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New beer gardens and brewpubs are upping the ante for beer lovers

Go Big or Go Home

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Whatever you do, don't call Edmund's Oast a "beer garden."

I made the mistake of dropping that phrase when asking co-owner Rich Carley about his new venture on Morrison Drive. "It's not a beer garden!" he growled. "Who said it was a beer garden?"

Carley's a large man with a thick black beard, and he's clearly passionate about his beer-drinking establishment. If he says Edmund's Oast is not a beer garden then, hey, I'm not calling it one.

And he's right to be impatient with the term. "Beer garden" doesn't really do justice to the new crop of beer-centric establishments that are coming Charleston's way. It evokes huge outdoor spaces with long picnic tables where crowds enjoy mugs of draft beer under shady trees and broad umbrellas. A couple of local spots may have worked the term into their names, but even for them it doesn't quite capture the scale of their ambitions for the next generation of Charleston beer drinking.

Scaling Up

With 7,500 square feet of space and the capacity to seat 220 people, the team at the Bay Street Biergarten have a lot of room to work with. Before the end of October, they expect to have their doors open in the large building at the corner of East Bay and Chapel streets that formerly housed the Rice Market restaurant.

Laura Patrick, who has partnered with Greg Pierdon and Ryan Workman in the venture, says their concept was inspired by their own love of good beer and by the building itself.

"With these high ceilings, it reminded me of a beer hall, reminded me of Germany," she says. "We thought it would be cool to have a more educational experience as opposed to craft beer places where you feel intimidated. We wanted to make something that's very approachable, that brought the communal atmosphere of a German beer garden into the 21st century."

If you're thinking dirndl-wearing beer maids bearing big tankards of frothy lager, think again. There will be a few German signs, Oktoberfest-style touches, and a large open patio for outside dining, but the real action will be indoors.

Two long communal tables will seat eight people each, with four taps in the center where patrons can pour their own. Even more self-serve taps can be found on the big beer wall. At both, guests will swipe a pre-paid card and pay by the ounce for as much or as little as they choose. Four "tap table" booths will be a little more private, and a server will activate the system so each drinker can fill their glasses as they like and have the total volume tallied on their check.

Scale was a driving factor in the creation of Bohemian Bull Tavern and Beer Garden, too. It's opening soon on Folly Road in the spot formerly occupied by Jack's Cosmic Dogs. Owners Dave and Chrissy Lorenz, who are also behind West Ashley's Mex 1 Coastal Cantina, have teamed up with general manager Chad Biel and chef Jered Young to create a large-format, beer-centric venue.

"The beer garden really came about," Chad Biel explains, "because we were like, hey, we have this big space, and we all love good beer. We actually are on over one acre of land, so we're fencing in 3,000 square feet."

The enclosed back garden will contain lots of outdoor seating and a regulation-size bocce court. And, of course, there will be plenty of beer, both inside and out. "We will have 32 taps," Biel says. "All of them craft beers with a big chunk of those being local breweries, plus other South Carolina brews like RJ Rockers and Thomas Creek."

Over on Morrison Drive, Edmund's Oast will feature a broad selection from local breweries, too, as well as from the best craft breweries around the world. It's the next venture from Rich Carley and Scott Shor, two guys who have done as much as anyone to introduce Charlestonians to good beer. They're the owners of the Charleston Beer Exchange, the state's first exclusively craft beer store, and help orchestrate the popular Brewvival beer festival.

To further up the ante, they're building a large room in the front corner of Edmund's Oast, situated just to the right of the front door so that guests can look through tall glass windows and see a five-barrel brewhouse complete with a grain room, fermenters, and boilers. (The restaurant's name is an homage to Edmund Egan, who created Charleston's first commercially successful brewery back in the 18th century. An "oast" is a kiln used to dry hops.)

Cameron Read, a veteran of the Greenville outpost of the Beer Exchange, has come onboard as Edmund Oast's brewer, and the team has big plans for their offering. "We want to create funky, weird stuff that we don't have access to buy commercially," Scott Shor explains, including fusiony "food beers" like an updated version of the peanut butter and jelly brew that won them first place at Sweetwater Brewery's 2012 Brew Your Cask Off festival.

Bigger than Beer

Though all three of these new ventures are putting beer front and center, they have much higher ambitions than just catering to the local beer-geek crowd.

"We're going to have a big whiskey selection and things like moonshine punches," Chad Biel of Bohemian Bull says.

