Media: The State Weekend
Date: October 27, 1995

As if college students needed another reason to drink beer, the Hunter-Gatherer Brewery & Ale House opened conspicuously close to the University of South Carolina campus earlier this month. As if college students needed another reason to drink beer, the Hunter-Gatherer Brewery & Alehouse opened conspicuously close to the University of South Carolina campus earlier this month.

But if you’re looking for a place to get 50-cent cups of Budweiser, think again.

The name of the game here is home-brew and little – make that nothing – else.

And that’s precisely what makes the alehouse at College and Main streets and great place to visit. Owner and brewer Kevin Varner took a gamble when he decided to offer nothing but the four types of beer he brews, a couple of choice wines and a food selection.

So far, it’s paid off.

“It was gutsy,” Varner said. “But, for one thing, it gets people to try our product, and I’ve already found that if you talk to people about it, they’ll usually like it. Plus, if you give people a choice and they’re used to drinking Budweiser, then that’s what they’ll order. We didn’t want that kind of place.”

Instead, Varner created the quintessential alehouse environment.

The Hunter-Gatherer has done no advertising, but it is packed nearly every weekend with college students and others who have heard through word of mouth about his home-brews. …

The beers are simple, but excellent.

The Hunter-Gatherer offers Wheat beer, Pale Ale, Special Bitter and Porter. Each is brewed on site in one of the alehouse’s nine stainless steel tanks. And although the Hunter-Gatherer is closed three days a week so Varner has time to brew [editor’s note: this is no longer accurate], the three-week process means he’s had to pay particular attention to how much he’s able to offer.

Although Varner says they’ve all been selling evenly, the Wheat Beer and Pale Ale have been special favorites and are usually the first to go.

“It’s tough to gauge how much we need to make,” Varner said. “We hardly have time to brew enough. We’ll always have at least three beers on tap, but it’s definitely a struggle. We’re small compared to most breweries, and all the beers are unfiltered, so that adds time to the process, too, but I think it really adds to the taste.”

Varner got interested in the process as a student at USC. While on an exchange program to Scotland, he visited several brewpubs and came home intent on learning the process himself. A year later – after earning a reputation on campus as an excellent person to know for a party – he left for Seattle where he landed a job in Hale’s Ales.

Varner stayed there and refined the brewing process for 2.5 years. But when Legislature legalized brewpubs in his home state last year, he quickly returned to open his own business. And he didn’t doubt for a moment that a brewpub could make it in Columbia.

“Universities always provide a good base for brewpubs,” Varner said. “People all over the country are excited about microbreweries anyway, so I knew the time was right.”

But he wasn’t read for the amount of work necessary to open his own business. Varner and his partners did all the work on the Hunter-Gatherer themselves – including decorating and construction. And although their location (which used to be Muldoon’s) was perfect, it took plenty of work.

The interior is spaciously decorated with aged, stained woods, most of which Varner and friends tore out of other establishments for reuse. The floor, for instance, came from an old cotton mill in North Carolina. He was also fortunate enough to have a sister-in-law whose father is an ambassador to an African country. Many of the decorations like tribal shields and a hyena in the front window are on loan.

And definitely don’t forget the food.

Doug Rostic, who does most of the cooking, created a menu based on sandwiches, appetizers and handmade pizzas. …

Varner is already considering an addition to the beer selection. He may change the Special Bitter to a Draft Bitter or an Extra-Special Bitter.

“It all depends on the amount of alcohol; it’s highest in extra-special bitter,” Varner said. “A lot of brewpubs offer a light ale or an amber ale, but those don’t have much history or tradition. We wanted to do things right here because we have a real traditional yeast from a brewpub called Gale’s in England.

“That’s what gives our beer such a unique taste, and right now, that’s how I want to keep things.”