That’s right, you can relax your grip on that over-ripened fruit you were about to hurl at me for writing this article. As a beer geek, I was skeptical too when I heard that Austen Kroll from Bravo’s hit reality TV show Southern Charm was opening his own brewery. With an eye roll, I thought to myself, Here comes another celebrity that thinks having their own brand would be… neat… but probably doesn’t give a crap about the beer. Well, imagine my surprise when I discovered that Austen is as passionate about beer as the rest of us reading this magazine. If you met him in person, it would become immediately clear that he was a beer guy first and foremost; the famous person thing just kind of happened, not the other way around. I got to sit down with Austen at Uptown Social on King Street, a local favorite spot for meeting up with friends to knock back a few pints. Uptown is one of only a handful of places to find Austen’s beer—“King’s Calling Trop Hop IPA”—at least for now, he says. Currently, Austen is contract brewing with Thomas Creek out of Greenville, South Carolina, to make this juicy IPA.
The plan is to begin construction on a brick and mortar facility at the beginning of 2020. At that time, the hope is to increase distribution and bring other styles to the market. When asked about what new beers he was excited to release, Austen revealed that he is playing around with the recipe development for a “crushable wheat beer to beat the Charleston heat,” and maybe something crazy like a peanut butter porter. But before I get too far ahead of myself, let me tell you about the beer we went there to drink.
Trop-Hop IPA is a tropical fruit-forward IPA that includes Galaxy, Centennial, Cascade, Chinook and Citra Hops at a sessionable 6.1 percent ABV. Watching the bartender pulling the first pint, I was shocked to see that the beer is relatively clear. Don’t get me wrong, I was thankful to see that I wasn’t going to just be handed a glass of orange juice masquerading as an India Pale Ale.
The sighting produced the hope that this beer might be balanced after all! The server puts my beer down on the table in front of me and a second later, my nose is hit by a welcomed wave of bright aromatics even from an arm’s length away. Passion fruit, citrus, guava… is that peach? Orange zest? Hmmm… Going in for my first sip… Whoa! I think I like this beer. Second sip… I think I REALLY like this beer! The only way I can describe it is if Creature Comforts’ Tropicália and Stone IPA had a love child and raised it in New England. That being said, it’s perfect drinking for Charleston because even in the sweltering humidity of a low country summer, I would gladly have another one. So I do. Several in fact. And being a gracious host, Austen joins me pint for pint, and that’s when the story’s started to come out.
“So where did the IPA’s name come from?” I asked him. It was an innocent enough question—or so I thought. I knew that Austen’s social media handle is @KrolltheWarriorKing; it sounded familiar, but I couldn’t think why. “Do you remember the movie How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days?” he asks. “With McConaughey?” I replied “Yup!” he answers back. “You know the part where Kate Hudson is convincing him to name his penis? [Did I mention we were drinking?] She is trying to name it something like ‘Princess Sofia’ or another emasculating pet name. McConaughey’s character responds with something to the effect of, ‘If you are going to name a ‘member,’ it’s got to be something super masculine like Krull The Warrior King!’” So, on a dare, Austen changed his handle to “Kroll the Warrior King” and it’s been that way ever since. The shared last name sealed the deal.
The second part of the title is a little easier to follow and certainly more meaningful. As I mentioned earlier, Austen cares deeply about the Charleston beer scene and the industry in general. He feels like bringing good beer to market is his calling and if he is the “King”—which, by the way, he would never call himself except maybe in jest—good beer is the “King’s” calling. Austen wasn’t always the lord of the manor, however. He certainly paid his dues like many of us have in the industry. After working at a craft beer bar in college, he went to work as a cellarman at Palmetto Brewing company, South Carolina’s first craft brewery. From there, realizing his talents were better spent out in front of a brand talking to people and selling in placements, Austen went to work for the Georgiabased Red Hare as a supplier rep.
Austen recounts people saying to him ,“You have the best job in the world!” regularly at events. And while I can tell you that yes, being a rep is fun, it is also a busy, demanding position. People get to see the happy brand ambassador hawking his or her beers at a pint night, festival or beer dinner, but what they don’t see is that after going to bed at 2 a.m., that same rep has to get up and drive two hours to be at an 8 a.m. distributor meeting, woo 80 wholesaler reps who are juggling 75 other brands in their portfolio, and… Sorry! Beer rant. What was I saying? Oh, being a rep is hard work, and something that very few people can do well for any measure of time.
The dream is always to have your own brand, but unless all the stars align, including having a great idea, the funding behind it, and are willing to work your ass off, it’ll stay just that: a dream. Luckily for Austen, when the opportunity presented itself, he hit the ground running and now we all get to enjoy some pretty great beer because of it. So I am here to tell you, it’s ok to like this beer. In fact, if you are still skeptical and happen to see Trop Hop or any other of King’s Calling beers at your local imbibery, I invite you to administer your own “Pepsi challenge” and see for yourself. You too might be pleasantly surprised.