The South has enjoyed a remarkable beer renaissance in the 21st century, with hundreds of small local spots opening their doors and turning out stellar brews. This year, the one that our readers chose as the best is a pioneer that helped launch this Southern beer revival: Palmetto Brewing Company in Charleston, South Carolina.
Like any good establishment, Palmetto offers a variety of flavors and styles, from the crisp Lowcountry Lager to seasonal options like the Cherry Sour IPA. Yes, they have the requisite rustic tasting room with dozens of taps and a dog-friendly patio, but they also offer a bit of history.
It all started in the late 1980s, when two friends, Ed Falkenstein and Louis Bruce, took a windsurfing trip on the Columbia River in Oregon and were wowed by the beer they tried at a new microbrewery outside Portland.
At the time, microbreweries were just about unheard of in the South. Convinced that Charlestonians were ready for their own local beer, Falkenstein and Bruce gave up their day jobs, cashed in their retirement savings, and leased a warehouse on Huger Street. On June 9, 1994, they tapped a keg of their Amber Ale and became the first licensed brewery to operate in South Carolina since Prohibition.
The partners chose the name as a nod to the city's history. The original Palmetto Brewery had been founded in the mid-1880s as part of the wave of German-style breweries that sprang up throughoutthe South. It was renamed the Germania Brewing Co. in 1896 and supplied South Carolinians with locally made beer until 1913, when looming Prohibition forced it into bankruptcy.
Falkenstein and Bruce's new brewery started making 400 cases of beer a week with ambitions of eventually producing 1,000. By its 20th anniversary, it was making 8,000 barrels a year—well over 2,000 cases per week—and was distributing them to both Carolinas and Georgia.
Falkenstein retired in 2016, and in early 2018, Palmetto was purchased by Catawba Brewing Company, a family-owned craft brewery based in Morganton, North Carolina. The acquisition brought an infusion of funding to overhaul the Charleston facility. Palmetto redesigned its cans and bottles and launched new beers like Idle Speed Salted Lime Lager. In May 2019, it unveiled major renovations to the tasting room, including a new open-air courtyard. Inside, about 30 taps offer all of the regular beers along with some seasonal specialties and Catawba's brews.
The expanded facility can now produce over 16,000 barrels per year, so more beer lovers around the South will soon have access to Palmetto's products. In October 2021, Catawba and Palmetto were bought by the owner of Apalachicola, Florida-based Oyster City Brewing Company, which produces Gulf Coast favorites including Hooter Brown Ale and Mangrove Pale Ale. The combined business will distribute beers from all three of its breweries to six Southeastern states—North and South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia.
palmettobrewery.com , 843-937-0903, 289 Huger Street, Charleston, SC 29403