Where to Drink in Greenville, South Carolina

Destinations by | Dec 2016 | Issue #119
Illustrations by Sam Brewster

South Carolina’s beer scene has been slow to develop compared to its northern sister, which is home to over 170 breweries and ranks 16th in the nation for breweries per capita, according to the Brewers Association. By comparison, South Carolina has fewer than 50 breweries and brewpubs, which plops the Palmetto State at No. 41 in the nationwide ranking.

The tide has started to turn in South Carolina, though, thanks to a series of legislative changes making the state friendlier to the beer business. The 2013 “Pint Law” allows breweries to sell customers 48 ounces (three pints) of beer on site compared to a measly single pint doled out in four 4-ounce samples. And the 2014 “Stone Law,” designed to accommodate an East Coast facility from Stone Brewing, allows breweries to sell food and obtain a retail permit to sell bottles and cans on site, and brewpubs to enter into distribution with wholesalers after converting to a new license. Even though Stone ultimately landed in Virginia, the change has freed up regulations for existing and future brewing concerns.

The impact is already evident. According to the South Carolina Brewers Guild, sales from craft breweries have nearly doubled in the state in the last three years. To best experience South Carolina’s most robust beer market, head Upstate, particularly to Greenville. Guild executive director Brook Bristow says this region accounts for over 50 percent of the state’s beer production.

While some connect Greenville’s brewing surge to its proximity to Asheville, just over an hour’s drive north up US Route 25, there’s plenty of support from local drinkers, who clamor to pioneering breweries like Blue Ridge Brewing Co., which opened in 1995 after its founder Bob Hiller led the push to legalize brewpubs in the state, and newer innovators like Shoeless Brewing Co., the smallest brewery in the Upstate area, named for legendary native son Shoeless Joe Jackson.

“The community certainly does get some down mountain traffic, but the thirst locally is real and growing,” says Bristow. “Greenville’s craft beer growth has been completely organic.”

With more breweries such as 13 Stripes, FireForge, and Loose Reed on the way, there’s never been a better time to explore Greenville. Most of the city’s brewing action takes place just outside the downtown core, mainly in the loop created by I-85 and I-385, while taps and packaged beer aplenty can be found on either side of the Reedy River that bisects the city center.

119destinations2Ten miles north of Greenville, in Traveler’s Rest, Swamp Rabbit is a brewpub located on the Swamp Rabbit Trail that parallels the Reedy River. Fans head to this lager-forward brewpub for its Pilsners, Bocks, and Festbiers, in addition to special releases like Red Whitey (a Witbier with raspberries) and Cherry White (made with 200 pounds of Montmorency cherries).

South of downtown, Thomas Creek Brewery, established in 1997, is Greenville’s oldest brewery and the state’s largest. Run by father-son duo Bill and Tom Davis, Thomas Creek is known for its dry-hopped Class Five IPA. Castaway Chocolate Orange IPA (with cacao nibs, chocolate malts, and orange zest that still lets the Citra hops shine through) and the hoppy lager Tres Gringos Barbudos keep fans (and “taste master” Bill Davis, who’s a fixture here) happy.

Eastward, off I-85, Brewery 85 proffers many Germanic beers, like the über popular and phenolic 864 Weizen and Quittin’ Time, a deceptively potent 8 percent, barrel-aged blonde Bock that’s light only in color. Beers here use Carolina ingredients whenever possible—even yeast from SouthYeast Labs, which was started by Clemson University grads—and crops from the fruit and vegetable garden in the sun-drenched patio out back find their way into casks.

Helmed by brewmaster Don Richardson, known for his award-winning beers at Boulder Beer Co. and Cottonwood Brewery, Quest Brewing launched in 2012. Named for a Norse dragon ship, Quest’s flagship IPA Ellida is citrusy and earthy, while its Kaldi Imperial Coffee Stout is roasty and robust. Bring a pint out to Quest’s inviting beer garden, where live music entertains families with kids and dogs in tow.

A short hop off the Swamp Rabbit Trail is Greenville’s newest brewery, Birds Fly South Ale Project. Beer geeks from near and far flock to the “urban farmhouse” to experience the brewery’s Saisons and sour beers from the rustic tasting room’s 12 taps, surrounded by barrels and foeders. Try Rustic Sunday, a rye-forward farmhouse ale hopped with Hallertau Blanc, or a Kriek-like sour using Upstate-grown cherries that’s currently in the works.

For a boozy but breathtaking 2-mile pub crawl, start at Upstate Craft Beer, a four-in-one brewery, restaurant, brew-on-premise, and homebrew supply shop. You may find a tart kettle-soured Berliner Weisse or a dry Belgian Saison among its 20 taps, brewed on dual half-barrel systems visible throughout the industrial space.

Walk 10 minutes north to arrive at Pour Taproom, a futuristic self-serve bar. At the Greenville location of this small but growing chain concept, grab your own glass, pull a pint, and then pay by the ounce. Try DuClaw Brewing’s Sweet Baby Jesus (a chocolate peanut butter Porter), or blend your own liquid PB&J by adding a splash of Lindemans Framboise.

Falls Park on the Reedy, the picturesque epicenter of town, lies just beyond Pour Taproom. Stroll across the Liberty Bridge to find nourishment. Head to the Nose Dive for elevated comfort food, like chicken and sweet potato waffles with a maple-bourbon gastrique that begs for a glass of Charleston-based Palmetto Brewing’s Espresso Stout.

At pizza and calzone parlor Barley’s, wash down a Caribbean Pizza (jerk chicken, spinach, and artichoke hearts) with a selection from the nearly 40 taps, like the citrusy Over the Edge IPA from Unknown Brewing Co. in Charlotte, N.C. In the vault of specialty bottles, folks looking for rarities from Westbrook, perhaps the state’s best-known brewery, can splurge on its Bourbon Barrel-aged Oud Bruin or 5th Anniversary Chocolate Raspberry Imperial Stout.

On the basement level of Barley’s, the same ownership runs The Trappe Door, a classy restaurant and bar with a Belgian vibe. To go with your moules frites (served six different ways), pick from a selection of Belgian imports and Belgian-style locals like Birds Fly South’s Brett Saison, Brand New Eyes.

Directly around the corner is the Greenville Beer Exchange, a bottle shop and growler-filling station stacked floor to ceiling with in-state mainstays such as Holy City’s Chucktown Follicle Brown Ale, with notes of bittersweet chocolate, or a vast selection of imports from New Zealand to England. Meanwhile, The Community Tap is a hub where beer lovers congregate on the spacious patio to enjoy one of the 20 beer taps (featuring regional breweries from Quest to Carolina Bauernhaus) or the curated bottle list that includes D9 Brewing’s lineup of wild ales. There’s a rotating schedule of food trucks to help soak ’em up, too.