Charleston beer drinkers are a spoiled lot. We show up to our favorite local brewery taproom, swig some stuff that’s as fresh as you can get, pay up, and leave. But that beer winding its way through those taps or out of a can has been on quite a journey — one that starts with the brewery owners who invested the time and money to get it there. Charleston has seen dozens of breweries pop up in the past decade, and a few more are still on the way.
For Beer Week this year, we’re taking a look at three local breweries and the people who created them. One will likely open in the next few months. Another threw open its doors in a fast-growing suburb this summer. And the third is the one people from out of town probably ask you about.
By the time this issue hits racks, the future home of Hobcaw Brewing Co. might have walls. Chris and Tiffany Mottram are hopeful that they can open their brewery off Long Point Road in Mt. Pleasant by the end of 2019, the fruition of a series of events they set in motion when they moved to Charleston three years ago.
“This has been the dream of ours. We’ve been thinking about this for about 10 years,” Chris says. His family settled in Mt. Pleasant from Charlotte in 2016 and quickly took to the local beer scene. Now, standing inside the hollowed out building at 496 Long Point Road, he says things have moved quickly.
“I think it’s happened sooner than we would have anticipated. The goal was to get here and then try to do this,” he says, looking into the steel-framed rooms where his family’s brewery will soon (hopefully) be full of people. (Full disclosure: Chris has written about local beer for the City Paper in the past.)
That’s not to say the road has been easy.
Hobcaw’s build out has been dealt some setbacks with delays and new impact fees that required the family to dig a little deeper. Under local ordinances passed in 2017, the Mottrams paid the Town of Mt. Pleasant about $40 per square foot of taproom space to have their plans approved — a higher rate than a sit-down restaurant would pay to peddle baby back ribs if they opened down the street.
Chris understands the purpose of the fees, to put a check on growth, but says that the regs can have a regressive effect on local folks looking to hang a shingle.
“What they’ve really done is made it really hard for small business and still made it easy for the corporations to come in and put in a hotel or a massive storage facility,” says Chris. Had they decided to build elsewhere in the Charleston area, Chris notes that Hobcaw would likely be open by now.
Nonetheless, Chris says the local brewing community has been supportive in their brewery venture, counting Freehouse owner Arthur Lucas as a valuable resource in developing Hobcaw’s business plan. The crews at Ghost Monkey and Two Blokes nearby have also been helpful, he says, as have the husband-and-wife owners at Tradesman.
“We met with as many brewery owners as we could around town, to try to get a full picture of this process.”
If all goes to plan, Hobcaw will start brewing beer in October, with the team’s head brewer set to move to town in the coming weeks. For his part, Chris is a former homebrewer — “and then I had kids.”
Once the taproom is open, Chris says he hopes Hobcaw will be a fun destination for a laid-back atmosphere where parents can bring the kids and enjoy a solid beer. And they’ll need to come, since the initial business is counting on visitors walking in the door.
“Our whole thing is focused on the taproom. We need to get people here to make money,” he says.
Hobcaw will start out with a five-barrel system — with an initial beer list leaning toward IPAs— and they’ll bootstrap their way up from there.
Despite the challenges, Chris says he and his wife are excited to be getting close.
“It’s been a really stressful couple of years. It’s been some sleep lost, not only due to having a newborn, but this project,” he says.
“I’m really excited for it to get opened.”
The new guys
Like the Mottrams, Chris Ranere and his wife Nicole started out as homebrewers. A few years ago, the two electronic medical records consultants decided they were burned out from their jobs and relocated from the midwest to Charleston. Not like opening a brand new brewery is easy, or anything.
“It’s very hard work,” laughs Ranere, when comparing his full-time brewing job to his old consulting gig. “I go to bed and I crash, but it’s so rewarding.”
Indigo Reef Brewing Co., located in a business park off of Clements Ferry Road, is one of the area’s newest breweries, open about three months now. Sipping Indigo’s citra IPA Drift Drive — which the Raneres served at their wedding — they are chatty and forthcoming about the trials and tribulations of opening a brewery.
They note that they lucked out when it comes to where Indigo Reef is located. “We’re City of Charleston, but we’re in Berkeley County,” says Chris. “We had to deal with the city with a lot of things, but it was more so just stamping it.” Needless to say, the Raneres’ experience with permits and regulations has been a bit easier than the Mottrams’.
Chris and Nicole, who live in a neighborhood off of Long Point Road, didn’t initially intend to land on Clements Ferry. “We were watching Mt. Pleasant grow, it was continuing to happen, and it seemed like everything was growing up [Hwy.] 17,” says Chris. “But the more we looked into it, there’s only so far up 17 the city can grow, a lot of it is protected.”
After ruling out 17, the Raneres turned to Hwy. 41, which is home to a lot of new construction. The problem? A lot of those new spots aren’t tied to a sewer and run off of septic tanks. Not a good match for a brewery, which has plenty of wastewater.
