HOPS recently sat down with Andy Elliott, co-owner and director of brewing operations at Low Tide Brewing, and founder Mike Fielding. In recent years, there have been several changes at Johns Island’s first brewery.
“The social environment of a brewery is one of our favorite aspects of our business and where we pride ourselves as a company culture,” Fielding said. “Over the last six years since we opened, we have seen many high moments and many low moments too. ‘That’s life’ the expression goes but going through those ups and downs is something we are still learning.”
Elliott said he gained a new perspective on life after his mother died in a car accident a year after the brewery opened.
“I tried to focus on all the positive things that can be done at a brewery instead of the hard work it takes to open a new business” he said. “I took time to find more balance in my life. I met my wife at the taproom, we bought a house, became foster parents and now we have a young family including my adopted son and a biological daughter. Many regulars know my kids’ faces as they frequent the brewery and are proud members of the Juice Box Crew.”
Elliott joined Fielding and Low Tide in 2015. He received a fermentation science degree from Colorado State University in Fort Collins, where he apprenticed and studied under head brewers from Odell, New Belgium and Coors.
Fielding started out as a home brewer in the basement of his fraternity house. It was while kayaking in the waters around Johns Island in 2012 that the idea for Low Tide Brewing was formed.
“Since 2017 I’ve gotten married, and also bought a house,” he said. “No kids but we do have four dogs. I pour most of my time and money back into the brewery.”
Elliott came to the Lowcountry after serving as head brewer at Benson Brewing in Nebraska. His brewing talents and desire to use local ingredients have led to stellar beers. For example, “Basil Better Have My Money” Ale won a bronze medal at the 2018 Great American Beer Festival.
Both beer entrepreneurs often talk about stewardship. They strive to make the taproom not just a place to drink beer, but an inclusive place to gather various politicians, groups and organizations have all used the brewery as a venue for their causes. This all came to a halt when the pandemic struck.
“The lockdown was tough,” Fielding said. “We are a draft-focused brewery. We thought about pivoting into cans, but made the choice not to. But our local following is what saw us through. The sales of to-go crowlers allowed us to make it.” The ability to serve customers at a pass through window, and to-go sales allowed them to stay open, and work towards better times.
Elliott said the brewery has had a lot of success in New Age beers, such as “hazies, adjunct beers and non-beer flavored beers.” They also produce malt beverages like “Tastes Like Gatorade Blue Seltzer” that have turned out to be very popular. “We wanted to include nontraditional beer fans. That’s where the seltzer, and stuff like our occasion glitter beer come in.”
Today, Low Tide boasts an impressive brewery operation. It has 12 20-barrel conical fermenting tanks, three 20-barrel brite tanks, and a 10-barrel brewing system at the original location, and an offsite production facility in North Charleston.
“By 2021 our distribution was up almost 40%,” Fielding said. “This is thanks to our local following spreading the word about our beer. We did almost 3,000 barrels of beer last year. We have a beer just for the Kiawah Golf Course.”
This rise of production led to the hiring of Head Brewer Sam Pagano. Formerly head brewer at C.H. Evans Brewing in Albany New York, Pagano’s desire to be where it is warmer led him to Charleston.
“I never thought I’d be a beach guy, but I’m learning,” he said. Lagers are his favorite style of beer to brew, and a crisp pilsner is his go-to drinking beer. But don’t let his traditional preferences mislead you — he also is very excited to talk about his newest Quencher Series seltzer, as he put down a blazing orange-colored seltzer on the table.
But with every high moment at a brewery, there continues to be unexpected low moments too. Their most recent taproom-only 16-ounce can release was the Jordan’s Pils. The brew pays homage to a Low Tide family member who is suffering from cancer. The pilsner can release was a way to help spread the patient’s story and raise donations. All of the proceeds from the can sales are being donated by Low Tide for medical expenses. In the end, the brewery raised about $18,000 to support the patient’s fight.
Like many of the brewery owners in Charleston, it is not hard to see the passion in the eyes of Fielding and Elliott. They would be the first to tell you their passion comes from their time with their family, employees and everyday customers who come through the door. Also important: the opportunity to see the community come together around good causes, supporting good people. Those intangible qualities of positive vibes continue to raise the bar at Low Tide Brewing.
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