There’s no need to brew up a clever lead here to tap your interest. The news itself is sudsy enough. Fife Street Brewing opens in downtown Charleston at 11 a.m. this Friday!
After several months of demolition and massive renovations, the past few weeks feverishly adding finishing touches and a series of soft openings over the weekend, Charleston’s newest restaurant and craft brewery is now ready to welcome the public to its new expansive space stretching along Brawley Walkway to Summers Street.
And after getting a sneak peek to tour the taproom and sample the beer myself, I predict Fife Street is going to take the local beer scene by storm.
Owners Derek and Lisa Godwin, along with principal investors Jody Driggs and Josh Dodd, have created quite a new place offering some really cool space.
The new place is large, stretching half the length of Brawley Walkway with a long, locally crafted wooden bar by Black Locust Woodshop and spacious gathering areas inside offering high-tops, regular tables, barstools and standing areas. There’s also a long, thin outdoor patio that runs the length of the brewery and wraps around onto Summers Street.
The space is open and minimalistic, with simple tables, chairs and stools sparsely arranged alongside giant floor-to-ceiling windows that let in plenty of natural light. (There are even a few Oktoberfest-style benches and tables made by the same company that supplies them to that mega-beerfest in Munich.)
The décor is industrial chic, with lots of exposed brick, ductwork, metal and woodwork – and the building’s original floor, which has just been polished and sealed. Local artist Kaleigh Philips has added a cool cityscape and other fun graphics on orange and gray walls, a few TVs entertain guests and plans call for a tabletop shuffleboard game soon.
That sweet new bar I mentioned faces Fife Street Brewing’s 12 taps and a couple of large windows offering a glimpse at the gleaming new state-of-the-art brewing equipment in the back.
Under the direction of head brewer Gil Peterson, that equipment has been busy cooking up the first four mainline brews that will anchor Fife Street’s rotating lineup.
Those four are the simply named Charleston Beer, a golden ale, along with Charlie West Coast IPA, Summers Street Wheat and Chuck’s P-51 Porter, named after Chuck Yeager’s famous plane.
(I have it on good authority that the samples Fife Street poured at the recent Foam on the Dome and an impromptu opening during last week’s Art Walk were very well received.)
Peterson – a Michigan native and graduate of the American Brewers Guild who was hired last year after a nationwide search resulted in 50+ candidates and 12 interviewed finalists – will soon add other signature beers and rotating small batches until all 12 taps are up and running.
And with a nod to the old Fife Street Shoe Shop that once graced this same space for nearly 100 years, those beers will be explained through labels and signs designed to resemble the information found on the side of a shoebox.
“We’re trying to pay as much homage to Charleston, Fife Street and Brawley Walkway in everything we do,” Derek Godwin said, during my tour, “from the décor to some really fun beer names. We may even run a few contests where customers can suggest or vote on what future beers will be called.”
C’mon, folks, I can see it now. Friends of Kolsch. Sternwheeler Stout, Watt Powell Wheat. I Plead the Fife. The possibilities are endless!
While Fife Street’s owners are quick to say they’ll focus on more “beer-friendly snacks” than full-course meals, an enticing two-page lineup of appetizers and fresh salads will join an “elevated grilled cheese” menu that I can’t wait to eat my way through.
We’re talking toasted cheeses stuffed with flavor bombs like kimchi buffalo chicken dip, sliced roast beef with caramelized onions and Italian cheeses, crunchy Mexican street corn with housemade chimichurri, soprasetta with pickles and Dijon, and more.
Watermelon-green apple, Mediterranean quinoa and a cucumber-carrot-sesame noodle bowl highlight the salad menu, plus there will also be kettle chips with housemade onion dip, classic and pineapple-sriracha hummus with naan bites, a chartcuterie plate and chocolate mousse for your sweet tooth.
Those culinary offerings, as it turns out, are by design. They intentionally did not outfit the kitchen with a big oven or deep fryer – the smoke, fumes and grease from which can sometimes compromise the beer-making process.
Instead, kitchen and bar manager John Query said they put in a new 60” flattop that became the inspiration for the grilled cheese concept.
Logistically, there won’t be a hostess to greet customers at the door. You’ll just walk in and seat yourself, then a server will come take your drink order. If you want food, you’ll order that yourself at the bar to be delivered to your table.
“The menu won’t be anything overly complicated. It’s just good casual food to enjoy with beer before heading out to dinner at a nearby restaurant. We don’t see ourselves taking away from those restaurants, but supporting them.”
“We love those places and would love to see more like them pop up to create our own little craft brewery district or trail downtown. We’re also hoping to team up with the city to piggyback on some events on Capitol Street or the new Slack Plaza across the street, like maybe a big screen showing the WVU-Pitt game. How cool would that be?”
As for what to expect this Friday from a “customer experience” perspective, Godwin hopes folks will be pleasantly surprised.
Above all, he hopes they’ll enjoy Fife Street’s open and relaxing vibe. The space resembles a large unfussy European beer hall, by design, to encourage group gatherings and conversation.
“There are kinks to be worked out when any new business opens, for sure, but we’ve hired and trained really well,” he said. “Gil knows his stuff in the brew room and John can’t be beat in the front-of-house and kitchen. We’re excited to get going.”
Even as crews were rushing around what was still a construction site just over a week ago, it appears no detail went unnoticed as the brewery’s footprint came together.
“We even studied how the sun moved all hours of the day to know when and where umbrellas would be needed on the patio.”
For Godwin, efforts like that have been a true labor of love for him and Lisa.
“She’s been saying for the past 10 years that she wanted to own a sports bar, but we just never had the time or found the right place. Then a little over two years ago, we started talking about a brewery and finally said, OK, let’s do this.”
They’ll officially be “doing this” Friday, when locals start piling in and spilling out of downtown Charleston’s newest watering hole. Count me among them.
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Steven Keith is a food writer and restaurant critic known as “The Food Guy” who writes a weekly column for the Charleston Gazette-Mail and has appeared in several state, regional and national culinary publications. Follow him online at www.wvfoodguy.com or on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. He can be reached at 304-380-6096 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.