Tucked away in a commercial building park off Long Point Road in Mount Pleasant is Two Blokes Brewing, a little brewery with a big heart. A taproom with years of nostalgia hangs decoratively in every place you can lay your eyes. The brewhouse looms in the background wafting the sweet smell of grain and hops through the air. It’s a “lived-in” space. It’s welcoming, cozy and the kind of place where you feel transported away from the commercial facade and into the hearts and minds of the owners’ past, present and future.
The evolution of breweries isn’t something that is talked about enough. We, beer lovers, talk about the beer, the “vibe,” the food offerings. But we rarely discuss the literal blood, sweat and tears that goes into creating, growing and maintaining a brewery. And, what happens when the owner/founder suddenly passes away.
I was relatively new to the Charleston brewing community when I heard the news that Matty Symons, owner and founder had suddenly left this world. The community was in shock. As if COVID-19 wasn’t enough to deal with, now, we’d lost one of our own, a staple and bright spot for the Charleston beer world.
“So many people considered Matty a good friend. He always made people feel like he was paying attention,” said Michelle Lapp, operations manager. She joined the Two Blokes team in March 2017 and worked closely with Symons daily.
“The whole community reached out. And, that’s how I formed so many relationships that I have now,” Lapp said. “A few breweries in particular went above and beyond to assist.”
Evelyn, Matty’s wife, took over as much as she could. And for almost three years, she and Lapp were Two Blokes, woman-owned and operated.
Two Blokes initially opened like a lot of breweries do — with a homebrewer and a friend who were passionate about good beer and wanted to build something together. Symons, Australian by birth, had previously lived in the United Kingdom before relocating to the United States and, eventually, Charleston. After nine years at Blackbaud, Symons and his business partner, Sean Geddis, lept into commercial brewing, opening the doors in 2016. And though Geddis maintained his full-time career, he was an essential partner to the brewery.
But sometimes, partnerships don’t work and in early 2018, Symons and Geddis decided to part ways. That’s when Lapp stepped in to manage the front of the house. And here is what isn’t talked about much publicly when it comes to this particular industry: Like any start-up business, there are a lot of changes and evolutions.
With Symons at the helm of brewing operations and Lapp leading the taproom, Two Blokes was on the rise. And well, we know what happens next. A global pandemic. And the brewing world as we knew it completely changed and shifted.
During the first three months of COVID-19, operations shifted to “to go” options only. Taproom sales for all breweries suffered and then the unthinkable happened. In May 2020, Symons suddenly passed away.
“Luke DesJardins [lead brewer] took over for Matty,” Lapp said. “We all just stepped into the roles that were natural. And he did a great job. Customers were happy we kept the same team and the beer quality didn’t change.”
Friends in the community stepped up to moonlight behind the bar.
“Two Blokes was my vacation job,” said Kim Arnold, head brewer for Frothy Beard Brewing Company. “I always looked forward to seeing the team and awesome regulars. It has also helped me creatively with branching out to want to brew different styles.”
For close to three years, the Two Blokes team soldiered on while it was known to few that the brewery was looking for new ownership. Evelyn Symons needed to move her family and life in a new direction. She posted the brewery on several websites and began the process to put in place a new “bloke.”
In August 2022, Evelyn Symons had two promising potential buyers and an offer was accepted. The Two Blokes team began the process of being purchased. It was looking for that perfect fit. But the buyers didn’t materialize to be what they had hoped for, Lapp said.
“We wanted to keep the Two Blokes brand. The brand means so much to her [Evelyn] and me and the customers.”
So they pulled back and refocused on the second offer.
At the same time, head brewer Luke DesJardins also had a new opportunity with the Birds Fly South Ale Project in Greenville.
“He stuck it out for a while and it was time for a transition,” Lapp said.
And thus began the search for a new head brewer as well. To say that Lapp had her hands full is an understatement.
But things have a way of working out, of evolving. They always do. It’s called… Evolutions.
A visit to Two Blokes today
George greeted me at the door with a sweet smile and tall wag. George, honorary owner and new mascot of Two Blokes, belongs to Rhett Anderson, the new owner who attended high school on the east coast before completing his undergraduate economics degree at Clemson University. After graduation, Anderson found himself in California in the Marine Corps.
“My passion is building things, leadership and creating,” Anderson said when we sat down one month after he purchased and took over operations at Two Blokes.
Anderson met his wife Haley in Delaware, while the two were still in high school. During a summer break in college, they spent time in Napa Valley, with his family nearby.
“We went out there over one summer in college and started working at a couple vineyards. And fell in love with the industry. I originally wanted to do something in the wine industry in California but it wasn’t exactly feasible in this economy right now.”
Interning at Aubert Winery, Anderson learned the production side from start to finish. He began to look for other opportunities. With starting a family, the couple decided to move closer to her family back in Charleston.
“We’d been here a couple times and we fell in love with it,” Anderson said. Anderson found Two Blokes on a business brokerage site and reached out to Evelyn.
“My initial thought was there was so much potential,” Anderson said. “The survival this brewery has experienced. And then, meeting the team was a major plus because I know finding quality workers is difficult and the staff is amazing.”
Regarding the head brewer search, Lapp had no time to spare. James Bridwell replaced DesJardins as head brewer in mid-February 2023, and Caleb Jurecki became assistant brewer shortly after.
“Our brewhouse is labor intensive. We don’t have all the bells and whistles. It’s a labor of love. James [Bridwell] was the first person I interviewed in the process and I felt like we clicked,” Lapp said. “We had hoped to hire from within the local community, but with the time constraints, we needed to act fast. And James was ready to move to Charleston immediately.”
A new head brewer
Bridwell, former owner of Sockdolager Brewing Company in Midland, Texas, had recently closed its doors. Opportunities came knocking.
“I applied to several breweries, had interviews and several offers,” Bridwell said. Bridwell, who grew up in Savannah, also chose to move back closer to family and accepted the position at Two Blokes.
“It really speaks to the leadership of Michelle,” Anderson said. “Everyone comes together and works so well. It will be cool building this place with them.”
As if taking ownership of a new brewery isn’t a handful enough, Anderson and his wife just welcomed their first child and are undergoing renovations at their new home in Mount Pleasant. Haley Anderson is super-supportive of the venture, and though is not involved in daily operations, owns 50% of the brewery.
“Growth, bringing a fresh set of eyes and taking some workload off Michelle is my focus at Two Blokes,” Anderson said.
Learning the intricacies of distribution, taproom management, and South Carolina laws will keep Anderson busy for the foreseeable future. With the capacity to produce 56 barrels at a time, Two Blokes will be keeping its Publican Ale, an English pub ale, in constant rotation and introducing a few new styles as well.
“I want to make a thiolized lager,” Bridwell said. For those who are complete beer nerds or scientists, a thiolized lager is made with a genetically modified yeast that replaces the use of hops.
And what does Lapp want?
“Vacation! Taking some time off and having time to work in my garden,” she said. “I was excited for change to come. I thought I might also leave once the sale was complete. I felt a responsibility to stay all these years, to Evelyn and the customers. But now, I’m excited for the new opportunities, growth, and the team feeling. I have missed that.”
Anderson said, “I said, you kept the company alive. I’m gonna let her enjoy the rewards.”
One thing we here at HOPS know, the Two Blokes team is locked and loaded. Don’t skip this brewery. You won’t be disappointed.
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