The bottle shop came first. It was called The Charleston Beer Exchange, and Cofounder Scott Shor saw an opportunity to get new and exciting beers into the hands of eager customers following the expansion of South Carolina laws in 2007. Shor and Cofounder Rich Carley were early fans of craft, and the chance to bring their knowledge, expertise, and vision to reality served as the training ground for drinkers, writers, and eventually brewers who lived in the state’s oldest city. Today, the Exchange is housed in a sprawling two-story space and goes by the name Edmund’s Oast Exchange. It’s just one of a three-pronged business that continues to explore beer.
Edmund’s Oast, a restaurant and brewery followed, where they served not only their own small-batch beer made in-house but also a wide selection of specially curated beers that synced up with the seasonal kitchen and often served as a complement to the inventive and daring cocktail program.
It made sense to add Edmund’s Oast Brewing Co. to the mix, a large production facility that will get draft and packaged beer to accounts outside the existing company footprint, serving as ambassadors to consumers well outside the city limits, urging them to come for a proper visit. The three locations are a stone’s throw from each other.
While most brewing-industry folks are always keeping an open mind for expansion, the folks behind Edmund’s Oast didn’t expect things to accelerate as quickly as they did.
“We didn’t open the brewpub with a plan for a big brewery,” says Shor. “But a year into it, there was interest.”
The brewpub has a 5-barrel system with four 10-barrel fermentors along with a kegging line and a small oak-barrel program, says Cameron Read, the brewing director. It was a huge leap to the 30-barrel, 5-vessel Marks brewhouse with 240 barrels’ worth of cellar capacity inside the 20,000-square-foot brewery that sits less than a mile from the restaurant. “We don’t like a lot of filtration, and we don’t like to monkey around with the beer too much, so we added some extra bright tanks to naturally condition.”
The expansion has allowed them to have both a clean and sour program, although Timmons Pettigrew, the director of group operations, says nothing from the new sour program has been released yet. “We’ll see when we get there. We started putting beer in there when we started brewing in September 2017, so that’s the oldest stuff, and we’re going to start tasting soon and will do a lot of tasting before we’re satisfied for a release.”
Having three businesses that all deal in beer and are all relatively close to each other geographically but that all offer slightly different experiences has its challenges.
“When you do a lot of different stuff under similar names, it’s always interesting, but it does introduce people to cross concepts,” says Shor. It’s not uncommon for people to show up for a brewery event at the restaurant and look confused when they are told they need to walk to the other Edmund’s Oast down the street or when a rideshare drops someone off at the wrong location.
There are employee challenges, too. “We are grateful to hit every part of the industry and to have enthusiastic employees,” says Shor. At the annual company party, they are all able to come together and realize that they are all part of the same family, but all in all there’s not a lot of crossover work-wise.
About 100 employees work through all the branches of the company, and Read, who is also a partner in the business, says there is some separation because the staff “is skilled at unique things. It allows people to grow and flourish at a particular location because where they are has its own challenges, and when they know the process, they can overcome any situation.”
It’s, of course, a little different for the brewing staff where Read says he’ll occasionally poach folks from the restaurant to help with grain-out or other tasks on tough brew days.
“There’s always manpower when you need it, and having folks who are flexible helps everyone,” he says.
When you look at the draft list at the brewery, you see the requisite IPAs and pale ales. But knowing those styles aren’t for everyone, especially in a city and area that is still adjusting to beers beyond the domestic light lagers, Edmund’s Oast has made the regular offerings quite diverse.
There are beers that are made to go with meals, such as the amber ale or the saison. Then there’s Coin Operated, a mellower grisette, or the rosebud-infused ale, Any Other Name. For the adventurous, there are stouts, both barrel-aged and not, and on a recent late spring afternoon, there were two different Belgian-style strong ales and two milds. Fruit beers dosed with Concord grapes, pineapple, and more also populated the list.
Many of the beers that appear in the restaurant are one-offs, made on a 10-gallon system where the brewers can get weird with recipes, flavors, and ingredients. If something is a hit, it might have a chance on the larger system. If it’s a dud, the public will never know because it’s dumped long before it’s ever poured for a customer.
“We want people to appreciate flavor,” says Read. “We’ve done our job when people have an experience and have a ‘wow moment.’ When one of our beers tastes great, that’s an emotional response that is going to give our customers and guests a feeling they will want to repeat.”
Still, it’s important not to be boxed in and to have a full complement of flavors to accommodate any palate. It also extends to the visual arena with the bottles and cans that go into the market. Easily identifiable packaging with original artwork that echoes the theme of each beer helps forge a deeper connection.
“That helps our wholesaler partners tell a story to the consumers as well,” Read says.
Having done so much in a relatively short time and put an indelible mark on a region, Shor says there’s a lot to consider for the bigger picture and the long view. That all hinges on quality—from the staff to the food and drink served to the customer experience and the attitude and lessons passed down from management. It also means doing what they feel is right for the business and its history and future vision.
“Chasing novelty itself gets old,” says Read. “We want to stay relevant, and we want to change when it’s appropriate or put out something new when it’s right, but the thing we will put the most weight behind is quality.”
Following the latest fads can cause burnout among employees and “consumers, too,” says Read. “It’s not to say that we don’t pay attention to the larger landscape or that we don’t want to be part of the conversation. We don’t have our heads in the sand. But, when you’re just going from trend to trend, you don’t always think of quality.”
Shor says one of the greatest honors of his life is having a real place in the history of something, notably helping establish a beer scene.
“But that’s history now, and I think we’ve set things in motion to pave the way for the future we’ve always wanted. Ten years feels like a lifetime, and it took a lot of hard work and enthusiasm to get us to this place where we can talk about what beer can be. The torches have been carried, and what is happening in 2018 is phenomenal. It can be easy to get caught up in nostalgia, but new things always need to be put in motion.”
So rather than just be pioneers, the owners and employees of Edmund’s Oast aim to be leaders.
“The future is about the beer we make,” Read says.