The earliest piece of surviving evidence that Palmetto existed is an invoice dated 1857. This establishes it as an antebellum brewery, but it’s altogether likely that the operation was slowed if not stopped outright during the Civil War and brief Union occupation. The founders were named John and Henry Döscher, either German transplants or descendants of immigrants, based on their last name. The records of their history become richer as the timeline moves out of Reconstruction and into the 1880s.
About this time, more dated material is available. The names appearing on invoices and in advertisements are now Cramer and Kerstin. It’s known that these two men were Virginians who worked as distributors for Palmetto in some capacity, bringing the beer into their home state. They also had some stock in the company though, as Kerstin’s certificate is still intact. One can infer that they bought out at least a controlling share of it since their names are all over the brewery’s ephemera.
A diagram of the brewery also appears on some surviving receipts and certificates, along with a clear description of its location. It occupied a small city block, as well as some property across two streets. The main operation was located within and around five streets, whose names remain unchanged: Anson, Hayne, Pinckney, Church, and Guignard. Based on the diagram, the brick complex housed a brew house, a steam engine room, a stock house (or warehouse), an office, and a cistern outside, which collected rainwater for use in at least some of the beer. Its own ice factory/refrigeration complex was established across Pinckney Street, with its horse stables sitting adjacent to that. Across Church one would find its bottling operation, part of the brewery’s name in many ads, where it is called “Palmetto Brewing Company and Steam Bottling Works.” Early beer pasteurization was achieved by bathing finished, capped bottles in steam until they reached 170 degrees Fahrenheit, but steam was also a likely power source.
This raises some questions, one being: why in the world would you bottle all the way across the street from where the beer is made? The answer lies with the taxman, as it so often does. In the late 1800s, national beer taxation was based on casks or kegs; bottles had no tax levied on them. This created a loophole brewers could exploit by bottling everything before it left their property, therefore escaping taxation. The government countered this by declaring that beer had to be put in a cask or keg, and that cask or keg had to be carried over a road usable by the general public before it could be bottled. This meant every drop of beer produced would be taxed, as it would be counted while in a keg, but it made for sprawling, multi-block brewing operations and a fairly inefficient process. In some cases, the bottle works would be run by a different company, but they would still tend to be located as close as possible to their biggest brewery client. In 1890, the national beer lobby, led then by Pabst, successfully had the law changed to allow a gauged pipe to run beer from brewery to bottling operation, but they still had to be housed in separate buildings.
Palmetto’s logo was a clear choice: the palmetto tree. It adorned some of the company’s receipts, as well as its bottles. The brewery ran into a snag at one point as the South Carolina Dispensary was also in the business of bottling alcohol in palmetto-embossed bottles. The Dispensary decided the logo was too close to its own, which had in fact come later, so Palmetto was forced to tweak it. Some of its bottles employed a flip-top or lever-top enclosure, like some modern bottles do today. Most were also marked “not to be sold,” indicating that the containers should be returned for the brewers to use them again.