At the end of September I had the pleasure of visiting the beautiful city of Charleston, SC. Located on the Atlantic coast of South Carolina, Charleston is a city rich in history and natural beauty. I also learned that it’s one of the more up-and-coming craft beer cities on the East Coast.
Upon arriving in Charleston, my first stop was at the newest brewery on the horizon. Freehouse Brewery, while not open yet, was buzzing with activity when I walked through the door. Owner Arthur Lucas and his crew were cleaning tanks and creating what will end up being the bar for the taproom. The place will have an incredible river view and one of the nicest patios you can imagine to kick back and drink a few beers while watching the river roll by in the distance. Arthur pointed out that Freehouse will feature organic beers and will largely utilize organic products in the brewery. Another cool aspect of the brewery is that most of the equipment is actually re-purposed dairy equipment. I look forward to returning soon so I can try the beers they plan to brew. Freehouse is definitely a southern brewery to keep an eye on in the next few years.
Next up on my itinerary was Holy City Brewing. Many folks know Holy City for their 2012 GABF Gold Medal-winning Pluff Mud Porter. It took me a few passes to figure out where Holy City was, as they are nestled back off the major roadway that runs by the entrance to their facility. Once you pull up to the building there was no doubt you had arrived at Holy City. A giant mural adorns the front of the building, giving you a panoramic shot of Charleston (aka the Holy City). I walked in and was immediately greeted with a busy taproom on a weekday. They had two guys manning the counter, explaining the beers to newbies and fetching beer for the loyal Holy City Fans. My contact Sean gave me the tour. Most of the brewing equipment actually sits at the opposite end of the tasting room but if you venture to the other side of that wall you encounter the original brewing area with the bottling line. Another cool aspect of the place is the collection of growlers (mostly Grandstand made I might add) decorating the area above the bar. You can tell Holy City has been visited by craft beer fans from all over the US, some coming from other breweries. If you are lucky enough to visit when “Pecan Dream” is on tap, I strongly suggest you try it. However, I honestly didn’t have one boring beer there. They really know what they’re doing at Holy City.
My next stop wasn’t actually a brewery. It was one of the most talked about bottle shops I can recall hearing about. Charleston Beer Exchange is clearly one of the best places to buy beer I’ve ever visited. While the place is relatively small in size, they really maximize your choices. Visitors can find craft beers from all over the country there, some rare and some standard. You will not find domestic beers taking up shelf space though. This place is craft beer through and through. In addition to the numerous bottles on the shelves, they have a growler station with choices that you do not find packaged in bottles or cans (for instance Fullsteam’s Summer Basil was on tap when I visited). To top things off, the staff at Charleston Beer exchange is really well-versed in craft beer. They can tell you what foods pair well with specific selections, they can steer you towards beers that fit your palate, and they are happy to suggest something to get you out of your craft comfort zone a bit. Charleston Beer Exchange is such a cool place that I’m a bit jealous there isn’t a Lawrence Beer Exchange. There is however a Greenville Beer Exchange in Greenville, SC I’ll have to visit the next time I hit the Carolinas. If you’re around downtown Charleston stop in and say hello to Scott and the guys. They will take care of you.
The next day I ventured over to COAST Brewing. Ask anyone in Charleston about David Merritt (co-owner of COAST with wife Jaime) and people can’t say enough good things about his beers and creativity. During my visit, COAST was actually in the process of installing a major capacity upgrade. New tanks had arrived just days before and the brewery was actually at a brewing standstill. Amazingly, COAST has a staff of three people, which blew me away. Having heard about COAST Brewing all over the East Coast, I assumed there was a much larger staff in place. The staff of three just makes COAST more impressive. You can tell they live and breathe their brewery. Jaime gave the tour of the brewery in its transitional state and was so kind to give me a few beers to take with me since the taproom was not functioning when I visited. COAST’s beers were fantastic and I look forward to returning to see the brewery in its full glory soon.
Next up was Westbrook Brewing Company. Located across the bridge in Mount Pleasant, Westbrook was very impressive. As soon as I walked in I was amazed at the size and layout of the place. Immediately upon walking in I noticed the pallets of empty cans stretched from the floor towards the ceiling which then drew my eye to a gigantic fan which surely was a godsend on hot and humid South Carolina Summer days. Some of the highlights of my tour were getting to check out the automated canning line, the temperature-controlled barrel room and of course tasting some of their high-quality beers in the taproom. At the time the taproom was decorated for an upcoming Oktoberfest party. While sipping on some Westbrook beers I actually learned that Westbrook does some contract brewing for Evil Twin Brewing (which explained the Evil Twin barrels in the barrel room and the Evil Twin beers on tap). While their White Thai is hard to beat, my favorite beers from Westbrook ended up being the Gose and the Marzenbier (maybe it was the Oktoberfest décor). If you are ever in town when “Mexican Cake” is released, I’ll pay you to bring me back some.
My last brewery stop of the Charleston jaunt was Frothy Beard Brewing. In addition to having one of the best brewery names ever, they had some really creative beers as well. I’d never ever considered a Sour IPA, but they have one. It’s very good too. Frothy Beard was a super laid-back place not even a year old. Local art from an artist friend adorned the walls of the brewery. The same artist actually drew their growler logo (which I might add is a Grandstand office favorite). Still a nanobrewery, Frothy Beard has really caught a foothold with knowledgeable beer fans in Charleston looking for a place to come, relax and enjoy the craft beer experience. Still a very young brewery, Frothy Beard has already established loyal following. I definitely suggest trying the Sour IPA if you visit. It’s tasty and unique, which is all you can ask when you visit a craft brewery.
Charleston, South Carolina is no exception to the craft beer explosion the last few years but while breweries pop up all over the US, I was very impressed with the high quality beers I had here. The city is one of the most beautiful places I’ve visited in my travels and the fantastic craft beers found here makes Charleston a must-visit for any craft beer fans. I look forward to seeing how the craft brew scene in Charleston continues to grow.
Ben Gibler- East Regional Sales Manager