With its rich antebellum history, architecturally distinctive buildings, famed restaurants and beautiful coastal setting, it's no wonder Charleston has been voted No. 1 city in the world.
Now, South Carolina's "Holy City" is gaining renown for - of all things - craft beer.
Asheville, NC, likes to call itself "Beer City, USA" with its 39 local breweries - but Charleston is closing the gap with 27 area breweries and three more on the horizon. That's nearly half the craft breweries in South Carolina.
Why Charleston? Brewers give credit to changes in state brewing laws in 2011 and 2014. And visitors want to eat and drink local. They know Charleston's reputation for food; now, they're learning the beer.
In each of the city's districts - North Charleston, West Ashley/James Island/Johns Island, Mount Pleasant and Historic Downtown - you'll find welcoming taprooms, as well as canned/bottled beers at some stops. For a complete list of brew sites, visit www.satisfyyourthirstsc.com or www.CharlestonAleTrail.com.
Here's a sampling of what Charleston has to offer:
Former home brewers Brian Bogstad and Ben Mayer opened Rusty Bull Brewing Co. at 3005 W. Montague Ave. on St. Patrick's Day in 2017, envisioning a neighborhood taproom. "But now we draw from all over town," Bogstad said. "We've become a destination brewery."
The bright, airy interior, with brewing equipment visible from the bar and sitting areas, is in contrast with darker taprooms. Patrons enjoy a rotating lineup of 14 beers, led by favorites Berry Stomp (wheat ale with raspberries, blueberries and blackberries), Hop Bottom Girl (a 6.5 ABV IPA), Tumbling Monk Porter (chocolate, coffee and pistachio), Free The Trippel (smooth Belgian ale) and Dance Naked (a very hoppy IPA).
Holy City, at 4155 Dorchester Road, is one of Charleston's four largest breweries, along with Coast, Westbrook and Palmetto, which also lays claim to being the city's oldest brewery. Its shaded but rustic open-air tap room, housed in a former biodiesel conversion site, attracts a summer crowd in T-shirts and shorts. Plans are to move to Spruill Avenue in 2019.
Pluff Mud Porter is Holy City's biggest retail seller, says manager Paul Pavlich, but the taproom favorite is Washout Wheat, a hefeweizen. The brewery creates 65-80 beer styles each year, with 10 beers in regular rotation. Flight favorites also include Shipwreck saison, a pilsner, a rum barrel-aged coconut and the potent Aspen Cowboy (8.9 ABV).
West Ashley/James Island/Johns Island
Frothy Beard, 1401 Sam Rittenberg Blvd., started small around 2010 with a 1½-barrel brewhouse and a taproom focus, but today is the 10th-largest SC brewery (No. 5 in Charleston) with a 10-barrel operation and product available across the state.
"It was kind of a leap of faith; no one quit his day job (at first)," Frothy Beard partner Michael Biondi said. "We were the new guys; now two to three (breweries) open almost every month."
The spacious taproom - a former church - offers a lineup that includes Hominy Cream Ale, Holy Water (saison), It's Cucumber Thyme Wheat!, Sip Sip Pass (6.8 ABV IPA) and its two distributed beers, Tides Irish Red and !Andale! Pale, featuring jalapeno peppers for a "nice burn in the back of your throat."
Charles Towne Fermentory, at 809 Savannah Highway in West Ashley's Avondale District, has a small but comfortable, wood-paneled taproom and a locals/family feel with foosball tables. The name comes from "our focus on fermentation and profiles in beer, including wild beers," said taproom manager Justin Slotnick, who followed owner Adam Goodwin south from Boston. Favorite beers on tap include Ralf Zwickelbeer (German lager), Mudlark Nitro Dry Stout and Mars Express (pale ale). The Fermentory rotates one beer weekly in cans.
If you like walking, you can visit eight breweries in a 2½-mile stretch of "The Neck," a narrow industrial-area on the Charleston peninsula. Brewers dub it the Charleston Brewery District because of its variety of beer styles and taprooms.
The district's central destination is Edmund's Oast, featuring two locations: Edmund's Oast Restaurant, 1081 Morrison Drive, a combination taproom and restaurant; and Edmund's Oast Brewing Co., 1501 King St., a traditional taproom with bar, pub food and brewing tanks behind glass.
Owner Scott Shor had been operating the Charleston Beer Exchange, selling an array of other brewers' craft beers, when he opened his restaurant in 2014. "Our goal was to offer our own beers, along with great food, cocktails - all things that we loved," he said.
Later, as Edmund's Oast's own beers grew in popularity, Shor opened the King Street site. Both operations are "beer-centric," but the restaurant aspires to fine dining while EOBC is more on the casual side - sports on TV, food trucks, live music and even a monthly drag show, Divas On Tap. Both locations serve Edmund's Oast beers, including sours, wild beers and the popular Something Cold blonde ale, an "entry-level" craft beer for more traditional macro-beer drinkers.
Nearby, Munkle Brewing at 1513 Meeting St. specializes in Belgian-style beers. Owner Palmer Quimby named his establishment, in part for an uncle who was once a monk, and serves such brews as Gully Washer Wit (wheat beer) and Pout House Pale Ale in 14-ounce thistle-shaped glasses.
Two Blokes Brewing, the smallest brewery footprint in town, is set to become larger by half with two new breweries in the works - Indigo Reef Brewing and Island Tap Room. For now, Two Blokes Brewing, 547 Long Point Road, Suite 101, is the only brewery in Charleston open seven days a week - and the only one with an Australian owner, Matty Symons.
A home brewer for 25 years in Australia and the United Kingdom, Symons will celebrate Two Blokes' second anniversary July 21, 2018. "We (he and his former "Bloke" and partner) determined Mount Pleasant was an underserved market," he said. "The locals tell us our beer is as good as any in Asheville."
The darkish taproom has a variety of entertainments, from darts for the adults to a kids corner, because Symons wants his place to have an English/Irish pub feel, where the pub is the center of the community. Live music and visiting food trucks are offered weekly to complement a dozen beers on tap, notably Publican (English-style pub ale), Wicked Throat Chamah (New England IPA), Spilt Milk (milk stout) and Throat Charmer (double IPA, 8.0 ABV).