The House That Beer Built
Scott Shor nails the beer-guy look: smooth shave on top, less so on the bushy beard, swank denim neatly cuffed, jolly twinkle in the eye. You’d definitely trust him to pour you a pint. And trust is a good thing at Edmund’s Oast where Shor has shored up a tap line that runs 48- deep, which can be a tad overwhelming for folks like me— the daring but indecisive. IPA or Imperial Stout? Wheat or Belgian? Saison or Sour, or maybe, heck why not, a shrub-spiked punch?
For beer lovers and brew adventurers and pilgrims on the culinary- slash-cocktail path, Edmund’s Oast has become a Charleston mecca of all things tasty and intoxicating. You might come for the beer after hearing through the hops-vine that it’s the land of milk and honey for all things malt and yeast. Or maybe you come just to ooh and awe over the vast and gorgeous blond wood bar’s horizon of possibilities, but then you’re equally seduced by the food options. Which is exactly what Shor had up his graphic T-shirt sleeve when he opened the Oast in 2014.
There is no shortage of great bars in Charleston. Or good breweries. And certainly, no lack of incredible restaurants, Shor observed back when he was kicking around the idea of bringing something new to the market.
“There’s no shortage of experts in Charleston doing a particular thing extremely well, but there was no one doing it all under the same roof,” says Shor. “Why, you might ask? Because it’s crazy. It’s very, very, very hard to do it all well,” he admits. “Nonetheless, with blind naiveté and a never-ending drive for excellence, we decided to put it all on the line and go for it.”
The “we” Shor refers to includes his friend and long-time business partner Rich Carley, with whom Shor opened the Charleston Beer Exchange (CBX) in 2008, a tiny closet of a place off East Bay Street that was stocked to the brim with the best craft beer selection in South Carolina, and possibly the Southeast.
“We opened it thinking it’d be a hobby, something we’d dabble with while keeping our day jobs,” says Shor, whose day job at the time was managing the beer and wine selection at Ted’s Butcherblock, where he began working shortly after moving to Charleston from Boston in 2004. But the day he and Carley opened the CBX, “it was jammin,” with a line out the door and customers that just kept coming. Hobby soon morphed into full-time job, and Shor into a full-fledged beer guy, beard and all.
“It was all about being in the right place at the right time,” says Shor, who was instrumental (along with Jaime Tenney of Coast Brewing) in getting South Carolina’s Pop the Cap legislation changed in 2007, allowing sales of high-gravity (more than 6.25% ABL) beer. “I wish I could claim I had some magical touch, but the fact is the beer-scape was very different then, there was Palmetto Brewery and Coast, but that’s about it. Charleston was eager for great craft beer.”
More than a few might take issue with Shor’s “magical touch” disclaimer. The CBX was a resounding sudsy success, and Shor’s golden-ale touch eventually led to an upstate extension, the Greenville Beer Exchange, and the founding of Brewvival, an annual craft beer festival featuring suds from around the globe. And indeed, ultimately led to the critically acclaimed Edmund’s Oast, and now to Edmund’s Oast Exchange adjacent to the brewpub restaurant on Morrison Drive, and the soon-to-be Edmund’s Oast Brewing Co., a 20,000-square-foot brewery with a 100-plus seat tasting room/ restaurant on King Street extension, next to Workshop.
The key to Edmund’s success, claims Shor, has been attracting the right team, the best of the best in their various domains, and giving them a wide, creative berth: beer, including wildly imaginative house brews, by Cameron Read, head brewer and director of beverage operations; wine curated by Sara O’Kelly, sommelier and former cofounder of The Glass Onion; cocktails by mixologist Jayce McConnell (whose innovative spin earned a clever “10 Ingredients in Edmund’s Oast Cocktails You Pretend to Recognize, But Really Don’t” Eater headline); charcuterie, which garners particular acclaim from Bon Appetit, among others, and the overall culinary program under the guidance of Geoff Marquardt, head of food operations, and Chef Bob Cook, formerly of Artisan Meat Share. Carley, Shor’s original partner, has since “retired” from the food and beverage world.
“Our approach has always been to keep everything on equal footing,” Shor explains. “This is definitely a house that beer built, but also a house where beer, cocktails and wine and food all live together very, very peacefully. We hold everything up to the same high standards.” Those standards include creating a fresh menu daily that reflects what’s seasonal and available from local growers and purveyors. “We’re not Husk, but we do try to source the vast majority of our ingredients locally. That’s just part of the natural flow of wanting to work with and support the purveyors we meet, real people, real relationships,” he says.
That goes for brewing ingredients as well: the Edmund’s Oast Lord Proprietor Mild Ale is brewed with tea grown on the Charleston Tea Plantation; locally foraged plants and fruits often show up in the cocktail and beer ingredient list. “Wine is about the only thing that doesn’t reflect local flavor,” Shor adds.
When the new Edmund’s Oast Exchange opens, things will have come “full circle,” Shor notes. Once again, he’ll be back in the retail world of beer and wine, offering Edmund’s Oast brews as well as other local craft beers and a vast, curated selection of edgy, interesting beers, the kind that first got Shor hooked on the mysteries and marvels of beer brewing in the first place.
“I love the craft of it, all the unknowns and variables that go into making great beer,” he says. “There’s so much tradition in the process, and also so much risk—there’s a lot that can go wrong. But give a talented brewer high-quality ingredients and he or she can create a vast array of aromas, flavors, appearances and textures. It’s endlessly interesting.” And for Charleston drinkers and diners, Edmund’s Oast is proving to be endlessly interesting and enticing as well.