The Beer Can Professor, Paul Roof. | Photos provided

Later this year, High Score Brewing plans to open just off of Ashley Phosphate Road in North Charleston. Owners Tony Williams and Chris Shelley announced that it will be a retrogaming-themed brewery that features arcade games and consoles. The opening of this brewery will bring the total back up to 37 operating breweries and brewpubs in the Charleston area.

Which leads to the question: when are there too many breweries?

HOPS informally polled and spoke with local craft beer fans and owners to get their takes. Via Charleston Beer Enthusiasts, a local Facebook group, just 8.6 percent of respondents said yes. 

Beer Can Professor’s Chucktown Follicle Brown from Holy City Brewing. | Photo provided

Out of the 70 respondents, 64 said there are not too many breweries in Charleston. And while the results speak for themselves, people’s comments tell another story. 

“Every time a new brewery opens, I figure that this is the one that will burst the bubble,” said Dave Florio, a local beer enthusiast. “But, somehow, pretty much all of them have managed to stay afloat. Yeah, a few have shuttered, but not as many as I’ve expected.”

“In my opinion, each brewery has to carve a certain niche to make up for not having a stellar beer program — a great kitchen. Great spots for families with kids and/or dogs. A lovely vista.” Dave said he makes it a priority to visit all the breweries and examine objectively. 

As the craft beer scene grows, brewery owners continue to search for ways to pay the bills, stay relevant and produce a quality product. Many times, brewery owners overshoot what a taproom will monetarily bring in on a weekly basis. Distribution can offset some of these shortcomings, but not always. 

Frothy Beard Brewing is an example of an establishment that learned how to grow and adjust with the times. It moved from the original location to a larger building, opened a second brewpub, added mixed drinks to the line up, and offers an in-house food option. This allowed for a more diversified customer base, but some craft beer drinkers say it takes away from the “brewery” feel and changes it to a restaurant that makes beer. 

Michael Biondi, co-owner of Frothy Beard, said things have changed through the years.

“I believe in a free market though so you really can’t stop people from going after their dream, but the rate of places that open, close and change hands or concepts here in Charleston is quite quick and the fact that the city is still recovering from a shortage in skilled labor shows that we may have opened up too many places without the infrastructure to support it,” he said. Infrastructure includes public transportation, parking and easily accessible locations. 

“As far as breweries are concerned, I also think the culture has shifted a lot since we opened in 2013,” Biondi added. “We were the fifth brewery in Charleston and you could have a lot less to offer your clientele then and still be able to survive. We had a tap room, no food options most nights and were very limited on what we could actually serve our customers. With the law changes over the years, breweries can now serve food and drinks other than beer, such as liquor and wine.”

Are traditional breweries waning?

These are now the basic requirements from most customers when they visit any establishment and now especially breweries. Non-alcoholic options, wine and hard liquor are all now part of the package. Is it safe to say that the traditional brewery has died?

“If you don’t offer regular food options, entertainment, inside and outside seating, and other drink options, you limit yourself when it comes to customers’ choice,” Biondi said. He also said he believes that areas where there is only one brewery, the business will compete with peoples’ choices based on the brewery’s beer selection and the neighborhood’s restaurants. “So food is a big factor if you are in that situation.”

Beer enthusiasts Steve and Jennifer LeGrand-O’Brien visit breweries on a weekly basis. 

“In my opinion you can never have too many breweries. They’re all different, with a different vibe and different beers,” said Jennifer. “You go to them based on what you’re looking for.” 

Steve has a slightly different opinion. ”I think we may be at a little bit of saturation, but many of these breweries cater to locals. Summerville has Oak Road and Frothy Off-World, for example. I know people who go to those two and no others,” he said. 

Therefore, it’s safe to say that for most beer drinkers location matters — what’s nearby, is convenient and has quality. True craft lovers seem to agree however, they will travel for good beer. 

“I started going to Munkle Brewing because I love Belgian-inspired beers,” Steve said. “But now I also go because I’m comfortable there. I think the atmosphere and product quality will ultimately weed out some of them.”

Paul Roof, also known as the “Beer Can Professor,” has been a part of the local craft beer community almost since its beginning. Beer drinkers can find his likeness on Holy City Brewing’s Chucktown Follicle Brown. 

“I personally think more choices is better and we have to think that many of these breweries are spread out from Summerville, to Mount Pleasant and everywhere in between,” he said. 

But like the others, location does matter to him. “I am typically on James Island so the new Odyssey bottle shop is definitely my new spot to go get beers in-house or to go.” While Odyssey bottle shop is not a brewery, it’s a hotspot for beer drinkers who like quality and variety. 

Too many average breweries?

The overall consensus within the Charleston Beer Enthusiasts’ Facebook group is there are not too many breweries, but too many average breweries. They seem to mostly believe that the addition of more breweries into the community has not created a friendly competition to produce an excellent product, but has created an environment where breweries are forced to participate in ideas that they initially didn’t think they would need. Enter in trivia nights, bingo nights and endless specials to gain customers. 

Most also agree that service and atmosphere are highly important. 

“I will go to a brewery with better service and atmosphere with average beer before a brewery with above average beer and crappy service,” said Travis Zeiset, a participant in Charleston Beer Enthusiasts. 

Glassware and kid/dog friendly are also factors considered by avid brewery goers. 

“The brewery district is one example in my opinion where competition is more fierce based on the amount of breweries in the area and what you offer your clientele and not exclusively on the beer you produce,” Biondi said. 

“Overall, I guess the customer gets to decide whether there are too many of us and they vote with their choice of where they go based on what they like and what we offer.”

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