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Breweries and Distilleries on the Road: Mobile Tours Will Satisfy Your Thirst

Bob Gillespie Bob Gillespie
Bob is a former sports writer at Columbia’s The State newspaper. He enjoys golf at South Carolina’s 350-plus courses, and after a round, sampling craft beers from the Palmetto State’s breweries.
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So you're in Columbia and want to explore the local craft beer and craft distillery scene. But finding all those places takes time, and finding a designated driver to haul you around can be challenging.

Ken Powell and Mike DeKozlowski have the answer. Their Columbia Brew Bus will pick you up, take you the places you want to go, feed you snacks and water between stops, and deliver you safely home. What could be more convenient?

That realization led the two former home brewers, along with partner Chris Campbell, to start their mobile tours of Columbia's three breweries (and, on a separate tour, Crouch distilleries and a Vino Garage). Well, that and seeing the success of similar ventures in other cities.

"We did the research. We knew Conquest and River Rat (breweries) had just opened and Swamp Cabbage was opening later that year," Kozlowski says. "We figured we could be in on the ground floor."

The three University of South Carolina graduates also found willing partners in Columbia's three microbreweries. "They all said, ‘Seriously, you're asking if we're OK with you bringing busloads of customers to our breweries?'" Kozlowski says with a laugh.

Since then, Columbia Brew Bus has rarely had a weekend without at least a couple of 3-4 hour tours booked. Carrying a maximum of 20 passengers, the bus operates both public and private tours, with the clientele both local and "a surprising number from out of state," lured by social media and word of mouth, Kozlowski says.

"We have a good Facebook presence, and we've had 100-150 reviews by TripAdvisor, Google and Yelp, all four-star or better," he says.

While public tours visit Columbia's three breweries, plans are in the works to expand the stops as more operations open. Private tours can also go to brewpubs such as Twisted Spur and Hunter-Gatherer, and Columbia's growing number of craft beer bars - Craft & Draft, Random Tap, Southern Brewing, Casual Pint, The Kraken, The Whig and Cock ‘N' Bull, among others. Liberty Tap Room in The Vista is a partner for pickup and drop-off.

"As beer drinkers, we hit where we'd like to be," Kozlowski says. "We've done private parties all over, to Chapin and Blythewood. And we hear great stories, like an 82-year-old's birthday party, where he was drinking just like everyone else."

What makes the Brew Bus attractive? Besides the obvious non-driving safety angle, "it's the experience," Kozlowski says. "We can give tips about Columbia and beers, and it's a fun atmosphere on the bus and at the breweries. On the public tours, people meet other groups and are best friends by the end of the tour."

Plans are in the works for specialty tours, including a fall Thursday student night and Sunday/Funday gatherings, and three-bar crawls to "showcase the city's different nightlife areas," Kozlowski says.

If you're seeking a more strenuous, involved tour of drinking spots, the SC Pedal Parlor might be your ticket. Partners Matthew Koleske and Daniel Ritchie offer sightseers the experience of riding a human-powered, 16-seat bicycle on two-hour guided tours of Columbia's taverns and bars.

As with the Brew Bus, Koleske and Ritchie got the idea from seeing other "rolling pub crawls" in Milwaukee (where they once managed the Pedal Tavern), Chicago, Las Vegas, Charlotte and Savannah. Their audience is young professionals with a desire to be active as well as to party. As with Brew Bus, the Pedal Parlor works with local bars to offer discounts for their customers.

Riders usually meet their guide (either Ritchie or Koleske) near USC's historic Horseshoe on Sumter Street. Destinations often start at the nearby Hunter-Gatherer and move on to Main Street, The Vista and Five Points, making 4-5 stops per night. Tours can be booked up to 24 hours in advance for any day of the week and are popular for birthday and bachelor parties, even corporate outings or informal gatherings of friends.


Columbia isn't the only mobile beer tour city in South Carolina, or even the first. Check out these ways to drink and ride in Charleston.

Charleston Brews Cruise, which buses riders to such breweries as Coast, Holy City, Palmetto, Frothy Beard and Westbrook, plus Southend Brewery & Smokehouse, is owned by Brent Horner, a former kayak (Hawaii) and mountain-hiking (North Carolina) guide. The Brews Cruise operates Tuesday-Sunday, starting between 12-2 p.m., concluding from 4-5:45 p.m. and stopping at three breweries per tour, with water and snacks on the bus and a cooler for growler/bomber/6-pack purchases.

Charleston Brewery Tours, which began in 2015, is owned by Toan Dao, who also owns Charleston Black Cab Co., and operated by Shane Regan. "We take up to 25 people in an Escalade and new buses," Regan says, "and we have affiliations with a number of breweries and distilleries," including Holy City, Revelry and Freehouse breweries and Charleston, Firefly and Highwire distilleries, plus Smoke BBQ. Tours depart Thursday-Sunday from the Charleston Visitor Center, 375 Meeting St., with drop-offs there or at Smoke BBQ.

The Original Pub & Brewery Tour of Charleston, founded in 2001, offers walking tours - the Original Pub Tour and the Upper King Street Pub Crawl, with 4-5 pubs each covering a 10-block area; and brewery bus tours lasting 3 ½ hours and including three breweries and brewery tours.

Bob Gillespie
Bob is a former sports writer at Columbia’s The State newspaper. He enjoys golf at South Carolina’s 350-plus courses, and after a round, sampling craft beers from the Palmetto State’s breweries.