Bowens Island Restaurant Hidden Beer Behemoth
Bowens Island Restaurant should need no introduction. The seafood landmark, situated on a tiny namesake island near Folly Beach, has been in "top" lists of national magazines, profiled on national television, and even earned itself a James Beard American Classic Award. Most people equate the joint with heaping plates of deliciously prepared, local seafood. Their oysters are their real claim to fame, harvested by hand from their surrounding waters for decades. Unfortunately, the bar selection that goes along with a menu like theirs is often lacking at best.
Check your expectations at the dock, because Bowens Island sports the Charleston area's best local tap selection.
Six years ago, the original restaurant tragically burned down. After a rough sixty years in business, there was no question that
owner Robert Barber would rebuild. The tragedy turned into opportunity, as the new Bowens Island Restaurant would have more room, including room for an eight-tap draft system and a ten-by-ten beer cooler at the bar. They carried the typical American light lager at first, but soon our local brewing culture was growing all around them. Robert, being a soul truly dedicated to the area, formed relationships with our brewers over time, perhaps culminating in Holy City Brewing using his oysters for their Bowens Island Oyster Stout last fall.
A few months ago, Robert doubled down on his taps, bringing his count up to sixteen. In the meantime, they installed a huge refrigeration unit, mainly for housing their oysters. The BMC (Bud, Miller, and Coors) bottles were moved into the unit too, allowing them to dedicate the beer cooler to kegs. Since it wasn't being opened at the bar constantly, the draft selection could be kept there at a consistent temperature, and smaller kegs could be changed out more easily. Couple that new system with Robert's love of all things local, and you get the surprisingly excellent selection they have today.
Though I'd heard of their local focus, on one recent visit I found all sixteen taps dedicated to local beer, equally spread amongst our four breweries. Sixteen simultaneous local taps during the regular course of business is, without a doubt, the best local selection in these parts. Even our forty-odd-tap, beer-centric bars don't have that kind of local coverage.
Don't expect style-specific, beer-clean glassware, or anything fancy for that matter. Your pint is going in a plastic cup, and you're going to like it. That goes with the territory, however. In a place that lets you write on the walls, you should be okay with suspending a few standards. The incredible view on the back deck, and of course the food, should more than make up for any misgivings.
Local is certainly not everything when it comes to beer. But in a budding brewing culture like Charleston's, dedication to the cause is a fun, refreshing thing to run into, especially in unexpected places.