The Ultimate Beer Tour of Charleston, South Carolina (Slideshow)
August 16, 2013
Don’t know where to find craft beer in Charleston? 10 beer bars that will blow your mind
Kudu Coffee & Craft Beer
Who would have thought one of Charleston’s hottest coffee bars would actually be one of the best places to get a good quality beer? Brothers Jason and Josh Bell's love of beer was a big reason they purchased the place back in 2010, and over time they have done a lot to help build their capacity for beer. What started out as a four-tap system is now at 22 taps, and Shor says Kudu has some of the best draft beer offerings in Charleston. A renovation of the space just took place, giving it a quant, popular meeting setting, more room in the outside courtyard, and an updated vibe needed for more daytime and evening events. If you are lucky, you will get to attend one of their quietly promoted beer events. They also have some food; sandwiches from Normandy Farms and baked goods from Wild Flour, two of the area’s best. Plans include expanding the wine program and being better known for beer rather than just coffee. We highly recommend that!
Shor’s Beer Pick: Evil Twin Molotov Cocktail Triple IPA (13 percent ABV).
Closed for Business
One of downtown’s first beer-focused restaurants, Closed for Business was a pioneer of sorts. The place opened in 2009 to great fanfare, mostly over the confusing name but also because of the cool sky lodge theme décor (after all, Charleston is a beach town, so it’s a rare sight to see). But the real beer geeks were pumped that downtown finally had a good place to go for beer. The place focuses on craft beer and most everything offered is on tap. There are 42 of them, and the menu is pretty expansive. While there, grab some (mostly) fried and hearty bites, like the grilled cheese with tomato soup, or pork rinds, hot dogs, and a Southern fried chicken sandwich.
Shor’s Beer Pick: Coast All Cascade (5.5 percent ABV).
Craftsmen Kitchen & Tap House
The great thing about the Craftsmen, according to Shor, is its proximity to The Charleston Beer Exchange. It’s another restaurant that is focused on serving good beer, and plenty of it. Mixed along with the beer is the food; chef Todd Garrigan provides some small plates and entrées that match well with the beverages. A cool aspect of the place is its Pale Room, which serves all American style Pale Ales and IPAs. The beer list is a bit intimidating, with more than nine pages, and again there is a big focus on local brews. They will soon kick off a Craftsman Club to get people more into the whole beer movement and they already offer a lot of beer focused events.
Shor’s Beer Pick: Brouwerij Rodenbach Grand Cru (5.2 percent ABV).
Most of Shor’s picks are not the obvious mainstream choices for beer, like Bacco. One of the city’s most popular places to go for good traditional Italian dishes, it's not somewhere you would think of as one of the best places to go for exceptional, hard-to-find beers. Owner and chef Michael Scognamiglio is a risk taker when it comes to beer; at Bacco, he created an all Italian-themed beer menu with a six-draft system. Many of these beers are rare to the U.S., including an extensive bottle list. He goes to Italy often and tries to seek new flavors and inspiration. The best-kept secret is the happy hour that is offered Tuesday through Friday from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., where many beers are $3 and a tasty antipasti menu is offered for $4 to $5.
Shor’s Beer Pick: Seson Piccollo Birrificio (6 percent ABV).
Coleman Public House
While you may not head to this place for its décor, you will want to go for its good beer and food. Owner Brian Tanner moved here from Atlanta a few years back and decided to open his place focused on beer. A homebrewer for years, his goal was to have a place that features "the less traveled road of beer," and one that pairs well with good-quality simple comfort food. There are 16 draft lines and a chalk board that changes daily listing the offerings (with a fun quote to boot). Shor loves Coleman Public House for many reasons: "The beer list is always solid and changing, they have high-quality food, you can get a table, and they are always open."
Shor’s Beer Pick: Petrus Aged Red Sour (8.5 percent ABV).
House of Brews
This cute, tucked-away "brew" house, located right before you hit Sullivan’s Island, makes you instantly feel like you are at home. Even though they do not serve food, they are right next to Seppy’s Hot Dogs, which makes for the perfect beer pairing. Inside the House of Brews, owner Rob Davis is behind the counter greeting and talking about the specials on tap. There are eight offerings that change out daily. Patrons can order one to enjoy in the expansive outside patio (that has a life-size Jenga game to play!) or grab a growler to go. The back two bedrooms have been converted to a mini retail store with more than 700 bottles and cans. The best part of this place (and there is a lot to love) is that any time it rains they give $1 off all drafts. Let it rain, let it rain!
