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Charleston’s craft beer scene emerges after late start

By June Sawyers
Chicago Tribune

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Although Charleston is known for its Low Country cuisine, such as shrimp and grits, oysters, she-crab soup and corn pudding, a kind of renaissance has been emerging in this charming Southern city: the growing popularity of craft beer breweries and micro-breweries.

It’s been a slow process, but now nearly a dozen craft beer breweries call the Charleston area home, including in nearby North Charleston, Mount Pleasant and James Island.

“Charleston’s craft beer landscape is fairly young compared to other cities,” admitted John Planty, CEO of Palmetto Brewing Co. (www.palmettobrewery.com), the oldest independent brewer in the city, “but it’s maturing rapidly. … New breweries and brewpubs seem to open weekly.”

Many changes on the craft beer scene have been due to fairly recent changes in state law. Prior to 2007, noted Becca Lesesne, owner of “Original” Pub & Brewery Tours of Charleston (www.pubtourcharleston.com), it was illegal to manufacture or sell any beer in South Carolina over 6 percent alcohol by volume. Since some of the most interesting styles of beer are naturally higher, “this placed rigid constraints,” she said.

Lesesne started the “Original” Pub & Brewery Tours of Charleston in 2009, putting together an “English-style pub tour combining history, beer and beer history.” Today she offers a walking tour of historic pubs and taverns in the French Quarter, the oldest part of town, and a brewery bus tour that visits three local breweries for tastings and a behind-the-scenes tour of brewing operations. She also organizes customized group events and an annual Holiday Pub Crawl that raises money for local charities.

Visitors can sample local craft beers for themselves from Sept. 13-15 during Charleston Beer Week (www.charlestonbeerweek.com) and at the Southern Living Taste of Charleston (Sept. 25-27) at historic Boone Hall Plantation, a 140-acre farm on the outskirts of town (www.charlestonrestaurantassociation.com). The latter festival also features Low Country fare from casual and fine dining restaurants.

“We have no doubt,” Lesesne said, “that the craft beer scene will continue to grow and that Charleston will become known as one of the great craft beer destinations in the United States.”

Read the full article at the Chicago Tribune.

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HOP ON THE BUS Pub & Brewery Tours of Charleston

There is no question that the beer scene in Charleston is a burgeoning business and the Original Pub & Brewery Tours of Charleston is at the forefront of the revolution. Besides being the only locally owned and operated beer tour in the land, owners Becca and Daniel Lesesne are certified cicerones, assuring that you will get the experience, knowledge and professionalism of all that the world of barley and hops has to offer.

The history of local beer in Charleston is a sordid one that continues to write it’s own script. Becca Lesesne has been in it from the beginning, but cites her colleague and friend, Jaime Tenny as the real revolutionary when it comes to forging the way for craft brewers in the Holy City.

“Jaime was a pioneer really, of the laws in the state of South Carolina and the beer scene in Charleston,” boasts Becca. “She really got things started with Pop the Cap.”

Pop the Cap, was a grassroots effort begun in 2006 by Tenny and her supporters. Their mission was to abolish the prohibition era laws restricting the alcohol levels of locally produced beer to at our below 6 percent alcohol by volume (ABV). One of only five states to retain this limitation, (West Virginia, Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas were the others), the law prevented nearly one third of the world’s beer styles from being bought or brewed in SC.

Tenny and her team, including the Lesesnes, petitioned, lobbied and eventually convinced lawmakers in Columbia to lift the 6 percent ABV cap for beer in SC. In May of 2007 the cap was raised to 17 percent ABV, opening the doors for local crafters to produce wider varieties including stouts, porters and bocks.

Craft brewers in the state celebrated by brewing beers that were once taboo. Charleston, a world-class tourist destination, was now poised to offer a world-class beer selection.

The Lesesnes saw opportunity. They had met in Charleston while employed at a carriage tour company. Becca had been in the beer business years prior, while living in Asheville, North Carolina. When she returned to Charleston, her hometown, she brought her love and enthusiasm for a good local brew with her. She and Daniel reconnected on the carriage tours and decided it was time to start their own. In 2008 they started Original Pub Tours of Charleston to share that passion.

“Becca learned hands-on at the brewery and I had to play catch-up,” recalls Daniel. It didn’t take him long to develop a passion for the craft beer scene. “A nice thing about the beer community is the mutual affinity for such a pleasant thing, so it is a rarity to find a bad attitude.”

“For us it’s about sourcing local. People are into local food and now we have great local beers. We want folks to know that they don’t have to drink commercial brews when there are so many great local options,” expounded Becca.

In 2010 South Carolina passed the tasting law, which allowed breweries to share their delicacies with visitors in a limited capacity. Out of this, the Lesesnes expanded in 2010 to include local breweries in their tour offerings, many of which use local ingredients to finish their brews. One such brewery is owned and operated by Jaime Tenny and her partner David Merritt.

Tenny and Merritt started Coast in 2007, right around the time they championed the SC Cap law. Their North Charleston brewery and beers reflect their lifestyle: simple, conscientious and well done. They consider their effect on the environment in everything they do, from choosing ingredients to producing, packaging and delivering their beers, which can be found in numerous bars and restaurants throughout the state.

Other breweries along the tour include Holy City Brewing in North Charleston, Palmetto Brewing and Tradesman Brewing Company on James Island.

“Palmetto Brewing is the oldest brewery in the state, with the most interesting history,” explains Becca. “The original Old Palmetto Brewery was started back in the late 1800’s, before prohibition.” It ran in Charleston up until 1913. Palmetto Brewery as it now stands has been serving South Carolina since 1993.

“Unlike a self-guided pub crawl, guests get to hear real stories about pirates, prostitutes, Prohibition, ghosts and more,” explains Daniel. That’s what makes Pub & Brew tours tours so unique, adds Becca, “We tell the beer story from beginning to end, and people are interested in it.”

Pub and Brew Tours of Charleston offer tours year round for aficionados and novice beer drinkers alike. Pub tours visit three to five historic pubs throughout downtown Charleston and last approximately 2.5 hours. Brewery tours board the “Brew Bus” and stop at three different breweries in the 3.5 hour time frame. Participants can purchase growlers at each stop. Both tours include plenty of samples and a delicious dose of local history.

Read the article on James Island Messenger.