Steady Pour

Written By: 
Hastings Hensel
Checking in with Myrtle Beach’s craft beer brewery, New South Brewing

Although mistakenly attributed to Benjamin Franklin, and thus printed on T-shirts and mugs and pennants the world over, there is a quote that perhaps aptly summarizes craft brewery culture better than any other. You may have heard it before: “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

For certainly one of the main attractions to the booming business of craft beer and of craft breweries (there are now more than 5000 regional craft breweries, microbreweries and brewpubs in the U.S.) is its spirit of mirth.

And, on a recent Thursday, a few hours before opening its doors to the public for draft pours and retail sales, New South Brewing fit the bill. Two dogs wandered about as The Grateful Dead blared on the speaker system overhead. Several bearded brewers milled about in the brew room, laughing as they fiddled with a forklift. The air smelled of hops. The funny (and punny) names of new beers (Java the Nut, Dirty Myrtle, Pressure Drop Porter) and the practical names of old beers (White Ale, Nut Brown Ale, Red Ale) adorned the “On Tap” board.

But at the bar, taking time out of his busy schedule, sat David Epstein, the founder and head brewer at New South Brewing since its inception in 1998. Originally from Charleston, Epstein did, in the mid-1990s, what beer-loving Southern boys do. He headed West. At the time, brewing wasn’t even legal in South Carolina—not until 1995 when the state legislature passed Bill 389, which regulated the distribution of kegs of beer. So Epstein learned his craft in the Rockies, a place many believe to be a mecca of craft brew.

“When I moved back,” Epstein recalls, “Palmetto [Brewing Company] was already established in Charleston. And back then it wasn’t like you could do more than one brewery in a town. It was just so new back then. Myrtle Beach didn’t have a brewery. So it was right place, right time, right situation.”

At the time, Epstein and his friend Josh Quigley were brewing beers for TBonz Gill & Grill in Charleston and Liberty Steakhouse, the first microbrewery in the state, here in Myrtle Beach at Broadway at the Beach.

Jerry Scheer, owner of both restaurants, remembers the early days of microbrewing in South Carolina: “We spent a little time in California and saw the wave occurring there. A lot of time we’re ten years behind the trends there. It was small batch where we thought the breweries were headed. You really had to change people’s minds back then. When we took Coors Light off the taps, we thought there might be a riot or something!”

After leaving Liberty and founding New South Brewing, Quigley eventually departed to focus more on the food and brewpub side of things with his terrific and brew-centric restaurant, Quigley’s, in Litchfield Beach. So Epstein took over.

Fast forward many beers and years later, and New South Brewing is still “pretty much the only game in town,” as Epstein puts it, when it comes to being a production and distribution brewery. This means that, in addition to their draft pours in the taproom, you can find their White Ales and Nut Brown Ales throughout grocery stores and other retail stores in the area.

However, this is not to say that they have about them a mean-spirited protectiveness or a desire to monopolize the market. Craft beer, after all, has a way of countering selfishness by an emphasis on community.

“We would welcome other breweries coming into town,” Epstein says. “Because we think it would elevate craft beer here at the beach as a whole.”

Jerry Scheer says that this has always been a natural mindset in the brewing world.

“That’s the good thing about breweries,” he says. “There’s a camaraderie. People really want to see each other do well.”

Indeed, Epstein constantly tries out new beers from other breweries (you can see many of his favorite cans in a window in the taproom) as a way of finding inspiration for new flavors. Once he has an idea, then he and his four-man team will brew a small batch for customers to taste in the taproom. If the beer is a hit, then it could end up becoming a part of the regular tap rotation or even retail distribution.

Almost a week after speaking with Epstein, I stopped by the taproom to try some of these new beers, as well as some of my old favorites. I entered not even 15 minutes after the doors open at 4:30 p.m., and the place was already packed. People were clinking glasses, filling up growlers, buying “beer gear” (T-shirts, hats, bumper stickers), tossing cornhole bags and playing foosball near the food truck—the wonderfully named Hoosier Daddy’s State Fair Fare.

My wife and I found a seat at a long table in the brew room, and we each ordered the first six of our allotted 48 ounces. (The 2013 “Pint Law” allowed South Carolina breweries to serve up to 48 ounces of beer to customers—a significant increase from the previous four-ounce samplers.)

We each started off with the Dirty Myrtle—a high-gravity Double IPA (8.9 percent ABV) that was easily the best beer of the evening. We followed these up with a pineapple-infused IPA called Under the Sea and the smoky, rum barrel-aged Pressure Drop Porter. (We didn’t have time for any of the classics, but that was OK—I simply ordered a White Ale and a Nut Brown Ale the next night at a local restaurant.)

To sit and have a beer beside the source is a wonderful thing, akin to eating bacon at the pig farm or fish at the docks. From our vantage point, we could see how the whole operation goes down. Stacked about us on pallets were the raw ingredients of barley, hops and yeast. Towering above us were the mash tuns, where they steep the barley (creating wort, “the tea of the barley”); the kettles, where the hops are added (to make hopped wort); the six cone-bottomed fermenters, where the magic of beer happens; and the small canning machine, which is responsible for canning all the New South beers you find in restaurants and retail stores.

A remarkable sight, really, in our very own Myrtle Beach. And with all the buzz these days about mega breweries buying up the little guys—as Anheuser Busch’s InBev did with Chicago’s Goose Island and Asheville’s Wicked Weed, or as Constellation Brands, Inc. did with San Diego’s Ballast Point (for a price of $1 billion!)—one might wonder about the future of New South.

It’s a notion Epstein shoots down quickly.

“We’re always the brewery that’s going to stay local,” he says. “We’re not the brewery trying to take over a region. We’re fine with just being a South Carolina brewery.”

He goes on: “Growth is great. But we can’t shoot ourselves in the foot by putting out not-so-fresh or not-so-well-built beers. It can’t just be growth for the sake of growth.”

So what does he want?

“We’d like to see more food trucks here in town so we can have more food trucks in the yard and offer more of a variety of a food.”

And he wants to continue sourcing more ingredients locally. Though he has always had a great and long-standing relationship with his hops supplier in Washington and his grain supplier in Wisconsin, Epstein uses local honey and locally roasted coffee beans, too. Recently, he sourced some hops from a farm in Loris that is growing 150 hops plants, which are notoriously difficult to grow in our humid region.

It’s part of the communal recipe for New South Brewing—a recognition of their humble origins and of their community-based future here in Myrtle Beach.

“We try to support local any chance we get,” Epstein says. “Because we’re the little local guys, too.”


Tours

New South’s Taproom is open from 4:30–7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and from 1–5 p.m. on Saturdays. One-hour tours of the brewery are $7, which includes 4 four-ounce samples and a commemorative glass. Tour guides go over everything—the raw ingredients, the brewing, the aging and the packaging. Head to www.newsouthbrewing.com for updates, as well as the link to sign up and pay for the tour.

New South Brewing
1109 Campbell St.
Myrtle Beach, SC 29577