Peering across the bar at Craft and Draft, the basic setup appears much the same as it did when the doors first opened five years ago. Rows of shaker pints, Belgian tulip and tasting glasses await their fill on the back shelf behind 12 gleaming, stainless steel taps, both of which pop against the backdrop of the store’s unmistakable lime green walls.
While an assortment of snacks and new arrival beers have been added along the way, the key to understanding how Craft and Draft has changed lies in what occupies much less space behind the bar these days: 64-ounce glass growlers.
“Growlers, when we opened, were like — not the focus, necessarily, but that was a huge piece of what we did,” recalls Craft and Draft co-owner Kellan Monroe.
At the time of the Devine Street bottle shop and beer bar’s grand opening on July 10, 2014, Columbia’s craft beer scene was nascent at best. With Conquest Brewing Company and River Rat Brewery operating as the area’s only production breweries alongside limited regional offerings, growler fills of draft beer were big sellers for breweries and retailers alike. As more breweries and craft beer-centric businesses came into the area, the local growler boom came and went. Monroe cites the now high availability of fresh packaged and draft beer brands in the Columbia as the driving factor.
“We still do growlers, but it’s basically a novelty item in most ways,” he notes. “It’s really more about a ‘We’ve got it if you want it’ kind of thing.”
Fellow co-owner Andrew Johnson estimates their growler sales have decreased by 50 percent since the end of 2015. He echoes his business partner’s sentiment that increased availability has dictated the trend, but is quick to point out the legal change within the state that goes along with it. 2013’s “Pint Law” and 2014’s “Stone Law” both gave South Carolina producers the ability to sell more beer per customer on premises. Patrons no longer have to cart draft brews home to get their fill.
“It almost eliminated the need for a growler,” Johnson quips.
As the state government had to change its laws to allow craft beer to thrive, the City of Columbia needed to establish a legal precedent of its own for Craft and Draft to be possible. Prior to the shop’s opening, no such beer retailer with the ability to operate an on-premises bar existed within the city. When Johnson and Monroe approached city officials to obtain proper licensing, no one seemed to know how to classify them. Were they a retail bottle shop? A bar? A tasting counter? Johnson can’t count the number of trips he made to city offices to try and get everyone on the same page.
“One particular time, I walked in and the guy that worked with zoning caught eyes with me and made a face like, ‘Oh boy. Here he is again,’” he chuckles.
Johnson’s perseverance in bringing their business model to life embodies the adaptability he and Monroe bring to Craft and Draft’s ever-changing beer selection. In 2014, extremely bitter IPAs and the biggest, baddest imperial stouts were all the rage, comprising much of their draft board and taking up tons of shelf space in six-packs of 12-ouncers and 22-ounce bombers. Today, sour beers occupy the largest shelf imprint, while hazy IPAs and crisp lagers in canned formats dominate their to go coolers.
The physical attributes of the shop have changed over the years, as well. As the store became more and more popular, on-premise sales began to grow at an exponential rate, along with the desire for more cold beer to go. Monroe and Johnson made the decision to reduce shelf inventory by 20 percent to create more space for standing bar tables, as well as take out a dividing wall near the rear exit, opening the space up for additional cold storage. Monroe acknowledges the shift to an on-premise focus was not what they envisioned at the start, but recognizes its importance in maintaining the business’ overall viability.
“If you’re looking at having a to-go shop, you’re selling things at retail pricing, which means you need to move them in extremely large volumes,” he explains. “And for us, if we had the entire side of the store jam-packed to the ceiling, we probably could sell enough beer to make enough money to make it worthwhile to be just a to go shop.”
By reducing inventory and making the room more hospitable for hanging out, Craft and Draft made it easier and more comfortable to sample a diverse range of brews.
“You buy beer by convenience, so for us, the on-premise side of things is where we’ve had the most focus, it’s where we make our most money,” Monroe adds. “So that’s kind of what we’ve focused on versus trying to be something that we can’t be.”
In preparing for a fifth anniversary party this weekend with bands and food trucks and outdoor pouring stations, the owners laugh at how far both they and their customers have come since their first days.
“The average customer, I bet, didn’t even know what the acronym IPA meant five years ago,” Johnson says with a sly grin.
What: BeerWatch: Fifth Anniversary
Where: Craft and Draft, 2706 Devine St.
When: Saturday, July 20, noon-7 p.m.
More: 803-764-2575, craftanddraftbeer.com