Local Breweries Thrive on Variety
The greater Charleston area plays home to four craft breweries. That's fully half of the breweries in the state (not counting brewpubs). It's no secret that we drink a hell of a lot in these parts, but that's a dense concentration in a relatively small space. And they aren't just surviving; they are thriving by all accounts, even with limited distribution outside of the Lowcountry.
Two questions arise from this: how can this be, and is it sustainable? The answers are diversity, and yes. Our breweries are like the A-Team: committed to the same cause, but with wild variations in white hair and gold chains. From approach, to style, brewing systems to buildings, they couldn't be more different. That variety is good for everybody.
Palmetto is the old man on the block, churning out four year-rounds and a new smattering of seasonals from a nice warehouse space downtown since 1994. Their capacity is substantial, and they have always packaged in 12oz bottles, still the only local to do so. The year-rounds have recently been retooled for our now-spoiled palates to much success.
COAST is the smallest by capacity, but arguably biggest by demand and reputation. Their itsy-bitsy sevenbarrel system lends itself to an extremely hands-on approach, which has garnered them nationwide acclaim, especially in the big IPA and stout departments, since opening in North Charleston in 2007. It's all beards (for the guys) and Grateful Dead radio over there, fitting the craft brewer stereotype but backing it up with an amazing product. Their location in an old naval records station is unique, fun, and chuckle-worthy (what with the beards).
Westbrook dwarfs our other breweries in size, with an 18,000 square-foot, purpose-built space in Mount Pleasant that opened in late 2010. Their influence and focus is mainly European, and especially Belgian, with some very exciting offerings aging in and being released from a dedicated barrel room. They recently started canning, another first-and-only packaging situation among area breweries. The space, feel, and equipment scream "modern," a marked departure from our other locals.
The new kids on the block at Holy City Brewing kick it old school, producing a very popular year-round porter and pilsner as well varied seasonals from their North Charleston space since mid-2011. The size of their sparkling new brewing system is somewhere between COAST's and Westbrook's. A cozy wooden bar (transplanted from an actual old bar) and killer old beer signage lining the walls lend to the old school feel of the place, which is another converted warehouse, but smaller and with rougher edges than Palmetto.
Diversity is key for the Lowcountry to support multiple breweries, but it's all for naught without quality. It's one thing to have four breweries taking different tacks; it's another to have four breweries producing legitimately good beer. Lucky for you, me, and our collective livers, we have both.
by Timmons Pettigrew