The Tale of the Retail Tape
by Timmons Pettigrew
Finding craft beer is becoming less of a problem in the Lowcountry. Breweries and bars have been doing their part, but it’s time for the retail corner of the beer-buying triangle to get a little TLC. Though beer is a social beverage, you can’t discount the beauty of a fresh pour in the comfort of your home, with or without your rowdy friends. This is where your local bottle shop comes in.
To begin at the beginning, chapter one of this story was written by The Charleston Beer Exchange, which Rich Carley and Scott Shor opened on the southern end of the peninsula in 2008. CBX maintains a nine-tap growler station complete with sanitizing sink, an unmatched selection of around 900 bottles from across the globe and the knowledge to clue you in on even the weirdest of beers. Their passion has brought accolades, including the number 2 spot on Ratebeer’s 2010 list of the best beer stores in the world – number 1 in the United States.
While CBX proved that beer-centric retail could succeed in the Lowcountry, shops in Charleston’s neighboring towns have won local hearts in their own way. Laura Alberts on Daniel Island added craft beer to what was a wine-and-gift operation. Roughly a third of owner Karen Elsey’s retail space is devoted to bottles and a six-tap growler station. Laura Alberts straddles the on-premise/off-premise line, offering bottles and growlers to go but also serving pints for consumption in-house. The kitchen has even entered the foamy fray; Laura Alberts hosts self-contained beer dinners on occasion.
The hybrid bottle shop/bar model has blossomed in Mount Pleasant as well, with the recent opening of House of Brews. The name sticks for two reasons: The House serves “all things brewed” – beer, coffee, tea and a sprinkling of wine – and its in a converted home. Shelving in what once were bedrooms holds more than 300 bottles, while owner Rob Davis mans four taps filling growlers and pints in the former living area. There’s ample space in the backyard to bring the whole family out and enjoy the weather.
Summerville’s hat also is in the ring, with Taps Brews. Nine taps fill growlers and pints at the bar, which faces a wall-spanning beer shelf holding around 400 bottles that also are available cold. There’s a small wine selection, but that’s not the focus for owners Emily Egbert and Loretta Hardy. A nominal fee gets you into their Beer Club, which comes with an exclusive mug, growler and malty rewards as you collect points for purchases.
Wherever you live or drink in the Lowcountry, there’s someone nearby to help you get your hands on a fancy craft bottle and send you home with it. Just don’t get too excited and open it in the car.
Look for Timmons Pettigrew’s book, Charleston Beer: A High-Gravity History of Lowcountry Brewing, out soon in bookstores and beer joints and at www.historypress.net. Follow him on Twitter @CHSBeer.
By Timmons Pettigrew