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Charlotte’s Beer History: Eight Years of Craft Beers—and Counting

With more than three dozen craft breweries in operation and nearly two dozen more on the way, the Charlotte region is overflowing with beer.

By Daniel Hartis

Whether you’re visiting North End or NoDa, South End or the suburbs, you’ll be hard pressed to find an area that lacks a local brewery—or several. The Queen City’s taprooms don’t just quench our thirst with homegrown hops; they’re an integral part of the city’s social fabric. But they weren’t always.

The Beginning
Like most major American cities, Charlotte saw several craft breweries open—and then close—in the 1990s. It wasn’t until 2009, when The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery planted its roots, that Charlotte once again had a local brewery to its name.

Olde Meck’s founder, John Marrino, opened the German-inspired craft beer haven for a couple of reasons: He couldn’t find a fresh beer similar to those he enjoyed while working in Germany, and he was awestruck that a city the size of Charlotte didn’t have its own brewery. Little did Marrino know, he’d be creating the linchpin for a craft beer scene that has furiously enveloped the city and surrounding communities over the course of eight years.

Much has changed since Olde Meck opened its doors. Once surrounded by nondescript industrial buildings, it moved into an 8-acre biergarten in 2015 and is now nestled on a busy block that boasts another brewery (Sugar Creek Brewing Company), a distillery and adjoining bar (Great Wagon Road Distilling Company and The Broken Spoke) and a cidery (Good Road Ciderworks).

Like the South End and NoDa neighborhoods that became social magnets, this area, which is settled just a few miles from South End, has been ordained with hip names that add to its trendsetting allure. “LoSo,” for Lower South End, and “Queen City Park” have both gained steam. Whatever you call it, the cozy enclave serves as a microcosm for Charlotte’s local suds scene.

Evolution and Expansion
Although they produce wildly different beers, the breweries that immediately followed The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery’s opening have enjoyed similar success. NoDa Brewing Company and Birdsong Brewing Coopened in 2011. In 2015, when Olde Meck moved into its new space, Birdsong moved from its original location behind CenterStage@NoDa to a larger location in the neighborhood, and NoDa Brewing opened a production facility in North End. NoDa Brewing still produces sour beers and smaller batches at its original location, but it is temporarily closed to the public.

Triple C Brewing Co. and Heist Brewery opened in 2012, and they have since expanded as well. Triple C is bringing a private events space and pilot system into a building across the street, where it will also house the brewery’s growing barrel program. Heist has expanded its brewpub by adding a new taproom called The Canteen, which provides more space for the hop-hungry patrons who show up—from near and far—anytime the brewery releases cans of its hazy New England-style IPAs. To keep up with the demand for those IPAs and other beers, Heist is also building a production brewery with an on-site butcher and bakery in North End.

Like the Lower South End district, North End is undergoing a revitalization of its own. In addition to NoDa Brewing and Heist, Sycamore Brewing, whose bustling South End location has only been open a little more than two years, is also bringing a production brewery to the neighborhood. The brewery will not be open to the public but will help crank out more cans and supply Sycamore’s taproom with more beer.

Lenny Boy Brewing Co. produced beer and kombucha as Sycamore’s neighbor for years. And now it has expanded into a much larger brewery on South Tryon Street, where it’s been able to ramp up production of beer and kombucha (both alcoholic and nonalcoholic).

Over the years, the Charlotte area’s brew hubs haven’t just expanded their reach in terms of local ZIP codes; they’ve also broadened their portfolios. Opening in nearby North Carolina suburbs, like Mint Hill, Lake Norman, Belmont and in South Carolina, each new brewery finds its own niche through classic or contemporary styles. Whether you’re looking for sours, stouts, traditional German or Belgian styles, or citrus-soaked IPAs (of the West Coast or New England variety), local taprooms have you covered.

Local Fame and National Acclaim
The beers produced at these breweries aren’t merely hometown favorites; they’ve nabbed national notoriety as well. In 2012, The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery and NoDa Brewing Company both took home silver medals from the Great American Beer Festival (for their Mecktoberfest and Coco Loco porter, respectively). NoDa Brewing stole the gold in 2014 at the World Beer Cup for its Hop, Drop ‘n Roll IPA, and demand for the hop-heavy blend spiked.

A year later, it was Triple C Brewing Co.’s turn. Its 3C IPA claimed a bronze medal at the 2015 Great American Beer Festival. Sycamore Brewing followed suit, also taking home a bronze for its Southern Girl Blonde lager. Garnering even more craft glory for the city, Sugar Creek Brewing Company’s Belgian Dubbel earned a silver at the U.S. Open Beer Championship, Olde Mecklenburg’s Mecktoberfest won a gold at the European Beer Star and Lenny Boy Brewing Co.’s Burn Down for What took Best Organic Sour at the National Organic Beer Competition—all in 2015.

