By Cam Heiliger from CharlotteBeer.com, a guest blogger to WFAEats
[pullquote]WFAE’s Charlotte Talks recently spent an hour talking about the craft beer scene with Michael Brawley, Owner of Brawley’s Beverage, Chad Henderson from NoDa Brewing Company and Ryan Self from Olde Mecklenburg Brewery. Listen to the show here.[/pullquote]
Wondering where to find a great beer in Charlotte? An emerging community of craft beer drinkers, local breweries and shops are filling the void of quality beer in the Queen City. We take a look at the craft beer scene here now and where we came from.
Transience has always been a hallmark of the Queen City. Despite its continued urban evolution and a small but strong core of locals that have made it their home for decades, things rarely stay the same around here. It’s one of the biggest criticisms that I’ve heard levied against my home town of 27 years: that we lack a true culture or identity.
I think that notion, however, like so many things in Charlotte over the years, might be changing as well.
Asheville may be the official Beer Town, USA, but thanks to a thriving local community of brewers, consumers, and entrepreneurs, Charlotte is emerging as a major player in what is arguably the best beer state in the country, and is hopefully laying the foundations of a cultural identity that we can call our own.
The American craft beer scene has experienced a renaissance of sorts over the last decade. The idea of “local” beer is reemerging after taking a beating from the Budweisers of the world for several decades, and thanks to the abundance of interest from local entrepreneurs like Mike Brawley (Brawley’s Beverage), Rob Duckworth (Duckworth’s Grill and Taphouse), and Todd Ford (NoDa Brewing), along with a general populace that is starting to seek out options beyond the traditional fizzy yellow stuff, Charlotte has become a regional leader in the craft beer movement. In five years we have gone from a city with a few local bottle shops (Brawley’s, Common Market) and brew pubs (Hops and Rock Bottom), to one that boasts four operational local craft breweries (Olde Mecklenburg, Four Friends, NoDa, and Birdsong), with several others knocking on the door (Heist, Triple C).
The local bar scene has also exploded in the last few years. Duckworth’s, Taco Mac, Brixx, Mellow Mushroom and Mac’s Speed Shop all boast multiple locations in the area with an array of craft options, while local gems like Revolution Pizza and Ale, Vintner Wine Market, Custom Home Pubs, The Flying Saucer and The Liberty provide excellent, lesser known options for local craft drinkers seeking a more unique environment.
So what is the state of Charlotte craft beer today?
On the eve of Charlotte’s third annual Craft Beer Week I can say to you with confidence that things are going well, but I think the best is yet to come… [Keep reading ‘below the fold’]
The sold out Brawley’s Black and Blue beer and bluegrass show, featuring the Moonshine Racers, returns to the Visulite tonight for a third round as the opening extravaganza for Craft Beer Week. Considered by most in the industry to be the godfather of craft beer in the city, host Mike Brawley not only continues to advocate for Charlotte craft beer at his local bottle shop, but serve as an ambassador at local festivals and craft beer events as well.
Speaking of festivals, the 13th annual Charlotte Oktoberfest was a huge success again this past year, hosting a plethora of breweries from all over country and several different local home brewing societies. The Neighborhood Theatre in NoDa hosted the first annual Queen City Brewers Festival which featured beer from almost every brewery in the city, including Charlotte newcomers, Heist, which had a really strong showing with several excellent beers. Finally, Beertopia, hosted by the Grapevine in Baxter Village, was also a massive success last week and served as a great teaser for what is sure to be a fantastic week to come.
As far as local breweries are concerned, NoDa Brewing is just now hitting its stride with an impressive core lineup that includes one of the best IPAs I have ever had in Hop Drop n’ Roll, a killer sessionable pale ale in 10 Blocks South, and their fantastic coconut porter, Coco Loco. Their NoDable series of weekly Tuesday releases has also been a huge hit with local craft drinkers and the accompanying YouTube skits that they use to promote them are hilarious and give fans of the brewery a glimpse of the fun, human side of many of their employees.
Olde Mecklenburg Brewery, Charlotte’s oldest operational brewery at just under three years, will be upgrading their brew house yet again in the coming year to accommodate the ever increasing demand for their products. They also added a bottling line this past year and their unique 3-pack of 22oz. bombers can be found at a variety of retail establishments, including many Harris Teeter locations. Known for their strict adherence to the “Reinheitsgebot,” or German Purity Law, which states that beer can only be made from four ingredients: water, malts, yeast, and hops, OMB serves up excellent traditional German lagers and ales, including their flagship Copper, and the refreshing Captain James Jack Pilsner. Keep an eye out for their Hornet’s Nest Hefeweizen, a traditional Bavarian wheat beer, which was released this past week.
Four Friends Brewery continues to maintain a solid presence throughout the city, and is very active on Facebook with updates of their various sponsored events and releases. Birdsong is also making a strong showing despite their more recent opening. Their taproom, conveniently located right across the street from NoDa Brewing, is consistently full and their Lazy Bird Brown Ale and Higher Ground IPA are receiving great reviews around town.
Local beer clubs are starting to gain strength as well. Veterans like the Charlotte Beer Club and the Carolina Brewmasters, a local home brewing club, boast very strong memberships and are omnipresent at local events while smaller niche clubs like the all female Charlotte Beer Babes, led by local aficionado Tracie Guild, C^4, and UNCC based Niner the Elder are drawing in new support for the Charlotte beer community every day.
One of the most important aspects in the growth of the local craft scene has been social media. Local bloggers like Daniel Hartis, who operates CharlotteBeer.com and is a constant presence on Twitter (@charlottebeer), provide a wealth of information to local craft drinkers in the area. Most local breweries and bars can also be found on Twitter, and while some like OMB(@oldemeckbrew), which now boasts over 2,000 followers, are obviously more active than others, it is hard to argue that this is not going to be a key marketing tool for the future of craft beer in the Queen City.
Craft beer became a passion of mine after I graduated from the University of Georgia and returned to Charlotte in 2007. I began writing about the local craft scene in 2010 as Charlotte’s Craft Beer Examiner for examiner.com and while I was enthusiastic and fairly knowledgeable, I had no idea how much I would learn about craft beer and the Charlotte scene in general. I have had the privilege of watching the city that I have called home for most of my life grow into arguably one of the best craft beer towns in the Southeast, if not the nation. Most importantly, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many people who work in the local scene, some of whom I am now thankful to call some of my closest friends.
And ultimately that is what it is all about: finding people that share your passions and forming relationships based on those common interests.
I can only hope that this spirit of collaboration, innovation, and creativity ultimately leads to the formation of that elusive cultural identity that many people claim we lack, and that soon the term “Charlottean” will carry a clearly recognizable connotation. At some point in the future the Charlotte craft beer market is going to become saturated and the friendly, collaborative nature of brewers and other local institutions may fade as a result, though I hope that never occurs. Until that time comes though, I am going to continue to enjoy what has become a vibrant local community of craft beer drinkers and businesses here in the Queen City. As we celebrate Charlotte Craft Beer Week over the next several days, I hope you will do the same.
- Charlotte Craft Beer week is March 16-25 – hosting dozens of events around town. Details.