Charleston had three craft breweries in 2007. Availability of styles were limited. The only to-go option was glass growlers. The yearly output of brewpubs was capped at 2,000 barrels. And the Stone Bill, which eventually passed to loosen state beer laws for on-site consumption, had not yet been created or passed. This time essentially was the Dark Ages of Charleston craft beer.
Fast forward 10 years and the sun shone brightly on the bounty of beers in the Holy City. Now there were 24 breweries and brewpubs in operation. Hazy India Pale Ales were king and packaged beer in 12-ounce and 16-ounce bottles was readily available at most locations. Local bottle shops began to pepper the landscape to offer a wide selection of just about any style.
Now, slushies sours with fruit and cereal are a thing. Pastry stouts at 13% ABV (alcohol by volume) can be found year-round. And it’s not uncommon to see obscure ingredients in beers not just from the area but from around the world. Heck, Charles Towne Fermentory even made a beer with dandelions.
Yet, one brew has remained popular throughout the decades. LAGERS.
Before we jump into mash (brewery slang), here’s a brief, bulleted lesson on lagers. They are produced and fermented at a lower temperature than usual, which slows the metabolic pace of yeast. This allows the beer to produce less of a flavor profile versus an ale. And this yields a clean, crisp palate. Some styles of lagers that you might be familiar with include Helles, Dunkel, Marzen and Pilsner to name a few.
Our first stop is Edmund’s Oast Brewing. It recently held the Land of Lagers Festival. Not only was this the first use of its event space, but it was also the first event of this kind in Charleston.
“What’s cool about this layout is it’s perfect for beer events,’’ said Brandon Plyler, a manager at Edmund’s Oast. His love of lagers led to the development of this festival. “When brewers get together, they drink lagers. So we thought it would be great to have an event that showed off these beers. Nothing super rare. Just good beer to drink and talk about.”
Breweries from all over the country signed up to participate. It even had some German imports on hand. “You don’t have to be a hardcore beer drinker to enjoy lagers. They are a great way for beer drinkers to get interested in craft beer. Very approachable.”
Our next stop is Munkle Brewery. Located in the Charleston Brewery District, it has been known for their Belgian and German inspired beers since it opened, particularly the Munkle Helles, Cerveza Contigo, Munkle Pils and Vienna Lager. Swing by. Enjoy the rotating food trucks, live music and sip on one by the fireside.
The last brewery stop is Oak Road. Years ago, Oak Road Brewery brought its Lager Life slogan to Charleston. “We always tell people to live their best Lager Life,” CEO Benjamin Bankey said. “That’s because we want them to do what makes them happy, and hopefully having an Oak Road lager with them while they do it.”
Pull into this Summerville brewery for a German Pilsner. A mild 5.6% ABV, it is an easy drinker and refreshing as a dip in the Ashley River. “Lagers are such an underrated beer by most people when it comes to the craft beer scene, but we all grew up with them!” Bankeyn said “ People have many fond memories with friends, community, college, etc.”
So if you are looking for a departure from the run-of-the-mill domestic lagers on the shelf, here are a few of the local lagers with which you can make some memories:
- Holy City Brewing Pilsner
- Revelry Brewing Gold Standard Lager
- Charles Towne Fermentory Yacht Party American Lager
- Freehouse Brewery Premium Lager
- Brewlab Charleston Surface Tension Lager
- Estuary Beans and Barley Cabrinha Drifter Coast to Coast Lager
- Commonhouse Aleworks Helles
- Fatty’s Beerworks Italian Pilsner
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