Columbia's South Carolina Brewery Boom

Conquest Brewing Company, Columbia, SC
Conquest Brewing Company, Columbia, SC | © Conquest Brewing Company
Photo of April Blake
28 August 2018

In early 2013, Columbia had not been home to a production brewery since Prohibition, and there was very little craft beer available. One intrepid brewpub, Hunter-Gatherer Alehouse on Main Street, was making beer in-house and had been since the mid-90s. But in 2013, Conquest Brewing opened its doors on a warm June day. They enjoyed their status as the first, and for a while only, craft brewery in the city.

Conquest Brewing has a medieval theme, and besides being known as the first brewery, and the closest to Williams-Brice Stadium, they are known for their Artemis Blonde, Medusa Stout, and their limited release beer, known as The Finisher.

Conquest Brewing Company, Columbia, SC | © Conquest Brewing Company

Not too long after that, River Rat Brewery came along and opened a swank and very large brewhouse to the public. The two breweries were less than a mile apart and offered craft beers and spaces to cater to different tastes.

River Rat has upscale touches, such as their logo embedded in the metal fences, a rooftop bar, and a swank grain silo staircase leading up to it. This brewery is very family friendly and people often bring their children to play in the enclosed grassy area while enjoying adult beverages and conversations. They are known for their flagship beers Broad River Red Ale, American Kolsch Story, and a double IPA.

The rooftop bar is a popular draw at River Rat Brewery | © River Rat Brewery

In even less time, Swamp Cabbage Brewing sprung up, again, less than a mile from the other two breweries, creating a local craft beer triangle. Swamp Cabbage, a nickname for the state tree, is run by two brothers, and the three breweries churned out beer and tested the tastes of Columbians for their local craft brews.

Swamp Cabbage has a shaded outdoor area and a fun swampy-themed interior tasting room. They specialize in classic beer styles, going a little crazy every so often with variations on their main beers.

Go wild inside or out at Swamp Cabbage Brewing Company with their spacious brewery | © Swamp Cabbage Brewing Company

For a while, the three breweries stood, with no other solid plans for breweries in sight, only rumors of the dreams of bearded men. More brewing equipment was brought into Swamp Cabbage, and another brewery license granted, though this time, there was no new physical location, as Bierkeller was sharing space with the brothers. Bierkeller is deeply rooted in its German heritage, a good thing for a deeply German-heritage area like the Midlands of South Carolina.

Mostly available in biergarten style pop-ups and in local bars, Bierkeller is known for its Kellerbier, Kolumbianer, and a Rauchbier — all refreshing, easy drinking brews.

Bierkeller specializes in authentic German brews | © Bierkeller

Not much else happened in the brewery scene in Columbia after Bierkeller. People flocked to beer events, and a citywide beer week was established. More craft beer bars opened up, advertising their local pours. And suddenly, a flurry of activity commenced. Several breweries began building their brewhouses and tasting rooms. People whispered and reporters hounded the brewer-owners for details. In short order, Cottontown Brew Lab, Twisted Spur Brewing, Columbia Craft Brewing, Angry Fish Brewing, Hazelwood Brewing Company, and Hunter-Gatherer all created production breweries and began cranking out their beers beginning in 2016 to 2018, another productive time for Columbia’s craft beer scene.

Cottontown Brew Lab, Columbia, SC | © Cottontown Brew Lab

Each of these newer breweries offers something new to the Columbia craft beer scene, which doesn’t seem to be stopping as whispers of future breweries continue to swirl in the air.

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