In case you missed it, Columbia is a brewery town. Breweries of every size and personality await to please the suds seeker in us all and are proving to be the gathering grounds for people of all ages and types — sorority girls, hipsters, young professionals, community leaders, retired couples, young families, and everyone in between can all be seen congregating for a refreshing sip of what’s on tap and enjoying beautiful weather and sometimes live music. Friends, both human and canine, may zero in on one that suits their fancy, or perhaps happily hop from one to the next.
Brewery options in the Midlands are plentiful, so here is a sampling to whet your appetite for a foaming mug of ale or lager. Cheers!
Bierkeller Brewing Company
Pop-up Beer Garden: Saluda Riverwalk on Candi Lane, Columbia
Coming Late 2022: Permanent location at CanalSide Plaza
At the Saluda Riverwalk, bierliebhaber (beer lovers), children, and dogs gather on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, weather permitting. At the welcome tent, first buy bier tokens, $5 for two. Two tokens will get you a stein full of one beer, or you can request half pours for one token, allowing you to sample more bier. Rent a glass or ceramic stein for another refundable $5, or buy a Bavarian flag-checked Bierkeller stein to keep. Jolly bartenders in the bier truck educate visitors on brew choices, then pull a pint of deliciousness.
If you like, stroll by the river while enjoying your bier, bring a blanket to spread in the grass, or sit at one of many picnic tables, communal style. You just might meet new friends with whom you have everything in common. The hungry can visit the Wurst Wagen for a taste of authentic German cuisine.
“Bierkeller is modeled on the 300-year-old monastery breweries in Southern Germany,” owner Scott Burgess says. He also reveals a special piece of news: Bierkeller will soon have a permanent location. “We searched a long time for the right place. We wanted to locate where we could showcase the city and its natural beauty. Like here, it will be family and dog friendly, convenient, and accessible.” Scott describes the new location’s menu as the Gourmet Shop meets Lizards Thicket; that is, something for every palette. Prost!
Bier: Kellerbier, Braunbier, Leichtbier, Fastenbier, Bockbier, and Kräusenbier
Hunter-Gatherer Brewery & Alehouse
900 Main Street, Columbia
1402 Jim Hamilton Boulevard, Columbia
By far the oldest Columbia brewery, Hunter-Gatherer on Main Street was established in 1995. With location being everything, Hunter-Gatherer enjoys a prime spot near USC and the S.C. State House in a quaint old building with loads of character and unique details, including old brick walls, polished wood, a full bar that surrounds steel fermenters, and an African wild dog in an upper window. Owner/brewmaster Kevin Varner has brewed every batch since opening 27 years ago to ensure a consistent and quality brew. Kevin learned his craft at one of the nation’s oldest craft breweries, Hales Ales in Seattle. What Hunter-Gatherer does best is combine great beer with great food. Chef Lee Henshaw uses farm-to-table ingredients to build an impressive menu ranging from tasty appetizers to salads, sandwiches, and a variety of entrees, including vegetarian ones.
After many years of operating Hunter-Gatherer on Main Street, Kevin sought a new adventure. Following a visit to old breweries in England, the history buff discovered a spacious and unique setting for a new location in the abandoned 13,000-square-foot airplane hangar nestled at Owens Field Airport. He purchased German brewing equipment from a closed Japanese brewery and established his new space where he could expand his line and include the capability to bottle and distribute. Plenty of indoor and outdoor seating space allowed Kevin to make it through difficult pandemic years and give fun-starved Columbians a place to enjoy in socially distanced safety. Families and dogs are welcome. As with the Main Street location, he offers wine, a full bar, and an exceptional menu. The Hangar location hosts many events, including live music and holiday-themed gatherings.
