If you’ve opened a magazine or seen a travel show in the past year, you’ve probably heard something about the exploding craft beer scene that’s been rocking the Southeast. What you probably don’t know is that the South Carolina Upstate is home to small but fast growing community of six thriving, local craft beer breweries.
Recent changes in South Carolina law now makes it easier to open a brewery and tasting room, so you can expect that to grow significantly in the coming years. No longer to content to sit in the shadows of their northern neighbors, South Carolina’s brewing scene is hitting its stride, and the Greenville area is leading the way with host a talented brewers that are bringing new craft and innovation to their trade.
While much of Greenville’s brewing scene is fairly new, that doesn’t mean area breweries lack experience. Two local breweries are certified veterans of the industry, and their beers are enjoyed throughout the region and even distributed into several other states (so look for them at your local store). Thomas Creek Brewery, founded in 1998 by Tom Davis and his father Bill Davis, is the area’s largest brewery in terms of volume, and offers such popular choices as their year round River Falls Red Ale and Appalachian Amber.
RJ Rockers, located just up the road in neighboring Spartanburg, SC, was founded a year earlier in 1997 and is celebrating 18 years of great craft beers. Probably best known for their easy drinkin’ Son of a Peach, a peach infused American wheat ale that started off as a seasonal brew, but became so wildly popular that brewery started producing it year round. The brewery produces a slew of year round and seasonal hits, the popular Bell Ringer American Strong Ale being just one notable brew of their many offerings.
These co-captains of the area’s craft beer community, RJ Rockers and Thomas Creek Brewery, have also recently introduced two unique at places that make it convenient for busy travellers to sample their creations. Just last year, and as part of major $125 million dollar expansion and renovation, the Thomas Creek Grill and RJ Rockers Flight Room opened up at that Greenville Spartanburg Airport. Next time you head out of town (or next time you’re on your way in) be sure to stop by either and check it out.
In contrast, Swamp Rabbit Brewery, located at 26 South Main Street in Travelers Rest, is a much more recent addition to the upstate’s craft brewing scene. Founded in March of 2014, Swamp Rabbit is named after the popular Swap Rabbit Recreational Trail that’s located about a block from the brewery. The brewery’s age, however, belies its experience: Swamp Rabbit’s founder and head brewer, Ben Pierson, was classically trained in Germany and has more than 30 years brewing experience.
Ben is man who knows his beer, and the proof is in the pudding (or in this case, the beer): in only one year Swamp Rabbit Brewery has has won two gold medals, one silver and one bronze medal in several prestigious national tasting events. The brewery’s close proximity to the Swamp Rabbit Trail makes it perfect spot for bikers to stop and relax with a well earned pint of the brewery’s award winning beer.
Taking its name from nearby Interstate 85, Brewery 85 was started by Will McCameron and Taylor Lamm in January of 2014. Both Will and Taylor trained at the historic Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago and completed their studies at the famous Doemen’s Academy in Bavaria, Germany. Sticking with the old world traditions that they learned in Europe, Brewery 85 produces Bavarian styled beers that are currently available in draft at restaurants throughout Greenville, Clemson, and Anderson. The brewery also hosts a small tasting room where curious beer lovers can sample the brewer’s most recent creations.
Quest Brewing is another of the quality breweries that calls Greenville home. Quest began in a manner befitting its name, with award winning master brewer Don Richardson founding his own brewery in 2013 after a storied career of more than 20 years in the industry and posting stints at Boulder Beer Co. in Colorado and Cottonwood Brewery in North Carolina. Quest is one of the area’s most innovative breweries, offering a such enticing creations as the seasonal Kermesse Pumpkin Saison and the year round Smoking Mirror Smoked Porter. Quest’s beers are available on draft at local restaurants and also at local bottle shops and grocery stores. Quest also offers tours of the brewery every Saturday.
The Upstate’s demand for hand crafted beverages has spilled over into the the arena of distilled spirits as well. In seeming lockstep with breweries, small batch distillery have been springing up across the state in recent years, the most notable being the Dark Corner Distillery ( See page 34) located on downtown Greenville’s historic Main Street.
Dark Corner’s hand-crafted, award winning spirits are made at the Main St. location in a eighty gallon copper pot still that was designed by owner Joe Fenton and is on display for visitors to check out. Their signature World’s Best Corn Whiskey Moonshine is a blend of corn, red wheat and barley that’s hand-mashed and distilled twice, creating a surprisingly smooth tasting experience. Naming your flagship product “World’s Best” anything would probably be consider hubris on the part of the proprietor, but this ‘shine has run away with a long list of awards, the most recent a Gold medal in the 2014 International Whiskey Competition.
If you can’t get to all these great places, then your best bet is to check out some of Greenville’s best hand-crafted libations at the local taprooms and craft beer bars. Located in the heart of downtown Greenville, Barley’s Taproom is the go-to bar for local craft beer lovers. Host to 72 carefully-selected craft beers on tap and over 200 bottled beers, Barley’s knowledgeable staff is always able to recommend the perfect local beer to complement your dining experience.
Nothing adds local flavor to a meal quite like some locally brewed craft beer. Next time you step out for a bite to eat, be on the
lookout for some of these breweries’ wares at the restaurants recommended in the pages of A Look at Greenville. While the choices can sometimes be overwhelming, but don’t be afraid to ask your server. After all, who better than a local to give you insight on our burgeoning craft beer scene?