Beer boom: Midlands market still hopping.

While the gangbusters growth craft breweries experienced at the turn of the century has slowed, the overall health of hops remains strong, industry participants and observers say and the Columbia suds scene bears out that belief.

Last summer's closing of area pioneer Conquest Brewing Co. stirred fears of market saturation, but craft choice has not diminished in the aftermath. Construction is underway on a major expansion to downtown stalwart Columbia Craft Brewing Co., completed on a new 7,000-square-foot tasting room and bottle shop in Irmo and ready to ramp up on an ambitious project in West Columbia.

"Brewers are really being challenged in a way that has them have to look at their business model, their approach to their customers, and the approach to what they offer for beer," said Julia Herz, craft beer program director for the Brewers Association, a Colorado-based nonprofit trade group. That's a change from the beer boom of the late 1990s, she said, "where what brewers would brew is often what they would just want to drink and see how their customers felt about that.

"The more you produce as a brewery, the more you have to approach it in a more mindful way that is geared toward giving your fans what they're asking for versus what you think they might want."

Andrew Strauss, co-owner and business development officer at Columbia Craft, has tried to strike that balance since opening the brewery tucked into the corner of Huger and Greene streets in 2016. As a family homebrewing hobby that began three years earlier blossomed into a business, Strauss brought his appreciation for sours and goses into an arena that he knew also needed to include popular lager and IPA options.

"We definitely learned a lot about the consumer and what Columbia kind of likes to drink, for sure," Strauss said. " It's just trying to hit on everybody's palate, but being true to the beer is important."

Columbia Craft's ability to produce and market that beer, which includes its signature Famously Hopped IPA and Columbia Craft Lager along with a sprinkling of stouts, a seasonal doppelbock and abundant evidence of Strauss' sour tooth, will soon grow. The brewery is in the midst of an expansion that will add a 1,200-square-foot rooftop bar and a 500-square-foot covered outdoor patio. The expansion, expected to be completed by May, will also include a large cooler room and a barrel aging room capable of housing close to 100 bourbon, rum and wine barrels.

"People, when they...

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