brewer at the pub, before taking a job at Olde Hickory and moving to Hickory, N.C.  Many of the brews that filled the kettle under Jamie were the basis for some of his best future creations.  One of his best selling beers was his Oatmeal Porter.  Jamie’s last six months or so at Vista saw the restaurant change ownership and focus.

After Jamie left Vista Brewing & Bistro several brewers passed through quickly, and Fowlkes came back for a part-time stint as well as Frank Hughes, original brewer for Southend Brewery & Smokehouse in Charleston, S.C. who had moved on to Palmetto Brewing and did weekend brews for the new Vista ownership.  David Merritt, also of Palmetto Brewing, followed after Frank, making the trek from Charleston up I-26 to Columbia for weekend brews.  They continued to brew the standard brews for the pub and undoubtedly created recipes from the ingredients available and the constraints that time and travel had on them.

Many great brewers had their hands on this small corner of Columbia, S.C. and we can only be happy that they made their mark on this establishment!

The Beers

 

 

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