My Charlotte: Joe Vogelbacher
Joe Vogelbacher, co-founder of Sugar Creek Brewing, talks about the mission of bringing fresh, Belgian-inspired beers to the Carolinas and beyond.
by Liz Logan
Tell us about yourself. How did you get to where you are today?
My name is Joe Vogelbacher. I’m a Charlotte native and married father of three children. I am the co-founder of Sugar Creek Brewing Company in Charlotte. Sugar Creek was founded with the mission of bringing fresh, Belgian-inspired beers to the Carolinas and beyond.
I began my journey to become a Master Cicerone ® in 2015 with the simple goal of learning as much as I could about beer. Considering my family, friends and investors took a big risk investing in the creation of Sugar Creek, I owed it to them to educate myself in a way that could lead to the best quality beer possible.
Because I was working and needed to learn in my free time, the best program available was the Cicerone Certification Program. This program would keep me challenged while also focusing heavily on beer flavor. I’ve always felt that it is impossible to make great beer if you can’t taste great beer! Just as a refined palate is the cornerstone of a great chef, it must also be the cornerstone of a great brewmaster.
After more than 4000 hours of study, I’m proud to have become the 19th person in the world to reach the highest level of the Cicerone Certification Program and receive the credential of Master Cicerone®. If you are interested in learning more about my journey to become a Master Cicerone®, check out the award-winning documentary Beers of Joy on Amazon Prime or Hulu.
How has your Master Cicerone® certification changed the way you view the Charlotte beer scene?
Even with Master Cicerone® designation, I try to foster my beginner’s mindset because that is where you learn the most. I’m perpetually curious, so if you see me around talking to another brewer or brewery owner, I’m likely asking questions. The goal always remains the same: How can we make our beer better?
How has your certification changed the way guests interact with your brewery?
For our guests at Sugar Creek, I’m proud to offer an interactive course called Cherishing the Craft. I offer this two-and-and-half-hour beer experience quarterly at the brewery, where we talk about beer and enjoy some samples from around Charlotte. People always have a good time, so recently I’ve even been offering this experience to some local businesses for staff development and team building.
How has Sugar Creek had to adjust during the pandemic?
Fortunately, Sugar Creek has a team of loyal employees. When COVID hit, we only lost a few employees; and the ones that stayed have been more dedicated than ever. I think that is a testimony as to why we consistently have some of the best service reviews in Charlotte on Google and Yelp. The pandemic also required us to get more creative with our delivery options. Since then, we have developed an online platform on our website where people around the country can order our beer delivered straight to their home.
What is the best way people can support small businesses like yours?
Buy Sugar Creek Beer or your local brewery’s beer from a local retailer like Harris Teeter or other small bottle shops. A lot of people don’t realize how important sales at the retailer are to the health of a brewery. Even though your profit margin is lower when selling through the retailer, if your sales aren’t strong enough you can lose shelf space for the next season. Once shelf space at a retail location is lost, it is really difficult to get back.
If you are able to support your favorite brewery’s taproom in person, that is wonderful as well. If you enjoyed yourself in the taproom, leave a good Google review. If you didn’t enjoy yourself, tell the manager and give them an opportunity to make it right before you take your complaint to the internet.
What makes Charlotte feel like home to you?
The gorgeous oak tree canopy, the friendly people, and beautiful Carolina weather make Charlotte feel like home.
How would you describe Charlotte in one sentence?
A pristinely clean, gorgeous young city that is rapidly growing with the help of entrepreneurs, bankers and real estate professionals.
Where are some of your favorite gardens, parks and green spaces to visit in and around Charlotte?
I have many fond memories growing up on the Sugar Creek Greenway near Freedom Park; I enjoy taking a walk on the greenway path starting at Westfield Road, heading towards Freedom Park. I also like Latta Plantation and Mountain Island Lake for fishing. Crowders Mountain is a gorgeous place to go hiking.
If someone is visiting Charlotte for the first time, what should they do and see?
How could I not promote the brewery scene? Come on down to LoSo and take a walking brewery tour. Leave your car at home, take the light rail to the Scaleybark Station and walk to Sugar Creek, Protagonist, Queen Park Social, Olde Mecklenburg, Brewers at 4001 Yancey and Good Road Ciderworks. If you can’t make it to LoSo, the National White Water Center is a must!