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Charleston brewing as beer mecca: area taps into trend with new craft breweries, big honor for local store

Charleston Post and Courier
Prentiss Findlay
February 3, 2011

Colorful bottles with names like Choklat and Chrostro gleamed in the afternoon light as Anna Casanova considered her options.

She decided on Vrienden, a beer containing Hibiscus and Belgian Endive.

“They’re just so interesting. Like trying different wines,” she said.

The Charleston Beer Exchange where Casanova shopped on Wednesday has been recognized as the best store of its kind in the United States in a trade journal, BeerAdvocate.

“Craft beer is great. It’s an ever-expanding universe,” said Brandon Plyler, store manager.

The Charleston area, in fact, is becoming a mecca for craft brews.

In addition to a world-class specialty beer store, the Charleston area is home to new microbreweries such as the one unveiled to the public Wednesday in Mount Pleasant.

Westbrook Brewing Co. is a $2.25 million operation run by 25-year-old entrepreneur Edward Westbrook. The East Cooper operation is an 18,500-square-foot, two-story structure with a circular bar in a huge lobby that Westbrook decided to build in anticipation of a law passing that allowed on-site tastings.

And Charleston will soon have a fourth microbrewery. Mac Minaudo, Joel Carl, Sean Nemitz and Chris Brown have come together to form Holy City Brewing. They hope to brew their first spirits from a Dorchester Road warehouse in North Charleston by May.

The new kids on the craft brew block will be joining veterans Coast Brewing Co. and Palmetto Brewing Co.

Coast Brewing played a key role in changing the state law to allow beer tastings and direct sales to aficionados at craft breweries. Jaime Tenny and her husband, Dave Merritt, are owners of the brewery located across from Noisette Creek on the former Charleston Naval Base.

Tenny is president of the South Carolina Brewers Association, a grassroots, craft beer advocacy group.

Coast uses organic and local ingredients and biodiesel-fired kettles. Farmers pick up left over “spent grain” to use as animal feed.

On Wednesday, Merritt added hops to another batch of beer he was making.

“It started off as a love. I really enjoy making beer,” he said.

What began as a hobby has become a living. These days, he’s at work pretty much seven days a week. “It’s a demanding job,” he said.

Craft beer is approaching 10 percent of the U.S. beer market, he said, and the makers of the specialty brews remain close-knit. “It’s just a really good community,” he said.

Coast has three taps in the wall for customers. A recent change to state law has opened the door to limited tastings and allows breweries to sell their creations directly to customers for the first time, in conjunction with tours. That puts beer on the same footing as wine and liquor, which have enjoyed tastings rights for years.

Tenny and the brewers association lobbied on behalf of craft-beer makers for the changes. The association represents $1.6 billion annually in economic activity.

Palmetto Brewing Co. on Huger Street was established in 1994 after several years of research and planning by Louis Bruce and Ed Falkenstein. Bruce, a former wine wholesaler, focused on developing the brand and establishing distribution, while Falkenstein handled brewing and operations.

It was the first brewery to open in Charleston since Prohibition, taking its name from a historic downtown beer maker. The original Palmetto operated in Charleston from before the Civil War until sometime after the turn of the 20th century.

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