Rich Carley of Edmund's Oast expects diners will be surprised by their selection of wine, and Scott Shor adds, "We're very progressively minded with the cocktail program, too." Instead of the traditional pre-Prohibition recipes, they're going to take their beer philosophy and apply it to cocktails. "I think people are going to be into it."

Greg Pierdon, Laura Patrick, and Ryan Workman are looking to upgrade the traditional german beer garden to the 21st century at the soon-to-open Bay Street Biergarten - JONATHAN BONCEK
  • Jonathan Boncek
  • Greg Pierdon, Laura Patrick, and Ryan Workman are looking to upgrade the traditional german beer garden to the 21st century at the soon-to-open Bay Street Biergarten

Bay Street Biergarten is going broad in their offering too. "We're kind of trying to do a wide variety of everything," says Laura Patrick. "We'll have a full bar, 30 different wines, specialty cocktails, beer cocktails, and a very good food program. We want people to feel comfortable even if they aren't into draft beer or even beer at all."

The Bay Street team is letting the German beer garden concept shape the food. "We like to call it Bavarian-inspired Southern," Patrick says. The lineup from executive chef Jason Walker will include pretzels, brats, and mac and cheese made from spätzle, the classic German dumpling-like noodle, but there will be plenty of more locally themed fare, too, like beer-boiled peanuts and shrimp and grit bites.

"We really did want to have that German influence in there," Patrick explains, "but this is the South and there are lots of different influences in town. We didn't want to be restricted by doing just German."

Over at Bohemian Bull, they're sticking to more traditional American bar food, with a selection of what they're calling "hand-spanked" gourmet burgers, wings, and classics like reubens and fried chicken sandwiches. But they know the bar is set pretty high for quality. "You've gotta have good food," Chad Biel says. "Because we're in Charleston."

Perhaps most ambitious is the offering planned at Edmund's Oast. There will be a chef's counter that will seat 10 people with a prime view into the large open kitchen. Running that kitchen will be executive chef Andy Henderson, a Charleston native who has cooked at FIG and the Glass Onion as well as San Francisco's Local Mission Eatery.

A key feature of Henderson's menu will be whole animal butchery and charcuterie, and he has already started buying heirloom meats from Brad Taylor's Revival Foods in Georgia and preparing his first batches of sausages and cured meats. They will be displayed in a glass case on the wall above the pass to the open kitchen.

"But it's not structurally a meat joint," Scott Shor is quick to note. "There's going to be a lot of vegetable cooking, a lot of seafood cooking. A lot of sharable small plates, some full-sized entrées, some snacks ... It's really going to run the gamut."

"It's very seasonal, very fresh," Carley says.

"And it will change a lot, too," Shor adds.

Creating Beer Destinations

One final theme unites this new crop of beer restaurants. All are aspiring to be more than just a place where patrons drop in for a mug or a quick bite on the way to somewhere else. None are in the heart of downtown, and the owners know they'll miss out on a lot of the tourist trade and foot traffic. But they all see the potential to make up for that with a broader appeal (and, equally important, ample parking.)

Laura Patrick expects that Bay Street Biergarten's self-serve taps, educational aspects, and overall communal vibe will "make it a general destination and experience for people." They're planning on staging a lot of tap takeovers and beer dinners with guest brewers, to "bring the brewery experience to the restaurants."

Chad Biel says Bohemian Bull is taking a similar approach. "If you're coming from West Ashley or downtown, we are a little off the beaten path, so we will be very event-driven." They plan to use live music as a draw plus themed events on holidays and special functions like rib and bourbon tastings.

"It's a destination spot first and foremost," says Rich Carley of Edmund's Oast. They're planning to use their big outdoor space for "weddings, business lunches, business dinners — all that kind of thing."

"We will have some sort of fire element, too," Scot Shor says. "We want the option to do whole animals out there — goats, lamb, pig."

That's going whole hog in more ways than one. When you consider the scale of these beer-powered ambitions, one has to wonder how far they can go. Might Charleston be on the verge of getting saturated in beer?

"I don't think so," says Chad Biel. "The United States consumes a lot of beer. The craft beer movement has become so big because people want to try things that are unusual and exciting."

Laura Patrick agrees. "Once you start drinking good beer," she says. "It's hard to go back." She points out that the number of breweries in Charleston is still growing, and the number of variations and flavors they're producing is still expanding. "I really feel like the movement is just going to keep going."

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