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A beer club for connoisseurs

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They say "idle hands are the devil's workshop," so get busy. What better way to get involved than to join an official club? A drinking club, that is. Who do you think we are, guidance counselors?

Mellow Mushroom's 100 Beer Club is a great place to start. The four-year-old club, exclusive to the Charleston Mellow, challenges brew lovers to try 100 of the restaurant's 140 bottled beer selections and 17 rotating draft selections. There's no time limit, so as long as the Beer Club exists, members are still in the running. Joining is free, and it's as simple as handing over your I.D. and ordering a beer.

"Beer is considered the working man's drink, but wine is considered high-end," says Mushroom server/bartender Mike Fernald. "There's an art to brewing beer, and just like there are sommeliers for wine, there can be beer connoisseurs."

The Mellow Mushroom is one of the most laid-back places in town, so they don't care how long members take to complete their task. But the goal is to appreciate beer, not chug it. "The point of it is not to come in and get snookered," says Fernald, who took 303 days to finish. "If you come in and have eight beers, you're not tasting it anymore."

After 50 beers, members get an official Beer Club hat. Once a member tastes all 100 beers, he or she gets a T-shirt and the rest of the drafts he or she orders at the restaurant are served in a 20 oz. mug versus the usual 16 oz. glass.

"I'm always looking for new beers to try," says recent sign-up Rob Lamberson. "Instead of going to Harris Teeter every week, I can come here. It's not like college parties have kegs of imports or microbrews."

The Mellow Mushroom 100 Beer Club provides a new goal for barflies, rather than just getting sloppy. And hopefully, it will help beer drinkers realize there's more than one flavor and style of beer besides Budweiser.

One significant social "drinking club" in Charleston — one on the other side of the sudsy entertainment spectrum — congregates weekly with the hope of mixing political discussion and debate with their cocktails and brew. Drinking Liberally — hosted by left-leaners Marilyn Armstrong, Leslie Pridgen, and Sadie Drescher — meets every Thursday from 5:30-8 p.m. at Voodoo in West Ashley.

"We like to drink liberally at local bars and restaurants and chit-chat with left-leaning people," they say. "This is a gathering for like-minded people to knock back a couple of beers and relax. We are Drinking Liberally and supporting our liberal bar owners! You don't need to be a policy expert and this isn't a book club — just come and learn from peers, trade jokes, vent frustration, and hang out in an environment where it's not taboo to talk politics."

Mellow Mushroom is located at 309 King St. in downtown Charleston. Go online to www.mellowmushroom.net for more.

Voodoo is located at 15 Magnolia Road, just off of Savannah Highway in West Ashley. For more on Drinking Liberally, go online to www.myspace.com/charlestondl.

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