Beer might be really easy to consume, but there's a lot going on behind the glass. Expert Timmons Pettigrew goes in to explain the finer details about brew culture to the rest of us.
James Island's first brewery, and the City of Charleston's second, is on the cusp of opening its doors. Tradesman Brewing Company occupies a taproom and small warehouse brewery space near the juncture of Maybank Highway and Folly Road, tucked behind an Exxon station beside a laundromat. Unless you've already liked them on Facebook, or happened to attend the Pattison's Academy fundraiser which served as their semi-public debut, you probably don't know that. If there's one thing they aren't, in any sense of the word, it's "loud." Here's what you (very quietly) need to know the area's next neighborhood hangout:
1. It's a family affair. Scott McConnell loved homebrewing. He taught himself, did it for himself, and served it to friends that would visit for the occasional shindig. He's not a member of any clubs, doesn't enter his beers in contests, and is generally uninterested in the trappings that come with any of that. When it was time for a career change, his wife, Sara Gayle, supported the idea that they turn his hobby into a business. The pair hails from the Charleston area, attending Wando High School together before eventually sealing the proverbial deal and starting a family. The idea of opening a brewery especially clicked for her while cleaning up from a big oyster roast they threw one January. She found three spent kegs of Scott's homebrew and a fridge full of the beer everyone else brought, but didn't drink.
2. An atypical, "typical ale" focus. Asked to describe his approach to brewing, Scott minces no words, leading with: "your typical ales." This is not something you generally, if ever, hear in today's American craft brewing world. There will be no triple/extreme/wild/funk-i-fied/anti-aircraft beer being brewed at Tradesman. There will be six solid, quaffable ales on tap for reasonably priced pint pours, flights, and growler fills, and a chalkboard for suggestions. There's something refreshing, and certainly uncommon, about that approach, and seeing how it plays in the local market will be interesting.
[Photos: Timmons Pettigrew]
3. Two is the magic number. In strict terms, Tradesman will be a nano-brewery, with a two-barrel brewhouse being used to fill four two-barrel fermenters. The system is finding its third home at Tradesman, previously occupying a brew floor in Champaign, Illinois. The grain mill was under construction on a recent visit, but for now Scott will be throwing grain into the mash tun by hand (no auger), and thanks to the non-conical, open (lidded) fermenters, he'll be "top-cropping" the yeast from each tank for each batch. This hands-on, elbow-grease approach fits right into Tradesman's angle.
4. Opening a brewery is hard in all the wrong ways. If one is being realistic about opening a brewery, one expects many challenges. Acquiring equipment, brewing supplies, real estate, basic licenses, etc., are just part of the deal. The McConnells ran some unique roadblocks along the way. Brewery planning started in earnest early in 2013, and they signed the lease on their space, at 1639 Tatum St., in July. Since then they had federal licensing upheld by the government shutdown, they've been waiting on a new light pole that will allow them to properly power the brewhouse, and some weeks were wasted by a certain official who was questioning how they would store their product. After much head scratching, it was determined that said official thought they were making booze strong enough to ignite a fire. Prospective brewers take note: add "be sure your beer doesn't have a flashpoint" to your pre-opening checklist.
5. A calloused hand can also hold a pint glass. The aesthetic at Tradesman is decidedly "working class," from the metal, wrench-shaped tap handles to the classic pin-up girl t-shirts. The idea is to make beer for everyone, but especially for good folks in blue collars. The "builders of the country," as Scott puts it, deserve a craft beer they can call their own. If a mason who normally drinks something fizzy and yellow wants to branch out, maybe he'll order a flagship Brick Layer's Red Ale (the first beer going to distribution around J.I., via relatively tiny Bear Island Distributors). Maybe an electrician picks up a Circuit Breaker IPA. Maybe the guy that replaced your brake pads goes for a Mechanic's Ale. The beers are approachable and unpretentious, and the space is a homey storefront. All are welcome, but if hardcore geeks don't feel like Tradesman is marketing to them, it's because they aren't.
Written and reported by Timmons Pettigrew
· Tradesman Brewing Company [Official]
· Tradesman Brewing Company [Facebook]
· Pattison's Academy [Official]
· 1639 Tatum St. [Google Maps]