The State of American Craft Beer – South Carolina


With our headquarters in Washington DC and the bulk of our correspondents found near America’s top producing craft beer regions on the coasts, it only makes sense for us to start a new series giving all the states their due, featuring breweries large and small, plus the histories behind them.

In case you missed the last 39 states, we’re doing this thing alphabetically and after 2 years, we’re shocked we made it to #40 on the list, The Palmetto State, South Carolina. The state’s nickname comes from their official tree, the Sabal Palmetto and the name Carolina comes from the Latin Carolus or Charles, as in King Charles I of England, who sat on the throne when the Carolinas were established as colonies.

South Carolina ranks 23rd in total population (just under 5 million), is ranked 19th in population density and houses 50 craft breweries as of 2016 (an increase of 34 since 2011) who are represented by the South Carolina Brewers Guild. The state ranks 30th in total breweries (including D.C.) and 37th in breweries per capita as of 2016, according to the Brewers Association.

 

History

After hours of scouring the history books and internet for some semblance of a brewing history in South Carolina before the first craft brewery opened in 1993 was difficult. I was unable to find any details of any liquor production within the state prior to 1893. If you’re aware of any, let me know…

What does stand out about South Carolina’s history though was their one-of-a-kind liquor dispensary law, that while short lived, is a unique piece of Americana all it’s own. The brainchild of then Governor Benjamin Tillman, the South Carolina Dispensary system was his response to the pressure citizens placed upon him with the passage of a referendum in 1892.

Tillman’s response was to create this liquor dispensary monopoly wherein the state required all liquor sold within it’s borders to be bottled and dispensed through state-run facilities. Lasting from 1893 until 1907, the majority of those years saw the glass bottles, made by the state dispensary, embossed with a palmetto tree and crossed logs at it’s base, commonly called “Jo-Jo Flasks.” Today these rare flasks often garner over $20,000 at auction.

The end of the system came about after continual accounts of corruption had thoroughly alarmed both progressive reformers and the religiously devout prohibitionists. The state seceded the power of dispensation to those counties which were to remain wet until 1916, when statewide prohibition went into effect, pre-dating the federal ban on liquor.

So… the first account of a brewery in South Carolina is it’s oldest craft brewer, Palmetto Brewery, which has been open since 1993 and was the only brewery in Charleston for 14 years. Since 1997, the breweries of South Carolina have collectively won 16 GABF medals, with no single brewery standing alone as the top medal winner.

5 South Carolina Breweries We Like and You Should Check Out

COAST Brewing (North Charleston) – Started by head brewer David Merritt and day to day operations run by Jaime Tenny, this husband and wife team have been building SC’s brewing reputation since 2007. Over those ten years, they’ve created over 75 styles, are the state’s first brewery to brew an all-organic recipe and are one of the top rated brewers as well.

Frothy Beard Brewing (Charleston) – Only in existence 4 years and the cumulative conception of three close friends, they’ve quickly become one of the hottest small batch breweries in Charleston. Having recently brought in a new partner, not to mention their creation of over 70 unique recipes, they are quickly expanding while keeping the taps rotating with delicious new creations.

Holy City Brewing (North Charleston) – If it isn’t yet clear that Charleston is a hotbed of brewing in the state, meet Holy City who’s pushed the limits in the city since their inception in 2011. Since that time they’ve concocted over 138 different brews, so they’re known as much for their variety as they are for crafting GABF award-winning flagships like their Pluff Mud Porter and Washout Wheat.

Revelry Brewing (Charleston) – Celebrating their 3rd year as we speak, Revelry came onto the scene later than all the others on this list, but they’re quickly set themselves apart with unique offerings such as their Funkmaster Brett IPA and GABF medal winner Oh My Darlyn! Wee Heavy Ale. With roughly 50 recipes created, they’re keeping pace with demand, and are doing so with the freshest looking branding and labels in the state.

Westbrook Brewing (Mount Pleasant) – if there’s one brewery in the state that beer nerds around the country can identify as being from South Carolina, it’s this purveyor of that Mexican Cake Imperial Stout and all it’s delightful barrel-aged varients. Not only are they the top rated brewer in the state cumulatively, they’ve also created 189 different beers since being founded by the husband and wife team of Morgan and Edward Westbrook, in 2010.

 

For more options on South Carolina brews, check out the state guild’s Beer Lovers Map.

About Warren Wills

Warren is the former Assistant Editor & Portland Correspondent for American Craft Beer. Creator of "The State of American Craft Beer" series, he now maintains his own site at craftbeerscribe.com.
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