Add Charleston Beer Week to the list of properties disrupted by the Lowcountry’s hurricane season. After more than half a decade, Charleston Beer Week, the annual multiday celebration of Lowcountry craft beer and brewers, will abandon its traditional September slot on the drinking calendar in favor of May 2020, a mere eight months after the 2019 version poured its final pint.
“It was the hurricanes that did it,” said Chrys Rynearson, Charleston Beer Week’s event producer. “That was entirely the reason.”
CBW 2019 was not dramatically affected by Hurricane Dorian, but the mandatory evacuation and uncertainty it created were reminders of how other storms had derailed the event in past years, said Rynearson.
“2018 (Charleston Beer Week) was the first year I expanded it to 10 days,” he said. That year, CBW overlapped with Charleston Restaurant Week, with events scheduled from Sept. 5-15. But on Sept. 10, 2018, as Hurricane Florence turned towards South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster ordered a mandatory evacuation of coastal counties, including Charleston.
Though Florence wound up mostly sparing Charleston and its surrounds, it wrought catastrophe on the craft brewing celebration.
“We were really loaded up to do a lot of cool stuff,” recalled Rynearson, who has produced CBW since 2013. “We had 64 events on the books, and we had to cancel 30.”
In 2017, Hurricane Irma forced brewers to cancel “a bunch of events” as well, he added.
So following the conclusion of this year’s festivities, Rynearson conducted a poll with the brewers and business owners that have participated in CBW in the past. “I sent on a Google survey and I let everybody vote on it. And it just leaned towards May,” he said.
Charleston Beer Week will run from May 1-10.
Hank Hanna, proprietor at Commonhouse Aleworks in Park Circle, voted for a date earlier in the spring, when the weather was cooler. “Closer to St. Patrick’s Day,” he said. Even though his was not the majority opinion, Hanna said he was in “complete agreement” that CBW should stop trying to make September work.
“I think the threat of hurricanes has actually put a damper on it over the past couple of years,” he mused.
A local beer distributor held the original Charleston Beer Week in April 2012. When Rynearson and fellow planner Timmons Pettigrew (now Edmund’s Oast Brewing Company’s vice president of group operations) took it over, they moved it to September. Returning the event to springtime would bring it full circle, he said.
“I think it was just kind of more of a slower part of the year,” said Rynearson of the decision to shift to early fall. October is out for craft brewers, as many of them travel to the Brewers Association’s Great American Beer Festival competition. Ditto late April, when the Brewers Association holds its Craft Brewers Conference, an annual state-of-the-industry summit.
Locally, March is Charleston Wine + Food, April kicks off with the Cooper River Bridge Run and so on.
September, by contrast, was relatively open, so Rynearson went for it. “Back then we didn’t have Category 5 hurricanes rolling through that often,” he said.
May tends to be fairly hurricane-free in the Lowcountry, which is music to Rynearson's ears. It's not just brewers and drinkers that have been disappointed by the previous years' inclement weather, he said.
"It’s also just a bummer for me," he exclaimed with a laugh. "This stuff takes a lot of time!"