A few years ago, before the dawn of the local beer renaissance, enthusiasts were lucky to find a restaurant or a bar with a handful of craft brews or imports on the menu. Specialty beer stores didn't exist, and growler stations were unheard of.
These days, however, bars and restaurants stock dozens of choices in bottles and on tap. Grocery stores devote entire aisles to craft beer. Part of this trend follows the change in South Carolina state laws, which allowed a full variety of medium-strong and "high gravity" beers into the market, and part of it reflects Charleston's invigorated foodie movement with its interest in fine food and quality beverages.
At beer shops and a few grocery stores (Whole Foods, Piggly Wiggly, and Earth Fare), customers can purchase a half-gallon growler jug for a few bucks and bring it back for refills. A typical growler fill usually costs between $8 and $16, although some of the rarer brews can go for more than $25. The best growler stations in town feature multiple taps and a vibrant rotation of microbrews and limited-release seasonals. The selection can change daily. Each one of the beer shops listed here has a busy growler station with a rapid rotation of styles.
Charleston Beer Exchange Pioneers in Charleston's beer specialty boutique scene, co-owners Rich Carley and Scott Shor were the first in town to set up a growler station in 2008. In addition to their impressive stock of bottles and cans, they installed a full draft system. Local COAST Brewing Co. ales were the first Charleston beers featured on the menu. They currently run a rotation of nine draft lines with beers available in 64-ounce and 32-ounce vessels, all of which are sanitized and packed with each individual order. The store's popular Rare Beer Tuesday series regularly features high-gravity specialties, wood-aged ales, and hard-to-find selections. The Charleston Beer Exchange often hosts tastings and special events with visiting brewers.
Laura Alberts Tasteful Options One of Daniel Island's best-kept secrets, Laura Alberts initially opened as a wine bar and bistro but eventually branched out into the craft beer market. Over the last three years, Elliot Elsey (son of co-owner Karen Elsey and grandson of co-owner Laura Leppert) has organized the restaurant's craft beer offerings. Beers at the six-tap growler station are available by the pint during lunch and dinner. A third of the main room is set up as a retail shop, with more than 180 bottled brews in stock. Their weekly Growler Hour, a happy hour with discounts on new arrivals, takes place every Wednesday from 5-7 p.m. They also host monthly beer dinners and special holiday events.
Total Wine & More The massive, warehouse-sized Total Wine & More regularly wins the top spot in the City Paper's annual Best of Charleston issue for its impressive selection and cheap prices. They've expanded the craft beer selection over the years and maintain a sizeable six-tap growler station, which features the latest seasonals from major micros like Sierra Nevada, Stone, Dogfish Head, and others. They host weekly tasting sessions with samples of bottled and draft beers every Thursday from 3-7 p.m.
Bottles One of the new kids on the block, Bottles is a locally owned and operated "wine, beer, and spirits superstore" with a huge selection of beverages, gourmet snacks, glassware, mixers, cigars, and bar utensils. Several aisles and coolers are devoted to craft beer, including oddball seasonals and specialties from some of the most progressive and experimental breweries in the country. They stock bottles and cans from all four Charleston micros. Their six-tap growler station is set up at a bar in the middle of the store. The draft menu features local, domestic, and imported ales and lagers, ranging from $8 to $24 per growler. Selections change daily. They recently kicked off a series of Friday afternoon tastings, and their knowledgeable team can guide any novice in the right direction.
Taps Brews This newly established beer shop in suburban Summerville is run by owner Emily Egbert, a longtime homebrewer and former distribution agent, who has created a cozy, café-like atmosphere with an arrangement of small tables. Long rows of shelves are full of bottled beers (more than 500), ranging from classic styles to new varieties from all over the world. They specialize in Belgian and British ales and feature a healthy range of domestics. Taps can serve pints at the bar by the eight-tap growler station, and "Mystery Beer" pints are free if patrons can guess the brand. Every beer is available chilled from the big cooler. Taps also offers a few wines and basic homebrewing ingredients like malt extract, hops, liquid yeast, and homebrew kits.
House of Brews Tucked away in an old house (behind another old house) on the edge of the Old Village in Mt. Pleasant, the House of Brews is a funky beer shop with a cozy feel. On the way to Sullivan's Island, it's easy to miss. Owners Rob Davis and partner Brie Worden arranged the old family home into a sprawling house of bottled beer (more than 300 brands). They set up a small bar and four-tap growler station in the front room. A rotation of hard-to-find beers are available by the pint or growler. A fenced-in beer garden in the backyard features plenty of seating and a small stage for live music events and weekly open mic sessions. Patrons can buy and drink bottled sections on site.