When I walked into Thomas Creek Brewery on Piedmont Highway in Greenville, I was greeted by co-owner, Bill Davis, a man who could be Santa Claus’s brother with his great smile and full white beard.
Bill Davis stands with his dog, Porter, during my visit with him and a tour of the Thomas Creek Brewery.
Wood covered tanks pictured are 3.5 bbl stainless steel fermentation tanks from the brewing system that Tom and Bill purchased to be used at Henneys
Bill's personality is exhibited throughout the brewery. Here is a display on the bottling machine.
A grain hopper at Thomas Creek Brewery.
Bill was a craft beer connoisseur before it was cool. He fell in love with craft beer when he tasted the delicious brews he discovered on the West Coast, an area he traveled during his career with Craig Gaulden Davis when microbrewing was getting its start.
Bill had his first beer in 1956, courtesy of his architecture professor, who took his class to the Esso Club in Clemson, when it was a filling station with beer in the back room. He’s been exploring beers ever since.
Bill’s son, Tom, developed an interest in beer while he was a bartender at Henney’s Restaurant in Greenville 20 years ago. He got into home brewing through the influence of the bar manager, and started brewing in his garage. His beer first came out of the garage when he brought a couple of kegs of his brew to a Christmas party in 1993. People loved it and wanted to know where they could get it.
When the brew pub law was passed in South Carolina in 1994, Henney’s wanted to convert into a brew pub, but needed a way to purchase the equipment. Tom and the owners of Henney’s convinced Bill to buy what they needed and join them.
Bill began the transition from his love of architecture to his love of beer. Tom started brewing Henney’s beer, and the brew pub began growing. After four years, the demand for Tom’s beer was escalating. Bill and Tom had to make a decision to either focus on the brew pub, or go all out and concentrate on the brewery to take on the demand. Describing their thought process, Bill said, “We thought about the brew pub, but we said, ‘no, we don’t want to be in the food business. We want to brew beer. That’s our passion.’” This was the beginning of Thomas Creek.
Bill and Tom bought a second-hand brew system and set out to brew beer to their heart’s content. That was 14 years ago, July 1. Today, they brew around 18,000 barrels a year, distribute in 15 states as well as Sweden, and do contract (phantom) brewing for 10 beer companies (Terrapin, located in Athens, Ga., was one of their first contracts, and they brew a beer for Bacardi.) They are also a certified organic brewery and make an organic beer called Monk in the Trunk, among others.
Although Thomas Creek has 19 employees, it's a family-run business. In addition to Bill and Tom’s work at the brewery, Bill’s wife, Rachel, comes in to help with the office work and write the checks, and Bill’s granddaughter helps with the accounting. Even the dogs, Porter and Nugget, come into the brewery with Tom. “My son is the brewmaster. They call me the tastemaster,” Bill says, chuckling. “But we all taste the beers.” His favorite to date is the Doppelbock, a cola-colored lager with a slightly spicy and hoppy flavor that’s dominated by roasted malts.
I took Bill up on his offer for a taste test as he finished showing me the brewery. I tried the Amber Ale, one of the first brews Tom created. The color is beautiful, as ambers usually are, but the flavor is beyond what you’d expect from an Amber – a fantastic slightly sweet caramel nuttiness with a light hop finish. I also tried the Up the Creek Extreme IPA, which lived up to the name. Not your typical IPA, it’s incredibly dark and just as incredibly hoppy. Very bitter, I’d say this beer is definitely for hopheads. My favorite was the Banana Split Chocolate Stout, which is saying something since I’m not usually a stout-drinker. This stout is beautifully rich and smooth – it makes you want to just let it glide around in your mouth for a bit before swallowing. Stout coffee notes come through along with the chocolate, and the banana flavor is faint and that of dried banana, which I very much enjoyed. I can’t say enough good things about this beer.
If you find yourself in Greenville on a Friday afternoon, stop in Thomas Creek. Bill is a fascinating person, with an obvious love of beer and a passion for the community. He not only encourages aspiring brewers by selling home brewing supplies, but he also donates his love of art (he’s a painter and potter) to Hands on Greenville by making piggy banks for their yearly fundraiser in October at The Huguenot Mill. While you’re at Thomas Creek, say hello to the rest of the family and the dogs, ask to see his hand painted tap handles, and be sure to take home a growler of the Banana Split Chocolate Stout.