Walk into Edmund’s Oast, a contemporary brew pub in Charleston, South Carolina, and your eye is drawn immediately to the centerpiece of the dining room: a long wall of consecutive taps, with columns of black-and-white labels that reach up to the ceiling. The presentation makes a dramatic statement that echoes the vision of the restaurant: bringing craft beer into the dining experience.
Edmund’s Oast was started by Scott Shor, who owns the Charleston Beer Exchange and the Greenville Beer Exchange, two acclaimed beer stores in South Carolina, with his business partner, Rich Carley. Cameron Read launched and ran the Greenville store before joining the opening team of Edmund’s Oast as Beverage Manager and Brewer. That means he oversees every aspect of the beer program at the restaurant, from the actual brewing to curating the tap list and, ultimately, guiding the guest experience.
We talked to Cameron about his approach to designing a successful in-house beer program to learn how each aspect of the operation works — and thrives.
The brewery at Edmund’s Oast is relatively small, with four 10-barrel fermenters and one five-barrel brewhouse, where Cameron produces unfermented beer. Because each batch is an experiment, stemming from personal interest and passion, he doesn’t brew your typical blond, red and brown ales.
“It would be a waste of resources if we just brewed your classic pub fare,” he says. “Those are fine styles, but we can represent those styles on our guest tap — and I can focus on barrel aging or wild fermentation or sours.”
What he gravitates towards are interesting beers, including a peanut butter & jelly beer that’s “way too popular for its own good.” (Guests get mad when it’s not on the menu.) IPAs and other hoppy styles are also customer favorites.
In general, the sales mix between house beers and guest beers is around 50/50 — but there are nine house-brewed beers versus 30 guest taps. Cameron says he sells more per item of the house beers, but overall sales are split.
And house beers are more profitable, too, he says. Although the overhead costs are expensive — buying equipment for the brewery — the product is much cheaper to make. Cutting out the middle man by moving the beer straight from production to the consumer also widens the margins. Even with a lower price tag on the house beers, they bring in bigger profits.
In South Carolina it’s illegal for the brew pub to sell to a wholesaler, so over the next year the team is building out a full production facility that will allow them to package and distribute their beer to other bars and retailers. In the meantime, Cameron is beginning to offer growlers to go at the restaurant.
The Tap List
Cameron takes a broad approach to the 30 guest taps featured on the list; he looks for variety and quality. “I want as many different representations of the wide range of beers that exist in the world as possible.”
After buying beer for the Greenville Beer Exchange, he knows the brands and distributors well and deals with many of the same portfolios that he did before. He pays attention to what sells and tries to buy products that he finds interesting. Chances are, other beer geeks will find it interesting, too. And while he supports local producers when possible, the list is also regional, national and even international, featuring the best beers from all over the world.
He changes the guest beers constantly and rarely runs the same beer twice. And compared to the store, he says, managing inventory at the restaurant is a breeze. While he used to have 1,200 items in stock at the Greenville Beer Exchange, now he only has about 40 beers to worry about.
Sometimes Cameron is asked if it feels strange to buy beers, as if he’s competing with his own house brews. But he doesn’t see it that way at all.
“If anything, it keeps us humble,” he says. “We’re not just drinking our beers all day; we have these stellar beers from these world-class breweries — it keeps me wanting to make better beer.”
The kitchen at Edmund’s Oast creates vegetable-focused dishes featuring traditional Southern ingredients. With an in-house charcuterie program and elevated bar snacks, the menu gives a nod to traditional pub fare while the plates expertly unite fresh ingredients, simple compositions and familiar comfort foods.
Asked how the kitchen and brewery work together, Cameron says, tongue in cheek, “They don’t.”
He is emphatic that no single element of the restaurant — the beer program, kitchen, cocktails, wine or charcuterie — leads the way for the others. While there’s plenty of communication and creative collaboration among the team, the departments work autonomously. Cameron will use the kitchen as a resource when making a peach-blueberry beer, and they’ll do the same when making beer sausages, but he doesn’t brew beers specifically for the food.
Cameron’s personal preference is for dry, lean, digestible beers, which happen to pair well with food. Bigger, heavier beers such as stouts and IPAs aren’t as food-friendly, but that’s why he aims for variety across the program. There’s something for everyone: the beer geeks, the foodies, and the people seeking a holistic beer-food experience.
With any extensive beverage program, you run the risk of losing guests who find it inaccessible. That concern is top of mind for Cameron and the rest of the Edmund’s Oast team, who take a multi-faceted approach to guiding guests through the beer and dining experience.
The first step is server and bartender training. Before a new hire goes out on the floor alone, they spend time in one-on-one training and tasting with Cameron. Every day at lineup the team reviews new beers that have been added to the list, tastes them and talks about them as a group.
“It’s always been my goal to make sure that the servers are tasting beer as much as they possibly can, because the only way they can really understand is to taste.”
In addition to the daily conversations, every few months the team gets together to learn about a particular style of beer or talk through a specific issue they’ve been having with the program.
There’s also the challenge of presenting the beers in a streamlined way, and that’s where the expansive wall of taps comes in. Not only is it eye-catching, it’s functional — instead of handwritten labels on a chalkboard, the display is bold and easy to read. Even the beer menu includes a short description of each offering, with keywords that speak to color, bitterness, sourness and other tasting notes.
It’s a far cry from Cameron’s days at the Greenville Beer Exchange, where he could sit with guests for 45 minutes, talking about dozens of different beers and making recommendations. At the restaurant he’s no longer on the floor — he’s in the back, making beer and following his passion.
“You can only do so much with retail in terms of giving customers a magical experience,” he says. “The next evolution of that concept was the restaurant.”