Charleston Beer Exchange
14 Exchange St.
When I was 15 years old, I wanted beer. So, I did what any rational teenager would do — I mail-ordered ingredients, got a recipe from the library, and cooked up a batch of "Super Strong Stout" in my neighbor's house. When my mother found me, she explained that this was not an activity included in "watching the house" while the neighbors were out of town.
It was the start of a life-long fascination with beer. Up until the repeal of the state law limiting alcohol content of beer sold here to 6 percent, we beer enthusiasts were unable to locally buy the brews we craved. Since the law changed two years ago, the availability of these so-called craft beers has grown dramatically. Doing their part to bring these somewhat esoteric beverages to the masses are Rich Carley and Scott Shor, owners and operators of the Charleston Beer Exchange.
In business for the past eight months, the little shop, tucked around the corner from the Old Exchange Building, has been doing a brisk business. True beer freaks, as I like to call us, are in heaven here. Floor-to-ceiling shelves are jam-packed with examples of nearly every style of beer, from Belgian Tripels to American Double India Pale Ales. Nine taps on a wall offer draught beers to be taken home in growlers, amber glass jugs that will keep beer in good condition for a few days in the fridge. A refrigerated display case houses selected bottles and six-packs, as well as one-sixth barrel kegs.
Key to navigating this pantheon of beverage are the proprietors, long-time friends Shor and Carley. Beer fanatics, the two saw the lifting of the alcohol cap as both a business opportunity and fulfillment of a dream of sorts.
"We welcome the hard-core beer enthusiast and love to talk beer with them, but equally enjoyable to us is the opportunity to welcome a life-long Bud Light drinker and introduce him to the world of craft beer," says Carley.
These two are to beer what the characters of High Fidelity are to the record store. They clearly know their products, and their enthusiasm for seeking the rare and delicious as well as educating their customers is obvious. I would wager they have had more than one "top five list" discussion about the brewed beverage world.
"We have to like a product to sell it here," Carley says. "It's a real 'hand-sell' kind of store," referring to the personal attention given as they help customers select from more than 500 beers.
Shor brings experience in beverage retailing from work in Boston, as well as setting up the beer selection at Ted's Butcherblock. Both partners, however, possess the depth of knowledge of their products that can only come from love of the craft itself.
Part of sharing their love and understanding of craft beer is the pairing of beer and food, something they do at least twice a month at various beer dinners around town. Sometimes they pair beer with each course of a multi-course meal. Sometimes they collaborate with the chef to not only pair beers with food but to use beer in the cooking process itself. The two are also available to help customers plan their special events, whether in selecting brew styles, arranging private in-home tastings, or special-ordering hard-to-find kegs.
The on-tap selection for your take-home growler varies frequently, but the website is updated religiously (charlestonbeerexchange.com) with the current offerings. On my last visit, no fewer than four local Coast Brewing products were on the list, as well as rarities from smaller breweries across the country. Prices vary for your fill-up, with my Coast Scotch Ale coming in at a reasonable $14. An empty growler to get you started sets you back $5.
Whether you are a seasoned, life-long beer enthusiast or someone just beginning the search for more than your average grocery store brewski, the Charleston Beer Exchange has both the selection and the expertise to broaden your zymurgical horizons.
Abbaye de Saint Bon-Chien, "Grand Cru"
Flemish Sour Ale
Trousseau Barrel Aged
A delicious, sour ale aged in Trousseau Oak Barrels and single cask bottled. Tart, vinous notes of apricot and dried berries.
De Struise, "Black Albert"
Belgian Royal Stout
This style is more carbonated than more traditional stouts, and has the roastiness but also a nice fruitiness to it.
A classic oak-aged sour lambic beer.
Hoppin' Frog Brewing, "Mean Manalishi"
"Double" doesn't mean twice the ingredients, but it's close. Big, aggressive hop character, citrus and floral notes, very bitter.
Southern Tier Brewing, "Cuvee Series 2"
American Strong Ale
Caramel, malty notes, vanilla, with a creamy 'hard candy' flavor — a very nice dessert sipping beer.