Food & Wine // 5 min Read

A Toast to Lowcountry Craft

Written by Barry Kaufman

Nov 20, 2019

There are few beverages as revered as beer. Sure, there’s something to be said for the mystique of a well-aged Scotch or the sophistication of fine wine, but beer exists in a category all its own. It’s the drink that brings us together, setting a table at which blue-collar workers, trendy young hipsters, and captains of industry can all sit in fellowship.

It’s the nectar of friendship, with a history dating back to the ancient Sumerians who called it “the divine drink” and brewed it to honor their gods. Medieval monks quaffed ale while they laid the groundwork for the modern faith. For centuries, it was the only source of sanitary drinking water, making life in the ancient world a nonstop party.

The modern history of beer, at least in the Lowcountry, dates back to just 1993, when Charleston’s Palmetto Brewing Company opened its doors. For nearly 20 years, it was the only game in town before a pair of back-to-back bills changed South Carolina brewing forever. The first was the Pint Bill, which allowed breweries to serve up to three pints of beer per guest and paved the way for brewery taprooms. Then came the Stone Law, designed in 2014 to specifically lure California’s Stone Brewing Co. to the Palmetto State. Stone missed out on its chance to call South Carolina home, but the bill’s provisions ended serving limits, igniting a boom in craft brewing.

Before the Pint Law passed, there were eight breweries operating in South Carolina. Today, there are more than 80, ranging from huge operations such as Greenville’s Thomas Creek and Mount Pleasant’s Westbrook Brewing to smaller operations such as Salt Marsh Brewing, which is contained almost entirely within a small loft over Fat Patties in Bluffton.

Here is just a sampling of the breweries you’ll find in our neck of the woods.

River Dog Brewing Co. - Ridgeland, SC

One of the first breweries to set up shop in the lower 843, River Dog Brewing Co. rose to fame on the strength of its flagship IPA, a piney burst of goodness that has been refined and tweaked over time as head brewers came and went. Head brewer Amelia Keefe, currently the only female head brewer in the state, made minor changes to the hops profile of the IPA but made her mark with brilliant limited-run brews, including a hibiscus hefeweizen and her Sourshifter series of sour beers.

Must try: The Riverwalk Empire Pilsner might not get the love the IPA does, but it’s a solid refreshing pilsner with just enough snap.

Southern Barrel Brewing Co. - Bluffton, SC

Located off Buckwalter Parkway, Southern Barrel hit the scene in a big way, rolling cans out into grocery stores shortly after they opened. Their beer garden has quickly become Bluff ton’s hangout spot for the young professional set, lured by an ever changing array of craft beers curated by head brewer Matt Tkaczuk. They’ve won awards for their Helles Lager and their Frozen Barrel styles, but it’s the Damn Yankee IPA that has become ubiquitous on beer lists across the Lowcountry.

Must try: It’s always worth a drive to the beer garden to see what wild concoctions they’ve rolled out, but a solid choice is the Bluff Lite, a crisp American Lager whose tap handle artwork pays homage to Homer Simpson’s beer of choice, Duff.

Hilton Head Brewing Company - Hilton Head, SC

The long and often tumultuous history of Hilton Head Brewing Company has seen it go from the island’s first brewpub to a brewery in name only, ultimately to one of the area’s premier brewers. The road to get here was winding, but it has led the crew at Hilton Head Brewing Company to a huge north end facility whose taproom has become an unlikely gathering place for thirsty islanders. Building on the strength of its Tropical Lager, head brewer Bob Migliaccio took his love of German beers and unleashed a list of varieties such as the dark and malty Fleck U and the inventive Break Series.

Must try: The first is still the best—the Tropical Lager was given a complete overhaul when Migliaccio took over, turning down the fruit notes and creating the perfect beach beer.

Salt Marsh Brewing Company - Bluffton, SC

The arrival of Fat Patties into Old Town Bluff ton kicked off a wave of new development on the historic streets. But for beer fans, its true gift to the town was the opening of Salt Marsh Brewing Company in a tiny loft overlooking the main dining room. Considering the square footage they’re working with, Salt Marsh puts out a mind-boggling variety of beers from rich amber Aria’s Ale to smooth-sipping Slo-Country Session IPA. Supplementing the mainstays are experimental small-batch runs that change from day to day.

Must try: Okay, hear us out. We know that a banana-forward beer is not going to be for everyone, but if you approach the Nana’s Puddin’ with an open mind, it might just surprise you.

Edmund's Oast - Charleston, SC

It’s hard to stand out amid the frenzy of Charleston’s craft brewing scene. Edmund’s Oast does so thanks to a beautiful facility set amid the chic surroundings of King Street, which houses mad-scientist gear for producing all manner of exotic beers. A sealed fermentation area allows brewing director Cameron Read to fine-tune his recipes, resulting in exquisite sours that taste like nothing you’ve tried before. Find a spot at the bar if you can—the taproom is quickly becoming ground zero for Charleston’s young creative set—and you’ll find names that reflect the brewery’s wild creativity. Full disclosure, we have not tried “Cult Leader’s Headdress,” but we really want to.

Must try: If you’re not feeling brave enough to dive into the Plasma Gun or the Bucket of Flowers, their signature Lagerbier is a time-tested classic, mirroring the stripped-down German lagers that have endured for centuries.

Service Brewing Co. - Savannah, GA

If you’ve been out to any of the events that dot the calendar at Palmetto Bluff ,odds are you’ve already met the brains behind Service Brewing Co., Kevin Ryan and Meredith Sutton. If you haven’t, you’re missing out on a couple who have created the most exciting beers in Savannah. While you’ll find some eye-opening flavor combinations in the R&D Department taproom, from the jalapeño lime lager to the coconut cream ale, the year-round offerings are a study in approachable and highly crushable beer. In keeping with Ryan’s status as a veteran, the signature beers boast names such as Ground Pounder IPA, Rally Point Pilsner, and Battlewagon Double IPA.

Must try: Available seasonally, the Gun Bunny Belgian-style witbier has just enough notes of coriander and citrus to satisfy without overpowering.