It’s a whole big world of great breweries and fun bars out there, ready to be enjoyed. There’s only one obstacle: where do you even begin? At TapRm, we can vouch for the endless possibilities firsthand, as we get to work with so many breweries and beverage brands at the top of their game--from execution and quality to creativity and innovation--from all across the country. Recently, we were able to put together a mega-guide to summer road trips with incredible beer destinations in cities around the United States, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Conveniently, however, partnering with all these ace brands, delivering to doorsteps in so many cities, and working with our own star team all mean that we are rich in experts. Beer and beverage experts who are ready to tell us all the best spots to hang and what to drink there and why. These beverage geniuses make it oh so easy and oh so fun to navigate that aforementioned whole big world of great breweries and fun bars. So, we decided to share the wealth and start talking to some of these pros and VIPs and tastemakers here on the blog, so you can start making to-do lists, planning trips, and texting friends about where you’re visiting next. Welcome to the second edition of “Where Ya’ Headed?,” a series of Q&A’s in which a different enthusiast + connoisseur points us in the direction of where they go for all different drinks, moods, and occasions.
This week, we’re hearing from Kirsten Bhattacharyya, manager and sommelier at wine bar, wine shop, and all-around must-visit destination Graft in Charleston, South Carolina. Having lived in Lexington, Kentucky; Nashville, Tennessee; and now Charleston, all cities with rich food and drink identities, and working at influential, trendsetting, classics-honoring places like Graft, we know Kirsten is going to have a few--or, really, many--great tips and recommendations.
Can you introduce yourself to our readers, Kirsten?
I'm originally from Lexington, KY and have lived there, Nashville, TN, and moved to Charleston, SC four years ago! I love it--the food and beverage scene is really competitive and people care about their craft but the quality of life (aka the beach is 15 minutes away) is hard to resist!
I am a sommelier and manager at Graft Wine Shop and Wine bar on upper King Street in downtown Charleston. I love to read, refurbish furniture, paint walls, and have a fluffy cat named Arty <3.
What was your gateway craft beer?
Oooo good question--I'd say it was probably the "Cougar Bait" from my hometown brewery Country Boy Brewing in Lexington. It was the first tap room that I really went to that was authentic and local.
What is currently your favorite beer style?
My favorite style of beer is a pilsner. I love lighter beers but pilsners still have a really crisp bitterness to them that makes them super refreshing to me.
Okay, let’s get into where you’re headed! What's your destination when you want to really explore--try a beer you've never had before, dig further into a certain beer style, talk to a super knowledgeable bartender, track down a beer you've been hearing about?
I love visiting The Whale CHS and looking through their beer list and tap suggestions. I feel like they offer something really similar to wine service where there are knowledgeable people behind the bar and I can say silly things like, "I want it crisp but something I've never had but also a fruit element and some whimsy," and they take me at my word and find something special.
Where ya’ headed when you want to quietly sip a beer while you work, read, or ponder the meaning of life on a weekday afternoon or evening?
I just discovered a new brewery the other day, Bevi Bene, that was really excellent. The atmosphere was refreshingly unisex and inviting. Maybe that's a weird term to use but I find some taprooms to be overly masculine or cold-feeling at times. Bevi Bene is all light, comfy furniture, great places to get some work done, and inventive seating. Not to mention they have a lot of crispy beer options (pils/lagers) so I always have more options to explore.
Where ya’ headed when you're going out with a group of friends on a Friday night?
The move is to start with a tiny-tini at Babas on Cannon (or on Meeting, their second location). They close at 8PM so get some caviar and chips, or some pickled shrimp, and sip your tini until they close up shop. The next step is harder--there's so many amazing restaurants to hang with your buds at in Charleston but I'd say my top five are: Chubby Fish, Renzo, Estadio, Vern's, and The Ordinary, if I was FORCED to pick.
Where ya’ headed when you're catching up with a friend you haven't seen in a while on a Saturday afternoon or evening?
If I have some time to catch up, one of my favorite places to head out to is Chico Feo on Folly Beach. While some of Folly can get touristy, Chico Feo remains the quintessential locals’ beach bar. Amazing and affordable tacos and Vietnamese-inspired specials + big ol' Pacificos. Can't be beat before or after a beach walk + talk with a friend.
Where ya’ headed when you're meeting up with family or friends on a Sunday afternoon?
I will say I am obviously biased about this, but Graft is the MOVE on a Sunday. We do something called Good Neighbor Sunday where we host a local food truck and creative vendor in our parking lot from 3-6 PM. We've been doing this event for about 2+ years (even with a pandemmy break) and it is always so fun. There used to be NOWHERE open on Sundays and Mondays in town so this is a chance for a bunch of locals to all gather in one place and hopefully (if you come on the right day) score some Dough Boyz Pizza and some local goods. One stop shop for all your social needs really.
Where ya’ headed when a friend is visiting from out of town and you want to knock their socks off?
I love a high-brow / low-brow moment. It would be super fun to take a friend kayaking on Shem Creek or near Folly and maybe get a dolphin sighting (always good for knocking off socks), then maybe get some low-brow High Life buckets and peel-and-eat shrimp at Red's. After that we get ready for dinner and head to Chubby Fish--I've never had a bad meal there and I love an intimate dining experience. The owners James and YoYo are always super inviting and supportive of other local businesses, they're zoned in on the local seafood scene, and as a landlocked girl I've learned a lot about how to prepare seafood inventively from them. End the night with sunset (if you're still around to catch it) at Lowndes Grove and you've got yourself a really good day.
Where ya’ headed when you want to try the latest and greatest new beers from a favorite brewery?
I love getting a few hours to spend at Munkle Brewing. They do classic German-style beers so well but I feel like they always have a barrel-aged something or other fun twist up their sleeves to keep things interesting. If I'm not drinking their pilsner I'm treating myself to one of their saisons.
Where ya’ headed after a day of being active and/or outdoors?
Besides home?? Jk. Hmm this is a good question--I hate being cold after I've spent all day in the warm sun. So I still like some kind of indoor / outdoor element especially if it’s spring or fall-time in Charleston. A place you could go in any attire would be Home Team BBQ. They have this frozen coffee drink that is a really nice treat after a long day outside and their dry rubbed wings are very, very delicious. Dip them in the Alabama white sauce and you will thank me later.
Where ya’ headed for a nightcap, after maybe a show or special dinner?
I always end up at Last Saint! They're a cocktail bar and their selection is so great and the bartenders are cheeky--sometimes you need a little sass at the end of the night! They also have a back room with no menu if you really want to get into the craft of the cocktail.
Where ya’ headed when you're venturing out of town--where's your all-time favorite beercation spot and why?
I haven't traveled specifically for beer in awhile but the West always has so much to offer, at least in terms of beer density. I need to get back out to Denver and Colorado Springs (where my sis lives!!) and explore some new things out there. It's hard to resist being able to try some new beers and then explore a hike in the Garden of the Gods with one in tow!