I fully admit I’m biased when it comes to the quality of craft beer brewed in South Carolina. During the past few years, I’ve seen the quality and inventiveness of SC beer increase exponentially, so much so that the beer is in demand across the country. It still amazes me when people who have ready access to breweries I think are great – Cigar City, Russian River, Three Floyds – get their hands on something from South Carolina and go nuts.
But what exactly makes South Carolina craft beer special? And if I had to pick a selection of beers I think best showcases the Palmetto State, what would I choose?
That’s the idea behind the Six-Pack Project, a collaborative effort from a group of beer bloggers across the country designed to help highlight the local craft beers we think best represent our respective states. Basically, if you had someone coming to visit from out of state who had never had a local beer, what six-pack would you put together for them?
Here are the rules:
- Pick a six-pack of beers that best represents your state and/or state’s beer culture.
- Beer must be made in your state, but “gypsy” brewers are acceptable, so long as that beer is brewed with an in-state brewery and sold in your state.
- Any size bottle or can is acceptable to include.
- Current seasonal offerings are fine, but try to keep selections to year-round brews as much as possible. No out-of-season brews preferred.
With that in mind – and in no particular order – here’s the six-pack I’d put together:
Westbrook White Thai
When describing South Carolina summers, “oppressive” in an understatement. We’re quite well known for our heat and humidity and it tends to be a bit harsh on people who haven’t grown up with it. So it’s understandable that lighter beers are usually our go-tos in the warmer months of the year.
On that front, Westbrook‘s White Thai Belgian-style witbier hits all the right notes as the temperature rises. One of the Mt. Pleasant brewery’s year-round canned offerings, White Thai is not only incredibly flavorful and refreshing, but it also showcases the inventiveness and creativity that Westbrook is famous for. Most Belgian wits include coriander and orange peel to add spice and citrus notes. But instead of using those ingredients, White Thai is brewed with lemongrass, ginger root and Sorachi Ace hops.
Being a little left of center is Westbrook’s M.O. They’re constantly putting out new and inventive brews, and the newest beer is always a big departure from the last. So far this year alone, they’ve put out at least seven new beers for the masses, including a massive double IPA, a traditional style Berliner Weisse, two dramatically different saisons and more. White Thai, to me, does a great job of show the creativeness of local beers.
COAST HopArt IPA
If there was a craft beer I’d say is the quintessential South Carolina brew, it’s COAST‘s HopArt IPA. The year-round bottled beer isn’t the oldest craft beer in SC or necessarily the best, but it is one of ones synonymous with the growth and expansion of the state’s beer scene.
COAST’s Jamie Tenny is kind of the momma bear of the SC beer scene. She spearheaded the Pop the Cap initiative, which raised the maximum ABV cap for all beers sold in the state, and also helped make it legal for breweries to sell samples on premises. Not to mention she’s been one of the biggest players in the fight to get the Pint Bill passed. And again, while COAST isn’t the oldest kid on the block, they’re one of the ones that usually comes up the most when people think of SC beer.
And HopArt is just classic. Not too hoppy, not too malty and always brewed with organic malts, it does a good job of hitting all the right flavor notes. Additionally, I’d wager it has the most recognizable label artwork of any beer in SC. To me, HopArt represents the history of South Carolina craft beer
RJ Rockers Son of a Peach
While it isn’t a year-round release, I’d posit that RJ Rockers‘ seasonal Son of a Peach is one that people might more easily associate with South Carolina. Peaches are one of our biggest crop – although as a Georgia boy, I think the Peach State has that name for a reason – and are showcased front and center in this summertime wheat beer.
Fruity wheat beers aren’t usually my thing, but Son of a Peach is so rich and flavorful that I always look forward to its release as the warmer months near. The nose is a very sweet, sticky peach aroma, but the taste has more of a bitter, tart taste to it, very similar to what you’d get from biting right into a fresh South Carolina-grown peach.
(One note, though: Always go for the second batch of SoaP, as that one is brewed with fresh peaches. The first batch uses frozen ones.)
Holy City Pluff Mud Porter
Holy City is one of the newer entrants in the SC beer scene, but they’re quickly staking their claim and one of the more impressive of the bunch. Don’t take my word for it; take the Great American Beer Festival’s.
At the 2012 GABF, Pluff Mud Porter – Holy City’s year-round 5.5% American porter – took home a gold medal for the category, making HCB the only South Carolina brewery to win an award at GABF. It was a huge win not only for the Charleston brewery, but also for the state’s craft beer culture in general. For a brewery as young as Holy City is to win an award such as that shows, to me, the promise and potential Palmetto State beer has behind it.
In addition, the name itself is uniquely South Carolina. Pluff mud is the mixture of dirt and water prevalent in South Carolina’s marshes, especially in the Lowcountry (where the brewery is located). It’s smelly stuff, but for South Carolinians, it’s a reminder of home.
For the time being, bombers of Pluff Mud and Holy City’s growing slate of beers are available only at the brewery, but with bottling and brewing expansion on the horizon, the hope is we’ll see more of them throughout the state.
Conquest Sacred Heart IPA
I’m breaking from the rules here slightly with this entry, but I think it’s justifiable. Hear me out.
Conquest is South Carolina’s newest brewery – opening this Saturday (June 1) – and the first and only production brewery in Columbia, which I call home. A search through my archives will show I’ve covered their growth and development at length. The only thing is, they don’t sell their beer in any form other than draft, and they have no plans to bottle their beer aside from the occasional special rare release.
However, I can skirt around the rules outlined about because of this: In South Carolina, beer stores are allowed to fill and sell growlers to patrons. I can get a fill of Conquest’s beers at the brewery itself, or I can go to any beer store in town that sells them, bring whatever growler I want – it doesn’t have to be labeled in any particular way – and get my fill there. So, this can technically be bought in a store.
Semantics aside, the reason Sacred Heart is on this list is because it and Conquest represent the growth of SC’s beer scene and the excitement that growth can incite in people. I have beer geeks from across the state ask me regularly about Conquest and their beers.
And the beer itself is pretty awesome. A 7.2% IPA brewed with Warrior, Belma, Centennial and Citra hops, it’s got that big, juicy tropical fruit hop flavor I love in an IPA.
Thomas Creek River Falls Red Ale
Greenville’s Thomas Creek is where South Carolina craft beer really got its first big shot in the arm. Founded in 1998, TC is the state’s oldest brewery and has continued to crank out solid examples of their respective styles for the past 15 years.
They don’t generally garner as much attention as the breweries on the SC coast, there’s no way you can make a list of “the beers of South Carolina” without something from Thomas Creek. And while it’s not my favorite beer of theirs, their River Falls Red Ale would definitely be included in my pack.
It’s their flagship beer and the one that got them started, not to mention one of their more award-winning ones. Additionally, the River Falls are one of the best parts about Greenville, and Thomas Creek’s beer names do a great way of showcasing what the South Carolina outdoors have to offer. While not as big as their Up the Creek Extreme IPA or full and flavorful as their Deep Water Dopplebock, River Falls Red finds a good place in the middle and a spot on my list.
If you’d like to see what the other five bloggers picked for this project included on their list, here’s links to their respective posts: