Sure, you’ve had an oyster stout, but what about a wild rice lager?
In and around the Lowcountry near Charleston, South Carolina, brewers are creating a variety of seasonal and standard beers using local food, and oysters are just the beginning. A strong food culture often fuels a strong craft beer culture, and from coffee to carnival squash, grits to good old fashioned tea, Charleston’s beers are becoming as unique as the region that inspires them.
“For our oyster stout, we put half a bushel in the boil every 15 minutes. We pull one batch out and put in the next,” says Chris Brown of Holy City Brewing in North Charleston. “It’s a total of two bushels for a 15-barrel batch. And it’s one of the best brewing days because then we eat the oysters, which are sugary and sweet from being in the beer.”
Holy City has been brewing Bowen’s Island Oyster Stout for years, and it’s become one of their signature seasonals. The oysters come from (you guessed it) Bowen’s Island, Charleston’s long-revered oyster house, and when the cleaned, whole mollusks are boiled in the mash, they lend a silky mouthfeel to the brew. And depending on the oysters, a little bite of brine is transferred to the finished stout. “It’s all about the mouthfeel,” Brown says.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the brewery also creates a lager called Dorchester Lite, which grew out of a collaboration with Middleton Place for a beer dinner showcasing Carolina Gold rice, a crop grown in a demonstration garden at the historic property. The beer is a crisp, low ABV lager with German malt, but because of the heirloom rice, it has more flavor than most commercial lagers, with a distinct “rice-y” note that hits the palate.
Another starch that is synonymous with Charleston is corn, well, grits to be exact. Revelry Brewing uses Geechie Boy grits in their Gullah Cream Ale. This beer, which won a silver at the 2015 US Open Beer Championships, comes in at 5.25% ABV and is dry and clear, yet full of flavor. Revelry Brewing as a whole placed third overall in the US Open Beer Championships, so this is only one of their award-winning brews.
For another distinctly Charleston experience, try to catch the Lord’s Proprietor beer at Edmund’s Oast, a brewpub in Charleston that is soon to open a freestanding brewery. They brew a bevy of distinctive beers, and the Lord’s Proprietor is an English Mild brewed with Charleston tea from Charleston Tea Plantation.
“We create a cold brew extract and include it at the end of the boil,” says brewer Cameron Read. “We want to avoid the tannin while still getting the flavor of the beer.” It’s a fusion of English heritage with Charleston foodstuffs, and what results is a mild beer, with leafy notes and light carbonation. In other words, it’s delicious, and although it’s not a permanent fixture on the menu, the pub has created five previous batches, and they assure that they will be putting it in rotation again soon.
And the list goes on. Palmetto Brewing creates their popular Espresso Porter using Charleston Coffee Roasters coffee. Frothy Beard Brewing uses Rosebank Farms’ Carnival Squash in its fall Commissioner Gourdon brew. Freehouse Brewery has brewed a sour with South Carolina kiwis and finished with South Carolina peaches. And with more breweries opening this year, and more seasonals on their way, there’ no doubt that more beer with more than just hops and barley is on Charleston’s horizon.
“We definitely love experimenting, and although I can’t really divulge anything, more brews using local ingredients are in the works,” Read says.
Stephanie Burt is a contributor for Paste based in Charleston, SC who used to think that she didn’t like beer. Boy was she wrong. You can find her on Twitter or Instagram at @beehivesteph or listen to her distinctive Southern accent weekly on her podcast The Southern Fork.