By Bobby Bush
Northeast across Town River from the Charleston, South Carolina peninsula on that higher-than-hell and narrow bridge lies the suburban sprawl of Mt. Pleasant. Hidden among the multitude of shopping centers on Johnnie Dodds Boulevard is a friendly little brewpub known as T-Bonz Gill and Grill. Home to T-Bonz Homegrown Ales, this cozy restaurant features a multi-television bar, where I settled for an ACC basketball matchup, and a tempting menu of fine foods.
Glued to the tube and my T-Bonz sampler tray, I set right to work, jotting notes during time-outs and foul shots. Market Street Wheat, served with lemon wedge, was almost medium bodied. Its fruity malt taste was contrasted, and appropriately so, by low hop quotient. Thin and clear gold, Low Country Light Lager was crisp with slightly estery alcohol notes, while Raspberry Wheat Ale was more berry in nose than flavor, finishing with a dry/sweet sensation. Copper-orange in hue, Nut Brown was properly malty for the UK style. It ended clean with faint sweet aftertaste. As smooth as the Brown, Pale Ale proffered hoppy aroma and bitterness from mid-taste onward. It actually could use a little more bitterness. On the thin side of medium bodied, Copper River Red was caramel malty in taste pushed by a tangy hop bite, while WinterFest worked the light Scottish Ale bent with long-lasting malt flavor. Like a cup of black coffee, T-Bonz Stout was rich, full bodied and intense.
Half-time and a chance to look around. I was seated at a large, copper-topped horseshoe-shaped bar. Weather was nice, so patio tables were in demand. A plaque on the wall honored a group of regular patrons known as the R.O.M.E.O.S., retired old men eating out. The dining selections included fresh local seafood, choice aged beef, burgers, lowcountry items and steaks. The waitstaff was attentive and understanding. T-Bonz is the only brewpub in the restaurant chain. There are two other locations in the Charleston area, as well as Myrtle Beach and Augusta. Beer for these non-brewing restaurants is brewed at New South Brewing in Myrtle Beach, a microbrewery co-owned by T-Bonz's owners and brewer David Epstein.
David Kasak, the T-Bonz brewer, was nowhere around on this Saturday afternoon, but I enjoyed his beer anyway.
Later in this trip, I stopped briefly at Hops Restaurant & Brewery in North Charleston. One of 70-some chain brewpubs scattered across 16 states, this Hops was identical to them all in decor and beer. Brewer Jody Wood had five corporate-recipe beers on tap, including the newest, Flying Squirrel Not Brown Ale. Eschewing the standard Lightning Bold Gold, Alligator Ale, Hammerhead Red and Clearwater Light, I stuck to the untried and new. The Nut Brown Ale was lightly carbonated, caramel in maltiness with a tangy, thinnish finish. The beer was drinkable but not exciting, just as the Florida-based corporate headquarters intended. Surprisingly, Hops has started mug clubs at their brewpubs.
South Carolina law prohibits alcohol sales on Sundays except in tourist areas. Even though Charleston is an exempt tourist town, Mandalay Tropical Restaurant & Brewery chose to remain closed on the Sabbath. So this bad boy went without trying Jeremy Erb's brew.
Instead we sought out Charleston's one-year-old Mellow Mushroom franchise and found it without guidance at 309 King Street. This glorified pizza tavern sported a dozen beers on draft, including Palmetto Pale Ale and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and over 100 bottled beers from around the world. For South Carolina, this was a pretty adventurous beer list. And the pizzas are even better.
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush