Maybe it’s the warm summer days or a natural desire to socialize, but South Carolinians have always had a thirst for their own unique beverages – whether sweet tea, cold beer or that well-known backwoods potion, “white lightning,” aka moonshine.
And there’s never been a better time to enjoy the current wealth of choices to quench a thirst – from homemade and bottled teas to local craft beers, spirits steeped in the moonshine tradition and more – right here in the Palmetto State.
Start with South Carolina’s (and the South’s) most traditional beverage: sweet tea. Tea plants were first grown commercially in the US by Junius Smith in Greenville from 1848-53 and in Summerville from 1888-1915. Nowadays, tea is grown and cultivated on Wadmalaw Island at the Charleston Tea Plantation, which produces American Classic Tea, grown 100 percent in South Carolina. South Carolinians like their iced tea anywhere from lightly sweetened to syrupy, and the brew is such a part of everyday life that a Charleston author, the late Ken Burger, titled his book of Southern musings “Baptized in Sweet Tea.”
On the other end of the potency spectrum, and dating back to Prohibition, are backwoods moonshine stills, where farmers turned corn and sugar into liquid gold. After laws changed to allow production of spirits in 2009, those stills have grown into more than two dozen micro distilleries across the state, producing bourbon, rum, vodka – and yes, modern-day “corn likker.” Many bear names suggesting their roots, including Dark Corner (from the moonshine stomping grounds in the state’s northwest “dark corner”), Copperhead Mountain and Carolina Moon distilleries.
The craft beer craze that has swept America the past decade or so has found a home in South Carolina, too, thanks to changes in the laws that allow local brewers to sell beer at their establishments and bottle or can it for sale in groceries and bars. More than 40 craft breweries from the Upstate to the coast are pumping out a tasty array of ales, lagers, pilsners, stouts and more. Some brewery names – Palmetto, Coast, River Rat, Swamp Cabbage – reflect the state’s regions and/or history.
The state also has a number of wineries, producing vintages using locally grown fruits, notably scuppernong and muscadine grapes, and a small but growing collection of cideries. Hub City Tap House and Ciclops Cyderi in Spartanburg claims to be the only combination brewery/winery/cidery in the US.
If you're looking for a softer drink to excite your taste buds, pick up a bottle of Blenheim Ginger Ale. These unique, spicy brews were developed in the South Carolina town of the same name in 1903 and are still bottled nearby. That makes it, according the company website, the “earliest, smallest and many say finest independent soda bottling company in the United States of America.”
So whether your tastes run to sweet tea, the “hard stuff” or, in the case of Blenheim, the hot stuff, South Carolina has a brew to satisfy everyone. It is, indeed, a great time to be thirsty in the Palmetto State.