Ask any Charlestonian to list downtown tourist attractions, begrudgingly or otherwise, and you’ll likely hear about the Battery, the Old Slave Market, maybe a carriage company or a ghost tour, and a smattering of restaurants. If you ask any of us what we actually do when we’re not showing foreigners around the city, the only thing that’ll stay on that list is probably going to be the restaurants. Even those are likely to change when there’s no visitor to inundate with Charleston-ness — how many locals want to pay to park near S.N.O.B. on a Saturday night when one can head into Mt. Pleasant or James Island, say, for both delicious food and free parking?
There is, however, one attraction which will always lure local and tourist alike: beer.
More specifically, breweries. And though the Charleston of yesteryear had a serious lack of suds-makers, the city now boasts a veritable deluge. Of the 20-plus breweries in the area, a healthy number have opened within the last five years — a sure sign that this city has finally and wholeheartedly hopped on the craft beer bandwagon.
A number of these beermakers are handily clumped together on the Upper Peninsula, perfectly situated for the tourist who doesn’t want to stray from downtown and the local who doesn’t want to spend half the day parking. Breweries like Revelry, Cooper River, Fatty’s, Edmund’s Oast Brewing Company, Munkle, Tradesman, and Lo-Fi can all be found in a stretch a little under two and a half miles long. This conglomerate has led to the area being informally dubbed the “Brewery District” by its beer-making inhabitants, a moniker which will probably start popping up a lot in the press, on brochures, and in sight-seeing lingo very soon.
Unlike the fierce competition that can be found among the restaurants or hotels that dot the peninsula, breweries enjoy a camaraderie uncommon in most lines of hospitality. Edmund’s Oast head brewer Cameron Read says, “In a lot of industries, there’s kind of an us-versus-the-other-guy attitude — we’re the opposite. There’s plenty of people out there who like to drink beer, so it’s not like we’re stealing all of each others’ customers. We’re very happy other breweries are around us so we can help educate the consumer, and they can too. We help each other.”
In this spirit of togetherness, the beermakers of the Brewery District have begun the first in what will be a series of collaborative brews. Edmund’s Oast was the first to host the collab, where beermakers got together to make a pale ale with signature local touches. The grain they chose is Black Seashore Rye, an ancient native landrace crop that, until a couple of years ago, was facing possible extinction. With help from Geechie Boy’s Greg Johnsman, Slow Food USA, and heirloom food pioneer David Shields, Black Seashore was coaxed back and is being used in a variety of implications in Charleston kitchens and breweries. For the purposes of the collab, the grain was malted by Riverbend Malt House in Asheville. The group is also using honey from Bee Well in Pickens, S.C. They’ve even turned to nearby mapmaker New World Cartography from Green Pond, S.C. to design the new beer’s label — which will feature a map of the Brewery District, of course.
“I hate to use the buzzword ‘terroir’,” Read says, “but that’s what we’re going for with this beer. We wanted to make something that pays homage because we’re representing the Brewery District, and we’re also part of Charleston, so we wanted to honor that.”
The brewers chose a pale ale as their kick-off effort because it’s a crisp, easy-drinking beer — something, Read says, that you’d find them all drinking after they get off work. The group plans to design a beer at all of the breweries over the coming months, but he isn’t sure yet what each will be. The pale ale (it’s working title, depending on who you ask, is either Brewery District Seashore Rye Pale Ale or simply Brewery District Pale Ale) should be ready to keg and can around mid-March, and it will be available at Edmund’s Oast and potentially at other participating breweries, though the group is still working out how to navigate state distribution laws.
The collab imparts all the neighborly feels it should to us consumers, but it’s also a really smart move for the breweries, who want the Brewery District to become recognized by the city. “The other idea for this collab is just to let people know ‘Hey, we’re here,’” Read says. “We wanted to do something big to recognize this area and each other.”
“We already call ourselves the Brewery District,” he says, laughing. “It’d be really cool if the city would agree with us.” The move might very well be a wise one — the breweries are already bringing a lot of business into a formerly derelict area, and a tourism campaign would bring with it even more area restaurants and businesses to meet the crowd. The brewing supergroup is dreaming of an official map, a formal beer crawl, and — one day — a shuttle to go between the breweries.
A brewery shuttle. Here’s to hoping, pretzel-sticks crossed.
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