Charleston

Destinations by | Aug 2010 | Issue #43

There might not be another American city with a beer scene that’s growing as rapidly—or as impressively—as Charleston’s.

Until a few years ago, South Carolina’s beer culture was hamstrung by arcane and capricious caps on beermaking, alcohol content and distribution. A 5 percent ABV cap, not to mention prohibitions on sampling and direct retailing, crippled brewers, while distribution regimes favored the high-volume, low-quality behemoths who dominated the market.

And then, in 2007, the state popped the cap. Lawmakers saw that their neighbors in North Carolina hadn’t fallen into the ocean when they legalized high-gravity beers in 2005, while distributors realized there’s actual money to be made in craft beer. All of a sudden, good beer started flowing like water.

The area around Charleston has been a particular beneficiary of this liberalization. Favorite old watering holes like Gene’s Haufbrau have embraced all the new domestic offerings they suddenly have access to, while newer storefronts like EVO Pizza and Closed for Business have made craft beer centerpieces of their menus. Stone, Dogfish Head and Bell’s are everywhere. In a few years, the city has become a true world-class beer destination. Here are the highlights to visit—the top beer spots in Charleston, as ranked by the BeerFly users on BeerAdvocate.com.

Charleston is famous for its immaculately preserved Georgian and Federal architecture, and not so much for the concrete bunkers dotting its former naval base. But it’s in the latter, up river from the city proper, that you’ll find Charleston’s best brewers, the COAST Brewing Company. COAST’s husband and wife team welcomes visitors to their tiny, no-frills spot a few times a week. There’s no fancy audio-visual hookup, just some tanks, some taps and a dog. And a whole mess of amazing-tasting beers. Put this one on top of your list now.

Another destination that takes a bit of effort to reach is Folly Beach Brewing. The beach is a quick drive south of the Charleston peninsula, and like COAST, the reward for the drive is in the glass. Folly Beach only brews a small lineup of house beers, but with quality like this, who needs quantity?

COAST Brewing Company
This little brewery has earned a fiercely loyal following with its IPA and Kolsch, as well as its creative seasonals and limited-release brews. This one’s worth whatever drive you have to make.

Mellow Mushroom
The Charleston outpost of this well-regarded chain serves up pizzas, calzones and a wide array of quality craft bottles from across the country, all at the center of the College of Charleston campus.

Ted’s Butcherblock
Ted’s is a butcher shop with a beer habit, offering bottles to go or for in-house consumption alongside a fresh sandwich or plate of artisanal cheese. Either way, it’s a great combination.

Folly Beach Brewing Company
A tiny beachfront beer bar pouring eight outstanding taps, including a house-brewed IPA, with dozens more in the bottle. Drink at a picnic table, or take some beers to go. It’s rare to find a place like Folly Beach Brewing anywhere in this state; put it on the beach, and you’ve got a legendary spot.

Palmetto Brewing Company
Palmetto trades in traditional, old-school craft styles—you won’t go wrong with their Pale or their Amber.

Laura Alberts Tasteful Options
Lunch at Laura Alberts puts a refined spin on Southern food, and it’s paired with an unreal beer lineup: Six rotating taps and some hundred-odd bottles available in-house or to go. Taps are also mobile, thanks to growler pours and cap-and-seal bombers to go.

The Charleston Beer Exchange
There isn’t enough praise to heap on The Charleston Beer Exchange, which is by far the best bottle shop in Charleston—and, in many ways, the heart of the city’s beer scene. Growlers are filled from nine rotating taps. Don’t miss Tuesday nights, when they tap a new, super-rare keg that you can’t find anywhere else. As if you need encouragement to keep coming back.

Gene’s Haufbrau
Gene’s has been pouring beers since 1952. Generations of locals have grown up on its well-worn barstools. And apart from all the nostalgia in the place, Gene’s is also a really fun place to grab a pint or five. With over 200 beers available, you’ll have no trouble finding something worthy of any geek’s palate.

The Griffon
If, for some reason, you have trouble falling in love with a historic, English-leaning pub whose slogan is “Still kickin’ ass!” then maybe this will melt that cold heart of yours: At press time, this little Charleston bar had Moylan’s IPA on tap.

Closed for Business
Closed for Business serves up an eclectic, creative and locally sourced menu that ranges from mussels and fries to pork rinds and Poutine. The sandwiches are killer, and the craft selection quite solid. The crowd at night swings young and loud, but that just goes to show that dudes in tight pants need IPA too.

Tommy Condon’s Irish Pub
Putting aside the burning question of how an Irish pub ever managed to wind up in the middle of a tourist district, Tommy Condon’s, the pub in question, is the friendliest place for a pint of Guinness in town. Not a haven for beer geeks, but you’ll find no finer company.

EVO Pizza
EVO marries killer pizzas with a small tap lineup that’s heavy on local favorites like COAST, and stocks 20 bottles from boldface breweries like Stone, Terrapin, Oskar Blues and Bell’s.