Six. That's the number of new breweries poised to open this year — the biggest expansion in modern times. Two of them are further along than the rest: Cooper River Brewing and Oak Road Brewery. Both have secured property and equipment.
The seeds of Cooper River Brewing were sown first in the late '90s on the back porches where Michael Gates, Jamie Martin, and Dustin Pait bonded over golf and good beer. Talk of joining forces in a business venture made the rounds over the years, but the actions of a different Jaime help push the talk into action.
"We really got serious about the idea when Jaime Tenny of COAST fought for the future of breweries in South Carolina. With her efforts, our willingness to jump in started to become more than an idea and turned into an aspiration," says Martin, now president of Cooper River Brewing.
Credit is also due to Foolproof Brewing. Martin's visit to the Rhode Island brewery last summer pushed his decision forward. Foolproof's "owner kept saying it was his dream to 'work with friends," recalls Martin "It was at that moment in the cellar that I decided to turn in my resignation and focus on building a brewery."
While the founding trio shares some home-brewing experience, they've added a seasoned pro, Mark Fesche, as the fourth member of the team. "Mark is a Siebel Grad who started at Deschutes Brewery as a keg washer and worked his way to brewer in the '90s. Since then he has started four breweries from the design phase and revamped another brewpub's recipes," says Martin. "Mark came to town for an interview, loved the city and the team, and accepted the position. We're excited to help share his experiences, genuine smile, and amazing beer with this great city."
Once the build out is complete, Fesche will take the reins of Cooper River's 15-barrel brewhouse (from Virginia's SMT Brewing Solutions, fabricators of fermenters, kettles, and general brewing equipment). The 7,500-square-foot warehouse space is located at 2207 Mechanic St., near the corner of Rutledge and Heriot streets in the northern area of Charleston. The hope is to can right out of the gate, but that, like most things, is still on the table for budget considerations. Serving vessels aside, look for Cooper River to lead with a Blonde Ale, IPA, and Stout hopefully by this summer.
Meanwhile, Oak Road Brewery is well on its way to becoming Summerville's first production outfit. Another trio of founders — Ben Bankey, Kyle Colston and Brian Cox — partnered with Coastal Coffee Roasters' Brad Mallett and is setting up shop in the building that also houses the roaster.
A shared love of well-made beer stems from a variety of circumstances for the team, including Bankey and Cox's time spent stationed in Germany with the military. Their collective inspiration led them to offer a new outlet in a city that's thirsty for more craft beer options. "A lot of people who work in the Lowcountry live in Summerville, yet we always have to drive 20 to 30 minutes to experience the same quality of food and beer that they enjoy in Charleston or North Charleston," says CEO Bankey. "After seeing the success of Homegrown Brewhouse [a Summerville brewpub], we decided that instead of continuing to complain about nothing being in Summerville, we'd help fix that."
The operation will open as a self-funded nano-brewery, with six one-barrel fermenters used to produce an undetermined variety of beer. While the options for one-offs and seasonals are limitless, they've settled on three core styles. "Our three staples will be a Munich Helles, California-style IPA, and a coffee stout or porter. If you're sharing space with Coastal Coffee Roasters, you kind of have to brew a coffee beer," says Bankey.
Just last week, Oak Road received their federal Brewer's Notice, so you can expect an official opening date announcement soon. Until then, keep your eyes peeled on social media as they put the finishing touches on the tasting room.
Timmons Pettigrew is the author of Charleston Beer: A High-Gravity History of Lowcountry Brewing, and co-founder/editor of CHSBeer.org. Follow him on Twitter @CHSBeer