At first glance, David Merritt, all bearded and booted, looks like he could be the lead singer of an indie rock band. But the scruffy persona belongs to a rock star of the tap, not the stage. Five years ago, Merritt and wife Jaime Tenny’s COAST microbrewery emerged on the scene with a mission of sustainability and effecting legislative change. (Jaime founded the Pop the Cap advocacy group to allow high-gravity beers of up to 14 percent alcohol content to be made in South Carolina in 2007.) COAST made a huge impact with its first release: Kölsch 32/50 (32˚ for Charleston’s latitude, and 50˚ for that of Germany). This honey-tinged wheat brew heralded the first all organic beer to be commercially brewed in the state and has been going strong ever since. As for David and Jaime, their self-funded operation has become the model of beer idealists as well as living proof of the sweat equity involved in producing craft brew.
A Charleston native, David began home brewing in 1996 and was immediately hooked, announcing to the then-pregnant Jaime that he was going to attend an intensive five-month brewing course at American Brewers Guild in Davis, California. “I never questioned it,” says Jaime. “It only could have been done by someone who really, really wanted it.”
With program certificate in hand, David returned and started as an assistant brewer at Southend Brewery, later moving to Palmetto Brewing Company, where he spent more than a decade honing his craft. At the time, Palmetto was producing four standard styles—a great learning experience, but not enough variety to satisfy the ever-curious apprentice. So in 2007, the couple decided to go out on their own, renting a building in the Old Naval Base and filling it with second-hand equipment from a defunct Georgia pub. By day, David worked at Palmetto and at night, often into the wee hours, the couple hustled to launch COAST. Two years later, David finally left Palmetto with owner Ed Falkenstein’s blessing. By December of that year, COAST was struggling to keep up with the influx of orders.
Today, David strives for perfection in every batch, but his wife is quick to remind him and all brewski appreciators that it’s called “craft” beer for a reason. “Don’t expect each beer to be exactly the same every time. That’s what Budweiser does. A slight variation in each of our batches means it’s real, it’s changing,” says Jaime. As for David, he realizes, “You have to accept that you’re not going to make perfect beer every day. The laws of nature are just against you.” Luckily, the laws of demand are in their favor.
"We just want to make good beer for as many people as possible.” A beer by the people, for the people.
Luckily the laws of demand have been in their favor. In addition to Coast’s go-to standard styles, they’re pushing the envelope with one-off varieties which range from exotic suds like their Dave Brown dry-hopped with home-smoked jalapeño and habanero peppers to precision batches using only one style of hop (all Simcoe, all Cascade, all Chinook). Tenny says the couple typically decides on their next batch just the night before brewing. “It’s important to not stick to the same recipe every time,” says Merritt. “It’s like painting the same picture a hundred times over. That’s what printers are for. We don’t want to pigeonhole ourselves to one beer. You should do what you do well, that’s number one, but you should be able to venture off,” he adds.
Coast is very straightforward in its mission. “Some brewers have to get the number one best-rated beer to be happy. We just want to make good beer for as many people as possible.” A beer by the people, for the people.
(Clockwise from top left) Kölsch 32/50, Rye Knot Brown, HopArt IPA, Blackbeard Imperial Stout, and Boy King Double IPA; roasted barley; a glass of Kölsch 32/50; COAST’s headquarters
Suds to Sample
Walk, run, or surf to your favorite pub to try these beers
HopArt: a 7.7% ABV unfiltered IPA that walks a fine line of sweet malt and assertive hop character. Try it with pungent cheese or spicy foods, such as Thai or Mexican.
Blackbeard Imperial Stout: a 9.3% ABV Imperial Stout as dark as the legend of the pirate himself. Malty, smoky, toasty, it goes well with desserts and chocolate as well as chili.
Kölsch 32/50: a 4.8% ABV ale that is soft on the palate with a delicate malt flavor balanced with a touch of wheat and honey notes. Dry and wine-like with a flowery hop finish, it’s a great beer for cookouts and also pairs well with breakfast foods such as quiche and omelets.
Tours & Tastings
1250 2nd St., North Charleston
(843) 343-4727, www.coastbrewing.com
Thursday, 4-7 p.m. & Saturday,
11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Tour and four samples, $4; 22 oz. bottles and growlers, prices vary