Main Street Beer: Pale Ale, Hazy IPA, Raspberry Sour, ESB (Extra Special Bitter), and Lights Out Stout
Curtiss-Wright Hangar Beer: The Main Street location’s brews plus HG-Session, Cherry Sour, and Child of Zeus IPA, among others
Columbia Craft Brewing Company
520 Greene Street, Columbia
Within a stone’s throw of the Colonial Center is Columbia Craft Brewing Company. Given its location close to the campus of the University of South Carolina, it is especially popular with millennials, but it also appeals to beer aficionados of any age. What started as a homebrew hobby and a desire to establish Columbia as one of the country’s best craft beer cities blossomed into a wide variety of lagers, ales, sours, pilsners, and porter/stouts, many of which are now available in stores and restaurants along the South Carolina Coast, in the Midlands, and in the Upstate.
Columbia Craft boasts numerous awards. Most recently, the company was named among the South’s best breweries by Southern Living magazine. In addition to its basic brewpub menu, a rotation of food trucks visits many nights. Special events include live music, music bingo, rock band night, and percent-pint nights to benefit charities.
Beer: Numerous, including Columbia Craft Lager, Batch 500, Lava Lamp, Macroeconomics, and Barkbrew, a special edition — $2 from every Barkbrew four-pack sold is donated directly to Palmetto Animal Assisted Life Services.
River Rat Brewery
1231 Shop Road, Columbia
So named in honor of Columbia’s three rivers and the working-class men who worked on the canal long ago, River Rat is conveniently located just down from Williams-Brice Stadium. A cozy indoor bar with a super friendly waitstaff has table seating out of the elements where, on a quieter night, you can sip your beer and listen to the rain on the metal roof.
The door by the bar opens to the huge outdoor area where picnic tables line the fence along the road under growing shade trees. Many more tables are spread close to the pass-through window at the bar so you don’t have to leave your kids unattended while you fetch another round. On the ground level is the family space, as well as room for your dog to greet friends. Upstairs, the rooftop lounge and patio are for adults 18 years old and older of the two-legged variety. No matter which space you choose, you can enjoy food from River Rat’s menu of upscale pub food. Sunday brunch takes it up a notch, featuring favorites such as the BOH (Back of the House) breakfast burrito, avocado toast, and chicken and waffles.
Beer: A wide variety, including Honey Biscuit Ale, Cola Hard Mixed Berry Seltzer, Astronaut Sauce, Dogs on Surfboards, and Pomegranate Pink Guava Lemon Wheat
Savage Craft Aleworks
430 Center Street, West Columbia
Savage Craft is unique in that it is veteran owned. Its goal is to create a space to gather, to foster community, and to support first responders, law enforcement, and, of course, veterans. The space is well thought out, with a large fire table, plenty of picnic tables, and a fenced biergarten to corral little ones while allowing them the freedom to run and play. The biergarten is also dog friendly. Popular at Savage Craft is its trendy rooftop bar. Reserved for the 21+ set except during Sunday brunch, the rooftop bar features views over the river and of Columbia.
In addition to pub style shareables, such as the ubiquitous pretzel served with mustard and cheese dip, Savage Craft has a menu of upscale entrees and sandwiches. Those with a savage appetite can sink their teeth into wild boar shank, duck confit baguette, and blackened salmon. Sundays make Savage Craft extra special, with brunch offerings such as the Vertical Roots salad, which features South Carolina grown Vertical Roots lettuce; breakfast chimichanga; and lobster Benedict. In addition to beer, they also serve wine and cocktails. Savage Craft has a live music stage and offers several different special event venues.
Beer: Creatively named brews, including Purge Under Pilsner, Gargoyle Tubesocks, Carolina Creamin, and Jody Cares for My Blonde Stout
Steel Hands Brewing
2350 Foreman Street, Cayce
Co-owner Scott Lambert says that Steel Hands was inspired by the historically blue-collar, hard-working surrounding community. This inspiration is reflected in the brand’s logo, a fist clenching a piece of rebar. Scott’s partner, Daryl Frick, describes Steel Hands as a destination rather than a distribution center, restaurant, or bar. It is a place all ages can enjoy together.
