Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Reflection on Craft Beer in the South

As you may be able to tell, last week MBR was on a bit of a hiatus. Two of us were out on vacation - one out west and points beyond and the other down south. Robyn has been posting about her travels, and she'll have some more posts for you about the nineteen breweries she managed to visit.

I was in the south - specifically South Carolina. When I was last in that foreign country south of the Mason-Dixon, about 7 years ago or so, the South was, to say the least, a vast wasteland of craft beer. Abita and Sweetwater were about it for generally available craft beer. Heck, until about 2006 or so, I thought that Yuengling was a southern brewery because it was, in many cases, the only non-macro beer you could find there.

That has changed drastically. Asheville, North Carolina was named America's best beer town in 2010. [ed note: Portland, OR ran a close second but, frankly, having been to both Portland and Asheville in the last year, I think Madison is right up there - we just don't feel the need to brag about it.] South Carolina itself has three breweries, two of which have opened in the past few years: Palmetto, Coast, and Westbrook. Westbrook is the newest of the three and Coast was started up by an ex-Assistant Brewer at Palmetto. Palmetto is sort of the "grandfather" of the bunch having started all the way back in 1994. All three make great beer.

Asheville's brewing culture has exerted itself on the rest of the south as well. Duck Rabbit, Highland, and French Broad all have high availability throughout the coastal south.

Charleston, SC is also a hotbed of craft beer in the south. All of the SC breweries are based there. Charleston Beer Exchange is, I kid you not, one of the best craft beer stores I've had the pleasure to step foot in. Tucked into a small storefront in the touristy area of historical Charleston, the place is chock-full of craft beer from all over the world - with bottle selections from breweries that are simply not available in the vast majority of "better" retailers. The wonderfully named "Closed for Business" beer bar was like stepping into a food-serving version of The Malt House with great, rare and excellent, beer from all over the country.

So, fear not. Or, maybe fear indeed, the South. Craft beer is making in-roads that even 5 years ago seemed almost impossible. While we (I) may have had this vision of the south as Budweiser-swilling NASCAR lovers, the reality is that much of the gains being made by craft beer are being made in the South.


  1. There certainly is a burgeoning Southern movement toward craft beer. I've personally tried two non-NOLA examples in Lazy Magnolia and Ghost River in the past year. My uncle and aunt live near Biloxi, MS and I was pleasantly surprised to try Lazy Magnolia's Indian Summer beer when I was down there last year. I just returned from Memphis and I tried two of the Ghost River beers and almost did the tour. I liked their Pale and I thought their Golden Ale was passable and certainly better than the other options at Rendezvous. The best part of both was the availability throughout the MS Gulf Coast and Memphis, respectively.

  2. Glad you enjoyed your trip to Charleston! The evolution of SC's beer culture came about because Jamie Tenny of Coast Brewing led the charge within the state to change the alcohol content laws. (This article provides a good recap:
    Thanks to her leadership, we get to enjoy amazing local craft beers and some of the best of what other states have to offer, too. The establishments mentioned and many others keep new beer experiences coming in Charleston -,, and, just to name a few more for when y'all come back now ;) Cheers!


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