Temperatures are rising, wildflowers are blooming and the air smells like saltwater and sunscreen. It’s almost summer in South Carolina, which means it’s time to put beer in the cooler.
The Palmetto State is home to nearly 15 microbreweries, all of which are happy to fill coolers and bellies with quality beer. Microbreweries typically produce less than 15,000 barrels of beer per year. Their claim to fame is that with smaller production their tastes are always distinct.
Most microbreweries produce a summer and winter beer in addition to their usual lineup of flavors. The appeal of seasonal beers is exclusivity. They’re only brewed for a few months each year.
As Spartanburg, S.C., heats up during the spring and summer months, beer drinkers seek refreshment at RJ Rockers Brewing Co. Mark Johnsen founded the brewery in 1997 and said it was his goal to provide the people of the Upstate the best beer they had ever tasted. It now stands at 113 Belton Dr., as Spartanburg’s oldest brewery. The six beers brewed year-round are the Light Rock, Patriot Pale, Bald Eagle Brown, Buckwheat, Bell Ringer and Honey Amber Ale. They can be ordered on tap from the barstool, in a six-pack to go or at a number of beer distributors throughout the state.
“We are going to try and fill every nook in South Carolina with our beer,” sales director Jason McElveen said. “Hopefully by the end of the summer, all of you Charleston people will be seeing Rockers bottles and taps all over the place.” According to a press release, the brewery plans to spread its beer to Georgia by the end of 2008 and North Carolina by 2009.
For 11 years, RJ Rockers has been adapting its image and ingredients to keep up with the trends.
“We have one of the best high-gravities around, in my opinion and according to the people who taste it,” McElveen said. “The Bell Ringer, as it is called, has been one of the most popular beers in March and April so far.”
Anyone looking for non-domestic refreshment in the southern part of the state can find it in downtown Aiken. Aiken Brewing Co., at 140 Laurens St., characterizes itself with three words, “quality, quantity and selection.”
“On the technical side, we operate a seven-barrel brewery which, last year, produced 435 barrels, each barrel is 31 gallons,” head brewer Herb Braselman said. “We sell it all on premises.”
Four Aiken Brewing Co. favorites are always on tap along with a variety of seasonal beers. Of the light beers, the company alternates between a honey wheat, blonde and cream ale. The amber is either the West Coast Pale Ale or English Style India Pale Ale, and the dark beer is an Irish Oatmeal Stout or Porter. The Thoroughbred Red, a Great American Beer Festival gold medal winner, is on tap yearlong. The brewpub is open at 11 a.m. Monday through Saturday. With 16 beers currently on tap, customers never have to taste the same beer twice.
For summer vacations to the South Carolina coast, nearly every beach has a microbrewery nearby. Golfers, bikers and beach-goers in Myrtle Beach, S.C., have nearly unlimited access to the microbrews at Liberty Brewing Co. The beer can be tasted on tap at the Liberty Steakhouse and Brewery at 1321 Celebrity Circle.
“Liberty Brewery is dedicated to the traditional, hand-crafted brewer’s art,” master brewer Eric Lamb said. “All of our beers are handmade the old-fashioned, 100 percent natural way, using only the best grains, hops, yeast and filtered water without additives, preservatives or fillers of any kind.”
The brewery aims to create finely hand-crafted beer to complement just about any item on their menu. Seven beers are always available on tap, including the Rockets Red Ale, White Ale, Nut Brown Ale, Miss Liberty Lager, Unfiltered Wheat Ale, Liberty Pale Ale and Raspberry Wheat Ale. Customers may be disappointed they can’t take a six-pack home, but the Liberty Steakhouse and Brewery is open at 11 a.m. seven days a week.
Heading down the coast to Charleston, Southend Brewery provides locals and tourists with a selection of beers brewed right before their eyes. They always have eight ales on tap, ranging from light to stout and one high-gravity beer. The brew-house is inside the restaurant, allowing customers to view the process as they enjoy the results.
“If you like Blue Moon, you should try the Southend Wheat,” server Morgan Judy said. “We also have a high-gravity India Brown Ale if you’re looking for a more exclusive taste.”
The beer can only be purchased on tap inside the brewery at 161 East Bay St., open for lunch and dinner seven days a week.
For those who want a hand-crafted beer to pack in the cooler, Palmetto Brewing Co. sells six-packs just about everywhere in Charleston. As the most renowned microbrewery in the area, Palmetto can be found in most beer stores, markets or on tap at a variety of local restaurants and bars. The company offers an amber ale, lager, pale ale and porter. It’s all hand-brewed in downtown Charleston at 289 Huger St., but no beer is available for tasting at the brewery.
“I like microbreweries because they’re wholesome and locally owned,” Folly Beach resident Jacob Waite said. “They’re all about customer satisfaction, basically a mom-and-pops shop for beer.”