Shor’s Beer Pick: Westbrook Gose (4.5 percent ABV)
Charleston’s newest beer-centric spot is a haul away from downtown but well worth the journey. Located in the heart of the charming downtown in Summerville, Homegrown Brewhouse is strictly beer and lots of it. Caleb Taylor, a veteran in the hospitality industry and a homebrewer, decided to open the place close by his home — a place he thought was lacking anything of its kind. He wanted to open a place that would feature a lot of good local and unique beer, and with 40 taps, it does a good job doing so. The space is open and pretty bare, but the décor is hip and unexpectedly cool. Homegrown has been an instant hit, and most weekends are standing room only. Something rarely seen is their "bring your own food" policy, since they do not have a kitchen. They do offer beer cupcakes and pretzels from a nearby bakery, if you’re in need of a midday or night snack.
Shor’s Beer Pick: Westbrook Weisse Weisse Baby (4 percent ABV).
Oak Barrel Brewpub
One of the smallest places on the tour, Oak Barrel is literally the size of their long bar with a few half-barrels on the side wall that provides a few extra tables and seats. It might be small, but according to Shor, it has a big place in the hearts of beer lovers. Everyone knows each other in this place; a modern-day Charleston-based Cheers. It’s true — the day we were in the place, Shor and I knew a few people, and they all knew each other. This is the only place with its own licensed pilot homebrew program and with the 30-gallon system they can create several different options. They also have an all sushi menu, called Sushi Ninja, and awesome music picks — Widespread, Warren Haynes, and the Allman Brothers, all in one sitting.
Shor’s Beer Pick: Their Home Brew: Three Gister IPA made from lemongrass, lemon basil, and lemon verbena from the brewer’s garden (7.2 percent ABV)
This is the ultimate late-night dive bar in Charleston, period. Maybe we are biased from all the late-night fun over the years, but the place is just cool. First, the bar’s covered from head to toe in dollar bills. Dan Wenz, one of the owners, will tell you the number one question he is asked is, "How many bills are hanging in the place?" Any guesses? He says "thousands," but there's no way to tell unless you took them all down. Shor loves the place because it is such a great hangout; it’s the kind of bar where you will find it all — tourists, college kids, business leaders in suits, and top food and beverage pros. It’s where they all go for a guaranteed good time. The beer program at the Griffon has a strong emphasis on local and they have been a big supporter of all the local breweries. When Wenz is asked about his philosophy on beer, he will tell you, "The best beer in the world is the one you love the most."
Shor’s Beer Pick: Lazy Magnolia Southern Pecan (4.4 percent ABV).
Last but not least is Gene’s. This place is an institution; Charleston’s oldest bar, it’s been around since 1952. (And it kind of smells like it.) Bartenders like "Stalker" take really great care of you, walking you through the menu, telling you about the history, and suggesting what to eat. Shor is obsessed, he says, because it is super old-school. And for beer, they were the very first doing anything worth a damn; Gene’s did not care and served fancy, exotic beer long before it was cool. They offer more than 180 beers, as well as a pretty extensive food menu, mostly comprised of the fried goodness you want to eat while drinking beer. Look for the great assortment of burgers, appetizers like loaded fries, corn dogs, and wings, and their "world famous wienerschnitzel." For $11, you get breaded and fried veal, traditional potato cakes, topped with lobster cream sauce and a slice of steam cabbage — sign us up.
Shor’s Beer Pick: Kasteel Rouge.
Other Great Craft Beer Destinations
Even though we hit more than a dozen places, there are other honorable mentions we just could not hit but Shor highly recommends. They include:
The Ordinary: Amazing food with some serious beer
The Alley: Bowling + good beer and food = home run
Smoky Oak Taproom: Great barbecue with an impressive amount of taps
And then there is Bowen’s Island. Bowen’s Island is a James Beard Foundation American Classic and oozes off coolness. A quintessentially old-school, hole-in-the-wall oyster and seafood shack, Bowen’s has one of the largest selections of local beer on tap. After burning down a few years ago, they rebuilt the bar with more taps, long before the local beer scene became so big — just because they are that good.