Pair of Pawleys Islanders see New South Brewing come of age on 21st birthday
If New South Brewing were a person, it could legally order its first beer. But because the locally owned and operated outfit is the Grand Strand’s only full-service brewery, New South celebrated its Finally Legal Birthday Bash the same way it has for the previous 21 years – by making and pouring “The Beer From Here” for locals.
“Don’t let anybody tell you that brewing is an easy way to make a quick buck,” said New South owner David Epstein, who has been a part of the operation since brewing its first batch back in November 1998. “It’s been a long, hard 21 years, but we have built a loyal customer base and found our happy place in a tricky industry.”
What started as a tap dream for two Pawleys Island residents has grown into a thriving operation in downtown Myrtle Beach that has brewed more than 125,000 kegs (that’s over 15 million pints) and cornered the local microbrew market. New South is now available at more than 450 outlets, a significant increase from where they started – exactly zero.
“Myrtle Beach was an untapped market, so to speak,” quipped Quigley, who left New South in 2007 to open a restaurant in Pawleys Island. “It ended up being a much harder road than we thought. Myrtle Beach wasn’t Charleston and craft beer wasn’t the big thing it is now. Most locals thought a microbrew was like a Sam Adams.”
But these founding fathers brewed up a different kind of revolution in an old warehouse off Campbell Street, the same 10,000-square foot facility where the magic still happens today. But it was more about hard work than good fortune that allowed the duo to follow their passion and create a successful brand in an unlikely market.
Craft Brew U
Ironically, Epstein and Quigley were about the same age as New South on its latest birthday when they first got into the art and science of turning barley, hops, wheat, yeast and water into a beautiful brew. Some kids go off to college and discover a future profession, while others discover beer. They did both, parlaying a passion for the craft into a career path that eventually led them to the Grand Strand.
Epstein left his native Charleston for college in the mountains of western North Carolina, where Asheville was establishing itself as a hub of the East Coast craft-beer scene. But he knew the big leagues were out West and went to work at a brewery in Boulder, Colorado for three years to learn the art of brewing from the hops up.
“A buddy got me a job stacking cases all day, and I eventually worked my way up from packaging to the brew house,” Epstein recalled. “I loved my time in Colorado but I got married and we wanted to settle down and be closer to family. I always knew that I was going there to learn the trade and bring it back to South Carolina.”
Meanwhile, Quigley was getting a real-world beer education in Charleston, where he opened a home-brew shop and landed an internship with Palmetto Brewing (“I worked for beer,” he joked.), the state’s first independent label. He also got involved with Liberty Steakhouse & Brewery, which opened its Broadway at the Beach location in 1996.
“I was `the beer guy’ in Charleston at the time, and I didn’t know much,” Quigley laughed. “I literally got thrown into the deep end so I had to sink or swim. I was 24 years old and I just had to figure it out myself. There wasn’t a ton of information out there on the internet like there is now. It was a steep learning curve.”
Brewing up Business
With both beerophiles living in Pawleys Island, the opportunity to launch a new brewery in Myrtle Beach finally came in 1998. The duo had the expertise, knowledge, work ethic and all the necessary ingredients but one – “Money,” Epstein joked.
After finding investors willing to take a shot, they signed a lease on the warehouse, cleared all the red-tape permits, purchased equipment and supplies, and got to work. “We were just two guys making beer,” Quigley recalled.
And making visits to all the area restaurants and bars in an effort to land a valuable tap spot in the then-limited draft spaces behind bars. They volunteered to clean the tap lines for free to get a foot in the door, then passed out samples.
“We were going door to door with growlers of our beer saying, ‘Hey, we’re making beer here in your back yard. You should try it,'” Epstein said. “At first people were like, ‘What are you selling? Some kind of home brew?’ We had to convince people that it’s a professionally made product.”
They also spread the word through “guerilla marketing,” showing up at any festival or fundraiser to put the New South name in front of the public and their beer in the bellies of potential customers. From the start of the South by Southeast Music Fest, which used to jam in the brewery, to the finish line of the Myrtle Beach Marathon, where thirsty runners receive a frothy reward, New South has poured its heart out to local civic groups and fundraisers.
“Community responsibility has always been very important to us,” Epstein said. “We support charitable groups like the (S.C.) Firemen’s Association, the Surfriders Foundation. … It helps people put a face to who we are. When they go out to dinner and see a New South tap handle, they’re more likely to give us a try.”
The daily grind of making and marketing a brand new beer took a toll on Quigley, who made the round-trip drive between Pawleys Island and Myrtle Beach until 2007. That’s when he sold out to his partner and started a new restaurant with a similar beer theme – Quigley’s Pint & Plate.
“Those early years after we opened, I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world, but I also wouldn’t wish it on anyone,” he said. “I was making that commute six days a week with a wife and four kids down in Pawleys, so it was a struggle. But I’m proud of what we were able to accomplish. I’ve always kept New South on tap at Quigley’s.”
That’s about the time that changes in state law governing the making and distribution of beer were afoot, and New South was on the forefront. Epstein served on the board of the S.C Brewers Guild and met with lawmakers about updating archaic regulations to tap the potential of the microbrew craze. Today there are more than 80 breweries in the state.
The changes paved the way for New South to begin canning its product and using local distributor Better Brands to move its beer to bars and stores throughout eastern South Carolina. New South also was allowed to start offering tours and open an on-site tasting room, taking guests step by step through the brewing process and sending them home with a souvenir six-pack or growler.
New South has expanded its operations to a 20-barrel brewhouse that pumps out 3,000 barrels (or 6,000 kegs) annually. It also has transitioned from strictly a production plant to today’s tour stop, retail store, tap room, beer garden, food truck and happy hour hot spot. Patrons can visit 4:30 – 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 1-5 p.m. Saturdays, and 12:30-4 p.m. Sundays check out the facility and taste more than a dozen different brews fresh from the tap, like its popular White Ale, IPA and Dirty Myrtle brands.
“It’s a production facility, but it’s also a cool place to hang out,” Epstein said. “It’s always going to have an industrial feel. It’s a big metal building behind a lumber yard, so it is what it is, but we’re trying to make it more comfortable for folks to come in and have a beer. We want them to say, ‘I met the guy who made this beer.'”
The personal touch that has fueled the craft-beer movement has been a hallmark of the New South brand and helped it rise to a place of singular dominance in the Grand Strand microbrew market. From two guys making beer in an old warehouse to seven full-time employees serving hundreds of loyal locals and clients, many of whom turned out for the 21st birthday party, New South has truly come of age.
“We want to keep growing in the future but we’re not trying to take over the world,” Epstein said. “We’ve decided to concentrate more on hyper-local and it’s paid off. We’re able to sell more beer locally by focusing on those relationships. That’s what got us here.”
And how “The Beer From Here” got here.