Aiken native David McLain believes that the most successful companies are ones with a story, and Fatty’s Beer Works has a great one.
David McLain pouring a glass of Fatty’s Beer
McLain was dubbed “Fatty” by his fraternity brothers after he gained even more than the infamous “freshman 15” pounds at Clemson. He lost the weight but kept the nickname for his craft beer. In addition to this inspiration, Fatty’s slogan – “We tell the story of our favorite beverage through the history of the greatest time-traveling brew master the world has ever known” – reminds us that beer goes back at least to the fifth millennium B.C. The stylized Time Traveler logo, created by graphic designer Jay Fletcher to look like Napoleon, at David’s request, dominates the new Fatty’s Beer Works Building at 1436 Meeting Street in Charleston. McLain plans to use the somewhat comic but also commanding image of the Time Traveler to put his product in a historical perspective and provide an interesting twist to the story of the brews he creates.
From gas station to brewery
The new home for Fatty’s Beer, formerly a gas station and ice plant, has been converted into an attractive brewery and tasting room. Thirty-three of McLain’s neighbors from the Creekside Men’s Club donated $100 each toward funding the impressive wooden bar made from a 500-year old oak tree cut down on John’s Island; their names are forever imprinted in the bar. The façade of the bar is made of 100-year old tongue-and-groove heart pine flooring from a Charleston home. Fatty’s has a capacity for 58 people and a grass lawn with outdoor seating.
McLain does the entire brewing process himself—mash, fermentation, and aging. He doesn’t publish his proprietary recipes, but he has learned that commercial brewing is more about the process than the recipe, and it is the brew process which makes the batches hard to replicate. At his 3,000-square-foot facility, McLain has a 10-barrel system consisting of a 10-barrel mash tun, a 10-barrel boil kettle, and a 20-barrel hot liquor tank. The fermentation takes place in Fatty’s cellar, which houses three 10-barrel tanks and one 10-barrel finishing tank.
The wood bar at Fatty’s
Cans are coming
At this point Fatty’s Beer is packaged in kegs and served on tap, but McLain plans to can future brews as well. He is releasing some of Fatty’s newest beer flavors to loyal accounts in Charleston and plans to grow his beer flavors from six to 12 for distribution throughout the state. He describes most of his products as having a mild alcohol content (4-6% alcohol by volume) with a crisp, clean finish and no aftertaste, making it appealing to non-craft beer drinkers, especially women.
Inspired in Montana
McLain’s appreciation for craft beer began when he lived in Big Sky, Montana, and discovered their unique flavors. He returned to South Carolina and began home brewing in his garage, a process which led to Fatty’s Beer, incorporated as a Limited Liability Company in 2014. At that time Charleston was voted the #1 Destination in the South and had only four breweries. His decision to combine a brewery and a taproom experience has led to his success.
Former Aiken neighbor Paul Elder receives the very first pour of Fatty’s Beer from David McLain
The success of his company coincided with the surge in alternatives to macro brews sold by the big commercial brewers like Anheuser-Busch. By definition, a craft brewer is a small, independent, traditional brewer. According to the Brewers Association, the number of craft brewers in the U.S. has grown from eight in 1980 to more than 5,000 in 2016. Sales of craft brews rose from 6.5% of the total beer market in 2012 to 12.3% of the total market in 2016, because of the emphasis on quality and taste. They have become so popular that the macro brewers are beginning to create their own craft beers.
McLain is not resting on his accomplishments. Ever the entrepreneur, his goal is to have live music from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. every evening at Fatty’s Beer Works, sometimes playing guitar himself and singing with saxophonist friend Bill, and he plans to host many events at his establishment. “I want to keep the crowd coming to Fatty’s,” he says.
Sally Bradley is a contributing writer for Bella Magazine. She is a retired English teacher, having taught at Aiken High School for many years. A resident of Aiken for 40 years, she holds an MA in English and dearly loves poetry. Theater-goers may recognize her from participation in theatrical productions of both comedic and serious plays at the Aiken Community Playhouse. Currently, she is a “wannabe” artist and enjoys traveling. Sally is married to Dr. John Bradley, and they have one son.