Craft Conundrum opens craft beer paradise in W. Ashley

Published: Jul. 9, 2014 at 7:25 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 9, 2014 at 11:46 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Craft beer lovers throughout the Lowcountry have a new destination to not only fill up on all their favorites, but to also sit back and enjoy a pint while learning about the unfamiliar.

Craft Conundrum quietly opened up shop in the Quadrangle Shopping Center June 26 as part of a soft opening. After nearly two weeks of getting their feet wet and stocking up on hundreds of delicious brews from all around the world, the craft beer bar/retail store is gearing up for its grand opening celebration this Thursday.

Richard Easterby, owner and operator of the craft beer mecca, describes Craft Conundrum as a hybrid, a "Starbucks meets an Irish pub minus the coffee."

A bar, growler fill station, retail store, and education center all rolled into one storefront, Easterby is stepping out on a limb to create the perfect place for both craft beer newbies and snobs.

Pulling up a seat at the beautiful wooden bar hand-built by Richard himself, customers can dive into a beer list that features over 130 brews on tap. The 27 taps out front are reserved for South Carolina-brewed beers, while a giant walk in kegerator behind the bar houses taps for the additional kegs.

And if you want to stop in to grab some beer to take home and enjoy, you can get your growler filled with any one of the on tap selections, or browse through the roughly 500 bottled beers available for purchase.

Those who may be intimidated by craft beer can check out the "beer bible," which includes everything you would ever need to know about what is on tap, including each beer's alcohol by volume (ABV), international bittering unit (IBU), food parings, brewery information and much more.

The beer bible is part of the teaching tools the folks at Craft Conundrum use to help educate folks who are new to craft beer. Easterby, along with his wife Karen, also rely on their extensive knowledge of their beers to help new customers find something they will enjoy.

"We want people to get as much information as they possibly can from us. Walk away and feel like they've either learned something, or solidified what they already thought of the beer."

Easterby says the idea for Craft Conundrum dates back to when he was running the James Island Piggly Wiggly at the corner of Folly and Maybank.

"When I took it over, I turned it into the 'Beer Pig' if you will."

Falling in love with craft beer seven years ago, the self-proclaimed beer snob says he created a spot in the grocery store for a six keg growler refill station which could be rotated out to provide an ever changing list of craft beers. As the growler station became more popular, he began researching ways to add and connect more kegs to his custom built rig.

Easterby's James Island Piggly Wiggly eventually topped out at 160 kegs on tap to go along with a long list of bottled selections, which he then recreated when he moved over to the Northbridge Piggly Wiggly.

When news broke in September 2013 that Lowcountry Piggly Wiggly stores were being sold to Bi-Lo and Harris Teeter, Easterby was contacted by a friend who shared his love for craft beer. The two met the next day, and Craft Conundrum was born.

From that point, the Easterby family went to work transforming a dull space into a bright, comfortable, and inviting bar. They stripped the floors to the concrete and added a stunning stain, custom built their bar and beer/keg racks, and added plush couches and a couple tables for comfortable relaxing.

The entire build process was documented on the Craft Conundrum Facebook Page.

"We built this 100 percent. The floors, we did it. Everything wood in here, I built it. This was a labor of love for us. And that part was easy," said Easterby.

The hard part, according to Easterby, has been learning to run the bar and finding a proper balance between the keg-to-bottle ratio based on how customers use the new store.

But for the husband and wife team, their excitement for craft beer and drive to share it with others is guiding them behind the bar.

"We are very passionate about having other people's passion realized at our bar," said Easterby. "In a bar setting you've got one chance, one shot. If it's not the right beer that is in that glass and you're not at least close to keep their interest sparked, you've lost them. Then they could go the rest of their lives not experiencing craft beer again."

To find that perfect beer, Craft Conundrum will continue to expand its craft beer list. Easterby says he has his sights set on offering a total of 200 beers on tap, and 1,400 different bottles beers. A Charleston native, Easterby also says he will continue to showcase local craft breweries, and hopes to sell beer from every craft brewery in the state.

While Craft Conundrum is no doubt a unique venture – where else can you sit at the bar and taste beers before you fill your growler, and then grab a few random bottled beers for the house – it's intention remains simple.

"It's a craft beer lovers bar, built by craft beer lovers for craft beer lovers," says Richard.

Craft Conundrum will hold its Grand Opening Celebration Thursday, July 10 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. The festivities will include live music from Mark Yampolsky & 40 Mile Detour, food from Boogie's BBQ, and special craft brews tapped specifically for the event.

For more information on Craft Conundrum, click here.

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