On a visit to Coast Brewery in North Charleston, South Carolina you will find husband and wife team Dave Merritt and Jaime Tenny busy at work. They might be brewing, bottling, meeting with their distributor or doing endless amounts of cleaning. They take their business of crafting premium beer seriously. That said they also do business on their terms. The Grateful Dead might be playing softly in the background, and they might stop to throw the ball to their friendly mutt “Teach” (named for the pirate Edward Teach aka Blackbeard.)
Dave and Jaime have been operating their own brewery since September 2007, and Lowcountry beer enthusiasts recognize them as the local leaders in their field. Of course, like so many good stories theirs came about seemingly by happenstance. Dave might say it all started in 1994 during their senior year at Wando High School when Jaime moved to Charleston from New Jersey.
“And I didn’t like him!” says Jaime, finishing Dave’s story for him.
She might say it started when they began dating during her sophomore year at College of Charleston. Regardless, by 1997 they had their first son, Kai, and Dave had made his fateful trip to a home brewing shop.
Jaime says he began home brewing simply because he wanted better tasting beer, but that casual interest quickly evolved. In 1998 Dave headed out to the American Brewers Guild in Davis, California. He completed the 5 months of coursework, but he had to forego the internship.
“By this point, we only had like $5,” says Jaime with a good natured laugh.
So, Dave returned to his family in Charleston and began working at Southend Brewery. There he worked with head brewer Frank Hughes, who soon became his mentor. During his 18 months at Southend, Dave learned and experimented — crafting beers far ahead of that time. But when the leading local brewery — Palmetto — sought Dave out to be their head brewer in 1999 he could not say no.
At Palmetto there was no experimentation, but the job brought a degree of stability to the young family. And in 2001 Jaime had their second son, Aiden. Dave remained at Palmetto for over 9 years and even kept his position during the first two years of opening Coast.
As Dave honed his craft Jaime was “busy raising kids”, but she did find the time to develop her own palate. She clearly remembers her beer epiphany — drinking an Avery Maharaja around 2000. She calls it her “gateway beer” and can still recount her flood of emotions.
“Holy cow! Oh my god! What are hops? I really like them.”
Her genuine love for good beer inspired her to challenge South Carolina’s law that prohibited the brewing or selling of a beer with an alcohol content over six percent. In 2005 Jaime founded Pop the Cap — a group made up of South Carolina brewers — who began lobbying the state government to change the law. When they achieved their goal in 2007 it really paved the road to the opening of Coast.
Jaime and Dave both laugh now thinking back to the antiquated law. Only three out of the 29 beers they have brewed thus far would have been legal according to that law. Another victory came in June 2010 when the government deemed it legal for breweries to conduct tastings and sell a limited amount of beer on their premises. So, on Thursdays, from 4 to 7 p.m., and on Saturdays, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Jaime and Dave sample folks on their latest creations and their staples like HopArt IPA and 32/50 Kolsch.
After overcoming so many hurdles it’s understandable that Jaime and Dave seem so carefree these days. Their happiness radiates off of them with the ease that comes when you find your way. Sure, the brew days still stretch out over 14 hours, and they only have a bit of part time help. But they are operating by their rules. They use organic ingredients, run the brewery on biodiesel, and send their spent grain to a local farm. They sell 99 percent of their beer in Charleston and don’t see that changing anytime soon.
Investors have approached them about expanding their operations, but they like the size of their business. Dave brews every batch, and they bottle the beer together. They banter back and forth all day.
“It’s definitely what he’s meant to do,” says Jaime.
“It’s not that difficult,” says Dave.
“When your gifted,” she replies.
This is Dave and Jaime in the photo at the top of the page.
Pop the Cap has now been renamed the South Carolina Brewer’s Association.
At the Glass Onion we always offer delicious HopArt on tap.
And in one week, on Tuesday, October 12, we will be co-hosting a Fall Tasting Dinner with Coast and the Sustainable Seafood Initiative. Details are below…
Sustainable Seafood Dinner with
Tuesday, October 12
Local Stone Crab or Oyster Salad
Fried Grouper Pilau
New Orleans Style Barbecue Shrimp
Sweet Potato Tart
*$55 for 4 courses & beer pairing
*Talks by brewmaster & fishermen
*7 p.m. — one seating!
*Reservations necessary — 225-1717