Bottled or draft beer? It's an argument that can be debated until the end of time. There's no question that some beers taste better in a bottle, while others are more satisfying on draft, but in the end you're likely getting more bang for your buck going with a frothy mug of draft. Here's a list of bars around town that we feel have the best overall selection to help get you started.
Charleston Beer Works CBW has a great happy hour, with half-off appetizers and a selection of 40 draft beers at $3 and under up until 8 p.m., seven days a week. While they do offer most of the standard micro-brews, beer geeks will still be able to find something satisfying to sip on. Last we checked, they were one of the only bars in town to have Thirsty Dog's Irish Setter Red on tap. Throw in Holy City Pecan Dream, Sweetwater Dank Tank Fresh Sticky Nugs, and Thomas Creek Extreme IPA, and you have some solid beers to choose from. Did we mention these beers are only $3 during happy hour?
Closed for Business C4B brought in over 900-plus unique beers last year and plans to hit well over 1,000 this year after adding an additional 12 taps; they now have a whopping 42 in all. The rotating selection is top-notch with recent sightings including Allagash Interlude, Avery Beast Grand Cru, and Great Divide Oak Aged Yeti. Thirsty yet? In addition to the carbon dioxide- and nitrogen-carbonated beer, C4B occasionally offers a cask-conditioned beer, which is unfiltered, unpasteurized, and naturally carbonated. The staff is extremely knowledgeable and willing to help with navigating the extensive list before pouring beer into the appropriate glass, whether it's a 10-ounce one or the massive two-liter Das Boot. And if you're still not convinced, C4B beat out stiff competition to win "Best Beer Selection on Tap" in the City Paper's Best of Charleston reader's survey 2011.
Coleman Public House Lights shine down on Coleman's chalkboard tap list like it's a shrine, and that it is. The 16 rotating tap selection is one of the best in town. This Mt. Pleasant bar and eatery sports at least a few European beers, such as Weihenstaphaner Hefe and St. Bernardus Abt. 12, and usually a sour beer to make you pucker up like Cuvee des Jacobins. They also have a beer from each of the seven Trappist monk-run breweries in Belgium and the Netherlands. The staff at CPH is friendly and knowledgeable. Here, you'll always have a perfectly poured beer in the appropriate glassware. Oh, and the food is exceptional too.
Foster's Pub American craft beer dominates the draft list at Foster's. Here you will see the most tap takeovers of any bar in the area featuring breweries like New Belgium, Stone, Westbrook, and Skullcoast. Craig Foster has been known to get his hands on some rare firkins (containers holding cask ale) too. This past year he tapped both a double dry-hopped Sculpin IPA by Ballast Point and a double dry-hopped Ruination by Stone.
Gene's Haufbrau Gene's has been pouring craft beer in Charleston long before just about every bar on this list, with 17 beers on draft and over 200 unique beers in total. From PBR to Highland Cold Mountain to Bell's Cherry Stout, Gene's has a beer for everyone. There's no glamour here, just a simple bar with a lively atmosphere, a whole lot of games to play, and a lot of beer to suck down.
Liberty Tap Room Just off of I-526 you'll find Liberty Tap Room, which is unique because out of the 36 taps available, at least four of them are occupied by Liberty's own line of beer, including Nut Brown and Red Rocket. They are huge advocates of Dogfish Head, Stone, and Bell's, but also support local favorites like Holy City and Westbrook.
Mellow Mushroom Avondale Mellow Mushroom Avondale is home to one of the most stunning-looking bars and most state-of-the art tap systems in Charleston with 32 taps. Its Perlick Century Beer System is often referred to as the Rolls Royce of beer dispensing systems, guaranteeing a perfectly cold beer. From the keg, the brew passes through a fully-insulated cold block, so it can't warm up and foam at the tap as it can in other systems. The kegs themselves have Electronic Keg Sensors (EKS), which can sense when a keg is empty, shut off the beer flow, and leave the line fully packed with beer. This eliminates wasted beer and the embarrassment bartenders have when a foamy beer mixture sprays all over the place when a keg kicks. What more could a beer snob want?
Mellow Mushroom Mellow Mushroom was one of the first places to have craft beer on tap downtown, and their motto is "No crap on tap." You won't find Bud Light or Blue Moon on draft here. With over 140 beers, including 21 taps, they are the home of the original Mellow Mushroom Beer Club, where you drink your way through 100 unique beers to earn rights to a 18-ounce mug, discounted events, and your name on the wall of fame. Drink 100 more beers, and you've won your way to a 22-ounce mug and several free events.
Mellow Mushroom Mt. Pleasant This is the best bet for a quality beer selection in the far reaches of north Mt. Pleasant. With a large selection of craft beer on tap inside and out, there's surely something for everyone. Beer club members have a clear path paved for them with program perks at 100, 200, and 300 beers. They also offer growlers to fill with any of the rotating beers they have on tap, which recently included Bell's Two Hearted, Victory Hop Wallop, and the tasty sour Liefman's Cuvee Brut.
Oak Barrel Tavern Although small and only serving beer and wine, the six rotating taps at Oak Barrel Tavern are always stellar. A recent list included Weyerbacher Blithering Idiot, Thirsty Dog 12 Dogs of Xmas, Bear Republic Mach 10, Westbrook IPA, Terrapin Rye Pale Ale, and Grand Teton Black Cauldron. That alone should speak for itself. Top that off with an impressive bottle selection and you've got one heck of a destination. Oak Barrel was the first to host a Holy City Brewing event, and boy were they packed.
Smoky Oak Taproom For beer lovers, Smoky Oak is the heart of James Island. Although off the beaten path, thirsty folks seem to make their way to this barbecue joint for finger-licking food and frothy beer to wash it down. The beer selection holds its own, 45 taps in all, with a focus on American craft breweries and a few rarities, such as Big Bear Black Stout and Flashback Anniversary Ale, available every now and then. Every six months they have a "Beer-B-Que Bash" in the parking lot with a whole lot of additional tap offerings, all of which can be sampled at an affordable price.