And the fandom certainly hasn’t faded. In 2016, Charlotte got its first taste of the Great American Beer Festival’s gold medal, winning not just for one but two local beers: NoDa Brewing’s mint-infused NoDajito and D9 Brewing Co.’s Systema Naturae (part of a series of sour ales the brewery produces). Heist Brewery became a 2016 World Beer Cup bronze medal winner for its Brockwell English-style mild ale, and Southern Living named NoDa Brewing one of the South’s best breweries.

New Brews

Since The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery ignited the flame in 2009, the outpouring of local brewery openings has been rapid and consistent. Wooden Robot Brewery (2015), Legion Brewing (2015), Free Range Brewing (2015), Three Spirits Brewery (2016)—they’re all here, and the list goes on. The Charlotte region currently lays claim to more than 30 operating brew hubs, and nearly two dozen more are in development or planning phases. Here’s a closer look at four of those newbies.

Located on North Chester Street in a building that once laid claim to an automotive dealership, Cavendish Brewing Co. brings Gastonia, North Carolina, its first brewery. Its focused fleet of flagship beers includes a refreshing Belgian blonde ale, an IPA, an IPL (India Pale Lager), a robust porter and a historical style known as Dampfbier. Outside of these five core beers, guests of Cavendish can enjoy a variety of seasonal selections that pay respect to Old World styles of beer that aren’t often found on tap.

At Bold Missy Brewery, founder Carol Waggener is back in the beer industry after many years removed from a position with Anheuser-Busch. From Bold Missy’s 15-barrel brew house come four beers honoring some of the fiercest women in history. The Rocket Ride IPA honors legendary astronaut Sally Ride; the Solo Flight American brown ale tips its hat to aviation trailblazer Amelia Earhart; the Get Your Gun Golden is named for sharpshooter Annie Oakley; and the Find A Way Wheat pays tribute to Diana Nyad, the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without the protection of a shark cage.

Though most breweries in town have experimented with coffee beers, Hyde Brewing takes beans and brews to a new level in South End. Following a stint of serving pour-overs and espressos at pop-up coffee shops around town, the Hyde team finds itself at a permanent location on Griffith Street in a space just across from Triple C Brewing Co. Enjoy Hyde’s house-brewed beers, a carefully curated coffee menu and a “culinary café.”

Catawba Brewing Company, which opened in Morganton, North Carolina, in 1999, is no stranger to the Queen City. The brewery has long distributed its beers here, but, with a spot on Louise Avenue in the Belmont neighborhood near Plaza Midwood, it now also calls Charlotte home. Altogether, the two spots boast more than 50 taps. Those taps include a mix of the brewery’s well-known brands, like White Zombie—a Belgian-style witbier—and beers made just for Charlotte in Catawba’s 10-barrel brewhouse.

The Future
Catawba Brewing Company isn’t the only brew newbie to take on a Charlotte address. Given the success of area breweries young and old, it isn’t surprising to see others entering the fray.

In 2016, Southern Tier Brewing Co. and Victory Brewing united under an umbrella company called Artisanal Brewing Ventures. The company currently has offices in Charlotte and has announced plans to bring an innovation brewery to the city as well. And Fat Head’s Brewery, which began in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, before launching locations in Ohio and Portland, Oregon, has hinted at bringing a brewpub to Charlotte (specifically South End).

Ready your palate. With savvy drinkers, craft-focused bars and restaurants and a market that fosters homegrown talent while attracting nationally known names, Charlotte’s beer scene is bracing itself for even more growth in the coming years.

On-the-radar Breweries

Here are the Charlotte-area breweries on tap for the coming months.

Rivermen Brewing Co. started in a small Belmont warehouse that is now home to York Chester Brewing Co. Now Rivermen is targeting a spring reopening in a much larger brewpub on Ervin Street, this time in the old WM Hall & Sons mill building.

Salud Cerveceria is the nanobrewery arm of Salud Beer Shop in the NoDa neighborhood. This year, it will begin brewing on a much larger scale at Heist Brewery. 

Resident Culture Brewing will open later this year on Central Avenue in Plaza Midwood. The brewery will specialize in brewing with mixed cultures and locally harvested yeast along with hoppy styles.

Divine Barrel Brewing will specialize in sour, wild and wood-aged beers and will be located across from Bold Missy Brewery in NoDa.

Heist Brewery and Barrel Arts is the official name of Heist’s new production brewery, which will open on Woodward Avenue in the Double Oaks neighborhood later this year. It will primarily serve as a production brewery to accommodate the steep demand for the brand’s popular IPAs, though a butcher and bakery will be on-site as well.  

Seaboard Taproom & Wine Bar brought a tasting room dedicated to beer and wine to Matthews, North Carolina, in 2016, and it will unveil phase two in 2017: a small brewery churning out traditional British styles.

 

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