While the dining culture on James Island is still embryonic, the craft beer community is thriving. Beer bars and breweries are a growing presence, especially around the busy Folly Road corridor, and more are in the works.
“When opening a brewery, we saw a big opportunity on this side of town,” says Chris Winn, one of the co-owners of Tradesman Brewery, which two years ago opened on Tatum Street, just off Folly Road. “We really wanted to provide a brewery-direct experience, and this area really didn’t have that.”
Tradesman on James Island makes what its owners term “approachable beers,” many of which are named after a blue-collar profession, such as Welder’s Wheat or Mechanic’s Ale. “We are getting more exposure around town, but the James Island following helped us get started and is keeping us afloat,” Winn says.
In the spirit of the convivial nature of beer, Tradesman welcomes collaborations: It hosts monthly “Brewsters” events, giving women interested in brewing a chance to create beer, and serves as an incubator for new breweries coming to the area.
Eulie Middleton of Fat Pig Brewing also is brewing on the Tradesman campus, and while he plans to open his brewery on Johns Island next year, he says the time on James Island has been invaluable.
“Being inside the brewery has really given me a leg up on knowing exactly what needs to get done to open up,” Middleton says.
Breweries are just a small portion of the craft beer explosion on James Island. Bars dedicated to showcasing craft beer from across the country dot the area. On tap, Maybank Public House has 18 craft brews; The Barrel pours 33; Bohemian Bull has just under 40; Smoky Oak Taproom carries 45; and SIP Charleston’s newest location on Folly Road boasts “150 beers, most of which are local and regional crafts,” according to its website, though that’s many more bottles than taps. Stretch the geography just a bit, and Jack of Cups on Folly Beach carries another approximately 75 combined bottles and taps.
But why James Island?
Chad Reynolds, owner of The Barrel, has been a James Island resident for years. He was inspired to open a spot that filled growlers since the growlers he used to buy at Piggly Wiggly’s James Island locations were attractive, but he couldn’t taste before he purchased. “That was 64 ounces of commitment, and I really wanted a place where I could sample a beer before filling a growler,” he explains. “So that’s really how the idea for The Barrel started.”
“I chose James Island for The Barrel because of the people,” he continues. “We deserve amazing, affordable craft beer, and I’m happy to be one of the establishments on this great island providing it.”
Natural Blonde Bloody Mary mix owner and well-known bartender John Aquino, who lives on James Island, agrees that it’s the people and the “James Island vibe” that have created such a thirsty audience for craft beer. “My theory is that James Island is really bohemian and laid back,” he says. “And beer is simple. It’s done. You just pour it.”
Whatever the reason for the island beer boom, Winn is happy to call James Island his brewery’s home. “James Island takes pride in being a little more laid back, and if you’re going to be low-key and have a drink, we like to think that that is the sweet spot for drinking good beer.”