Children can play, adults can sample beer, and everyone can enjoy food. Culinary offerings are pub food plus, with dishes like smashed burgers, mahi sandwiches, wings, duck fat fries, and chili nachos. A “Half-Pint” menu consists of corn dogs, chicken tenders, and grilled cheese sandwiches. Scott and Daryl’s dream of becoming a destination has come true, so much so that free shuttles are offered on weekends.
Beer: Tropical IPA, Foreman Golden Ale, Pecan Brown Ale, seasonal Blueberry Lemonade Ale, and special edition Steel Paws Wheat Ale, just to name a few. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of Steel Paws is donated to canine programs.
Hazelwood Brewing Company
711 East Main Street, Lexington
Tucked into the always-quaint Old Mill in Lexington is Hazelwood Brewing Company. The owners built their brewery themselves, converting an old boiler room and using materials from their family farm. It is the farm that makes this brewery truly unique because it produces estate hops and other ingredients from which Hazelwood Brewing creates its brews. Respect for nature and farming is Hazelwood’s pride and joy. With indoor and outdoor seating, families can visit Hazelwood while adults enjoy a pint, relax by the stream, play games, and listen to music.
Beer: This brewery offers a variety of brews with fun names such as Martian Milk IPA, Juiced Cadillac sour, Charismatic Megafauna IPA, and Saw Marks porter.
Swamp Cabbage Brewing Company
921 Brookwood Drive, Columbia
Nestled just behind the Williams-Brice Stadium is Swamp Cabbage Brewery. This fun, award-winning craft brewery offers tours, tastings, pints, and growlers. For the uninitiated, a growler is a sealable glass bottle that allows for filling straight from the tap and enjoying a favorite brew at home.
In 2018, Swamp Cabbage’s Dunkels Weissbier took first place in the Beer Army Beer Wars Dunkelweizen category. Its Amoretti Custom Beer took third place in the Ruby Red category the same year. Swamp Cabbage offers indoor and outdoor seating, complete with television screens to watch the big game. Speaking of games, they also offer trivia nights and many other special events, including live music, holiday-themed gatherings, oyster roasts, and crawfish and crab fests. Rotating food trucks visit, including the Belgian Waffle Truck and Moctezumas. Swamp Cabbage is available for private parties, too.
Beer: Chocolate Brown, Red-TRO IPA, Sabal Palm Blonde, White IPA, and Oxbow Amber
Peak Drift Brewing Company
Coming soon to 3452 North Main Street, Columbia
This new Columbia brewery features one of the nation’s few female master brewers, Ashley Kinart-Short, who learned her craft in Wisconsin. An avid hiker and outdoor enthusiast, Ashley is uniquely suited to match Peak Drift’s craft beers and ciders to the company’s desire to celebrate the area. Apparently, the celebration will be large. Jason Snyder, Peak Drift’s director of sales and operations, says, “It will have something for everyone. It won’t be just a brewery. It will include a restaurant and a full entertainment complex.” What does he mean by that, you ask? In addition to the brewery and all that goes into it, which is plenty, Peak Drift will have a 24/7 gym, a half court for basketball, a pickleball court, and a bowling alley. It anticipates offering concerts and will have plenty of special event space for rent.
As one might hope, Peak Drift is investing the same level of detail into their brewery operations. In addition to alcoholic beverages, they will produce nonalcoholic beers, sparkling flavored waters, CBD water, and nitro cold brew coffee. To accomplish all this, they decided to purchase all their own equipment so they would not have to import ingredients, such as pureed fruit. “We’re bringing in equipment from five different countries and multiple locations in the United States,” says Jason. “I’ve been in the industry for 23 years, and I’ve never seen someone want to do something like this.” Distribution will launch this fall and the facility at North Main will open in spring 2023.
Beer: Peak Drift beers can be sampled currently at Smoked, 1643 Main Street, Columbia.