These location setbacks, though, didn’t stop the Raneres from looking more closely at the area off of Clements Ferry Road, one they didn’t realize was so residential until looking at a map. After an afternoon of driving around neighborhoods, chatting with residents, and realizing that their bar and restaurant options were limited to, well, Subway, they knew that Indigo Reef had a fighting chance.
Finding a name for the brewery proved to be quite the challenge. Due to trademark restrictions the Raneres couldn’t name their brewery, Southern Husky, a nod to their husky dog, Bella, and their recent move to the South.
With the help of a local branding company, Gee Creative, the pair came up with their new name: reef, a nod to their love for scuba diving and indigo, an acknowledgement, of course, of the famed native crop.
“We knew we had to get the name trademarked because you spend so much time and money on branding, that was point number one for us,” says Nicole. And the brewery wasn’t messing around, opening to the public with a slew of tanks, T-shirts, and trucker hats before anyone had even sipped their first beer.
The beer, the merch, the welcoming atmosphere — bring your kids, bring your dogs — are all a boon for the growing brewery. There are still issues, of course, even with all the new equipment. “The other day we were getting our floors redone, there was an equipment issue, so I was in a great mood,” laughs Chris.
But, at the end of the day, Indigo Reef is doing what they do best — making beer. Those regulars were joking with Chris but they ended their conversation on a serious note — “Luckily you make good beer.”
In one of the fastest growing areas in the country (hey, Mt. Pleasant), there’s a brewery, hell a business, that’s been holding strong since 2010. Yes, folks, we’re talking about the stalwart that is Westbrook Brewing Co.
“Obviously the beer world was very different then,” says owner Edward Westbrook. “Our main model then and still now is to be a distributing brewery. The vast majority of our beer goes out through wholesalers, primarily in the Southeast but also in New York and Europe.”
In the nine years that Westbrook has been around, as its owner notes, a whole lot has changed in the beer world. Westbrook says that he started noticing an increase in both interest and attendance at the brewery’s taproom around 2014. In 2016, All About Beer magazine noted a shift from distribution-heavy breweries to spots that focus more, and sometimes solely, on their taprooms. “With shelves getting crowded and it becoming harder to sell beer outside of your community, the ‘taproom first, packaging brewery later’ model seems to be the one to adopt.”
“That’s where growth is these days,” says Westbrook. “And also these days, it’s a lot more profitable.”
Acknowledging taproom growth, the brewery recently added and expanded their outdoor seating. Since the rise in interest in taprooms, Westbrook sees all kinds of customers walk through the brewery’s doors: “There are new people that are pretty knowledgeable already, and those that don’t have much knowledge — which is great, and then the very experienced people.” With all those folks, of course, you’re working with different needs. “All those groups have different interests, and it’s pretty difficult to point your experience or taproom at all of them at the same time.”
Still, Westbrook’s model seems to work, regularly drawing crowds relaxing after work or families meeting with friends on the weekend. The taproom’s limited hours (4-8 p.m., Tues.-Thurs, and 12-6 p.m. on Saturdays) allow for a pretty cushy side gig for the part-time bartenders.
Of course, the question of food comes up. Built back in 2010, Westbrook wasn’t even sure they were going to have a taproom, let alone a kitchen. Their current space simply isn’t designed for that. That doesn’t stop them from pushing out pretzels and other snacks, and pulling in local pop-ups and food trucks like Pub Fare and Johnny Poppers.
“We’re working on some stuff to maybe expand in that regard, but it’s too early to say,” says Westbrook of the brewery’s food setup. He adds that whether or not a brewery offers food — or is dog- or family-friendly — is a new area of differentiation he’s starting to see. Think about the last time you went to a brewery with friends without checking to see if they had a food truck or a dog-friendly patio.
While Westbrook appears to be pretty successful at the moment — they just started sending beer to China and their warehouse (located next to the original building where the taproom is located) employs 11-12 full-time workers — Westbrook assures us that things were not always running like the well-oiled machine(s) we see today.
“I was a pretty fanatical homebrewer,” he says of his early brewing days. “As far as running a brewery, and brewing, I’m self-taught through trial and error, which I would not recommend. Especially today it just wouldn’t fly. The learning curve is steep and the ability for error in the marketplace these days is really small.”
In the face of a saturated beer market, Westbrook continues to crank out a lot of beer. “People want not just variety, but new variety every week. So it’s definitely been challenging to keep up with that,” says Westbrook. He’s not really fazed, though. “I think we’ve gotten pretty good at it.”
In 2015 City Paper asked, “Craft beer is booming in Charleston — but how big can it get?” Four years later, breweries continue to answer our question (big, duh), likely laughing at us for even asking in the first place.
The Charleston area is home to dozens of breweries, and with folks like the Mottrams and Raneres at the helm of new spots, it doesn’t look like that number is going to dip anytime soon.
What does it all mean? More beer. More homebrewers taking their passions to the big leagues. More places to drink on the weekend, after work, during lunch … it means that beer is big business in Charleston. And businesses thrive when they have customers knocking down their doors. So go on Charleston, drink local. It’s not like it’s hard.