The Upstate’s craft breweries are popular gathering spots for cold beer and good conversation. But almost without exception, every brewery building here once had a different life.
They were a bakery, a post office, a Salvation Army store, a cell phone contractor and more. They had all been discarded before being reclaimed to make and sell beer.
It’s the same story across South Carolina. Start-up breweries tend to renovate and rehab old buildings rather than build from scratch. Here in the Midlands, some of the breweries and brewpubs are reusing old buildings as well, among them Lexington’s Old Mill Brewpub, located in the renovated historic old mill on East Main Street.
Renovating rather than building offers a quicker turnaround and can be more affordable for breweries. They also can provide in-town locations where available property can be limited.
“The trend in South Carolina is to move into existing buildings and renovate them,” said Brook Bristow, executive director of the South Carolina Brewers Guild. “Many (start-up) brewers don’t necessarily have the means to fund the construction of a brand new building.
“However, many times, it is much easier to take an existing building and bring it up to what they need,” he said.
Prior to the 1980s and 1990s, older buildings in Greenville were likely to be torn down to make way for the new, said Brad Sauls with the State Historic Preservation Office in Columbia.
“Greenville has lost treasures like the old City Hall, Textile Hall, Ottaray Hotel, the old Furman University campus, and others over the years,” he said. “Other Main Street buildings that were less monumental, but no less important to defining the historic streetscape, were also demolished in favor of bigger, modern developments.”
But part of downtown Greenville’s “renaissance” is due to the the effort to rehab and restore those older buildings, he said. “Historic buildings help define a sense of place and provide the authenticity that draws locals and tourists to downtown.”
Renovating old buildings into breweries can provide a boost to a community.
“There are stories all across the country of breweries that have opened in the middle of desolate and destitute neighborhoods that have ended up completely revitalizing those areas,” Bristow said. “Breweries are incredibly community-focused. Revitalization isn’t happening by chance and that’s because breweries and brewpubs are becoming the new town halls of America.”
From bread to beer
The most recent Greenville brewery renovation is happening on Augusta Street where the 84-year-old Claussen Bakery building is finding new tenants and life. Among the the occupants will be Upstate Craft Beer Co, which is on track to open by fall, said co-owner Jack Ryan. The brewery will let home brewers come in and make beers on a professional system.
“The feeling now is nervous excitement,” Ryan said. “We are so deep into it. We’ve already had people contact us to make appointments for brewing.”
Ryan was drawn to the space by its location. “We are on the edge of the West End, which is a thriving area,” he said. “We are a block away from the (Fluor Field) ballpark, but we are far enough away to offer our customers parking.”
Building quirks are finding new use. Some open spaces once used for storage and ventilation “are just big enough to put bathrooms in there,” Ryan said. “This was something that was once a big part of Greenville. And we want to be part of Greenville’s economy.”
From post office to pale ale
In Travelers Rest, brewer Ben Pierson decided to build his Swamp Rabbit Brewery in a space that had been used as a post office and was also once a coffee roaster and a special-need workshop.
“Greenville (property) was so expensive” said Pierson, who had previously worked at Lexington Avenue Brewery and Green Man in Asheville. “We couldn’t get the building that we wanted down there.”
The 3,200-square foot Swamp Rabbit space is on Main Street, providing plenty of visibility. “The building was in pretty good shape,” Pierson said. “And the lease was right.”
The Quest for a brewery
Quest Brewing in Greenville settled into a building that dates to about 1985 and is tucked next to the Greenville Downtown Airport. “It’s been a couple of things,” said Quest co-owner and brewer Don Richardson. “It was used to store paint. It was used by a cell phone contractor. And, more recently, it was a landscaping place.”
Richardson and co-owner Andrew Watts transformed the old offices into a pub space up front. They also were attracted to an open space out back that is used for live music. “And we wanted a Greenville address,” which the property offered, Richardson said.
“It’s a great spot with I-385 and I-85” nearby, he said. Quest has a lease on the property “and our plan is to buy it in the next couple of years or even sooner.
Rocking in Spartanburg
RJ Rockers, one of the Upstate’s oldest breweries, moved twice before finding its current location on West Main Street in Spartanburg. The building “was most recently the Spartanburg location for the Salvation Army,” said Rockers owner Mark Johnsen. “They moved out in 2009, but people still come here on occasion to look for a sweater.”
In an earlier life, it was a Dodge dealership, Johnsen said. “The maintenance area is now home to the brew house and fermenters. And the paint shop is now where we condition, bottle and keg.”
Johnsen likes the downtown location as an anchor to the West End of Morgan Square in the old grain district. New electrical and plumbing systems were installed, but the building is “kept in its original state.” Johnsen is hoping that Rockers has found its final home. “If we move again, I’m going to sit in a lawn chair with a six-pack of beer and a bucket of chicken and watch,” he said.
At least six new breweries are slated to open in South Carolina this year – and that number will no doubt grow. The Midlands is home to several breweries and brewpubs, among them River Rat, Swamp Cabbage, Conquest, Hunter-Gatherer and Old Mill Brewpub. A sampling in the Upstate breweries:
Blue Ridge Brewing: The brewery restaurant opened in 1995 in downtown Greenville.
RJ Rockers: This Spartanburg brewery makes such popular brews as Son of a Peach.
Thomas Creek: The biggest Upstate brewery in terms of production, it's known for River Falls Irish Style Red Ale.
Quest: Don Richardson and Andrew Watts met in 2012 and began planning the brewery. Their beers are sold on draft and in cans.
Brewery 85: This latest arrival in Greenville makes such beers as GVL IPA and Leon's Lederhosen marzen.
Swamp Rabbit Brewery: Ben Pierson opened this brewery in Travelers Rest in 2014. He previously worked at Green Man and Lexington Avenue Brewery in Asheville and is doing some of the beers he made popular there at Swamp Rabbit.