Cracking Open the Lowcountry's Craft Beer Scene
When you mention the Lowcountry craft beer scene to most people, they’ll start rattling off a few of the hipster-friendly IPA peddlers that have made Charleston ground zero for insufferable handlebar-mustache-wearers and their assorted Very Serious Opinions About Hops™.
Which is why weren’t talking about Charleston. Here we’re talking about the real Lowcountry – that hearty slice of the 843 that gives flavor to the Savannah/Charleston sandwich. In between two great Southern cities is a river town called Bluffton and a sleepy enclave of rich folks and the party animals who serve them, Hilton Head Island.
And these two towns are putting out some damn fine beer. In just a few years, we’ve gone from a single brewery (sorta – more on that later) to a wonderland of different styles and varieties, all produced by a brewery scene that celebrates the small pond they’re all swimming in.
"In just a few years, we’ve gone from a single brewery to a wonderland of different styles and varieties."
Courtesy of Salt Marsh Brewing Co.
The upstart here is Salt Marsh Brewing, located on top of Fat Patties Bluffton. Literally on top – Brewmaster James Brown has fit an entire brewery into a small loft atop the bar barely big enough to play a game of hoops in. But that small bar packs a ton of great styles, like the Oyster Town Brown.
Courtesy of Southern Barrel Brewing Co.
Across town, you’ll find Southern Barrel Brewing Co. A little more metropolitan, Southern Barrel launched as a brewery and full-on cannery. Between that and the slick chain-restaurant design of this place, we were legitimately surprised to find out this was an independent brewery. Go there. Try the Saison N’on N’on. Revel in its wheaty deliciousness. Thank us later.
Courtesy of River Dog Brewing Co.
The last of the off-island trio, River Dog Brewing Co. has matured into the elder statesman of Bluffton brewing. As such, it can hang its hat proudly on its IPA, which has only been gracing taps for four years, but it feels like it’s been here forever. Head brewer John Federal brought a new twist to the old classics when he came down from Raleigh Brewing Company, and the taproom in Okatie always sports something surprising.
Courtesy of Hilton Head Brewing Co. (left), Barry Kaufman (right)
Hilton Head Brewing Co. is at once old and new on the Hilton Head Island scene. Its embryonic form, as a restaurant rigidly segregated from the party zone that is The Triangle, was just the first step in an evolution that would see a few fermenting tanks tucked away in a bar become a full-fledged brewery cannery and taproom on the island’s north end. Owner and brewer John Rybicki pegged his company’s fortunes on a juicy, slightly fruity IPA and it paid off huge with a loyal following and a new lease on life.
We were sad to see the original HHIBC brewpub close recently, as it hosted many nights in our early 20s we were later told were amazing, but we are at least happy to see some part of the legacy survived. And we can still fill a growler, like the one pictured (yes, that’s a Legend of Zelda pint glass. Don’t judge).
From that one brewpub with its small selection of tanks has brown a craft beer scene that we are only too happy to experience one flight at a time. (Or two. OK, five, but you’re driving). We may not be Charleston, we may not be Savannah, but we’ll toast to our small-town heroes and the magnificent beer they brew.