“Look around you; by the end of this tour, you will be a completely different group of people.” Our tour guide Cam said while grinning during the drive to our first stop.
As the tour progressed, the bus increasingly became louder and the people who were once strangers, now have my contact info.
The birth of the brew bus happened almost two years ago, when USC college buddies, Chris Campbell, Mike de Kozlowski, and Cam Powell heard that Swamp Cabbage was launching its brewery, making it the third full-production brewery in Columbia.
Mike said that once they realized Columbia had enough breweries to make a decent brewery tour, they immediately took action.
“We drove to all the breweries and we walked up to the door all scared, and asked them if they would be cool working with us,” Mike said. “They were like, ‘you’re asking us permission for you to bring a bus load of people to us?’ They kind of laughed and said, ‘yeah, absolutely, we would love for you guys to do that.’”
Soon afterwards, the trio found an investor and purchased a bus from the Temple Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. Once they spruced up the bus, knocked out the business legalities and designated their individual roles, Columbia’s first brew bus took flight.
The tours take place Friday through Sunday, and can be arranged through the company’s website. The bus transports its passengers on a four and a half hour tour, stopping at Swamp Cabbage, Conquest and River Rat. Mike said that most people’s purchasing behaviors change during the span of the trip, so to ensure fairness, the stops rotate during each tour.
Once the tour group arrives at a brewery, everyone receives a four ounce beer glass. The glass is filled up with beer four times, showcasing that brewery’s most popular beer, and sometimes its experimental brews. The brewery staff chooses the order of the flight, usually starting with a light beer and progressing towards dark beer. However, this isn’t always the case, sometimes a brewery finds a unconventional flow of the order. After people have had their fill of beer, either Cam or Mike will take the group into the brew room and describe the company’s process of beer making.
“I liked the whole thing,” recent brew bus attendee, Drew Podo said. “It’s cool seeing the different processes and different philosophies behind the beer making process. Oh, and I liked the beer, the beer was good.”
Mike said that the crew plans to ride the craft bubble until it pops, or until it’s unmanageable. He hopes the Columbia Brew Bus will prosper enough to expand into Greenville. However, the three owners are taking on and searching for other jobs in the meantime.
Since Columbia isn’t the hottest tour destination in the South, the brew bus aims to help the city become a more entertaining spot for visitors and residents.
“I hope people walk away from it learning something about beer and the brewing process,” Mike said. “It’s not just, ‘hop on our bus you’ll get trashed,’ but I do hope people have just as much fun as if it was a party bus.”