GABF 2016: What I Learned This Year

There is a history of writers going to other places in order to write clearly about their home.  The physical distance provided by leaving allows the writer an emotional distance to see his subject clearly and truthfully.  Leaving also allows the writer to look at his new home in comparison to his old one.  That comparison allows the writer to see his subject’s warts, dimples and all.

So, what did I learn about the Charlotte craft beer scene after spending 4 days in Denver?  The Charlotte beer scene is like a kid who just got drafted out of college to the NFL and Denver is the 10-year veteran playing the same position.  You can see all the potential in Charlotte, but it is nowhere near mature enough to think it can usurp Denver.

The Denver craft beer culture is as old as American craft beer culture.  Charlie Papazian and Charlie Matzen started the American Homebrewers Association in Boulder in 1978, two years after homebrewing was legalized, which would be the engine in the creation of craft beer.

Craft brewing didn’t come to North Carolina until “Pop The Cap” was passed and signed in 2005.  That is a 27-year head start for Denver and it shows.  Denver’s craft beer culture has a maturity and confidence that only comes with time.

The only way I can describe it is that each brewery in the Denver area has a confidence in itself.  Each one is unique.  That goes for the beer they brew and the style and ethos they project.  They each know what they like to do and they do it with little regard to what other brewers are doing across town.

I think a lot of the Charlotte breweries, particularly the newer ones don’t know who or what exactly they are yet. They are eager and they are testing boundaries every day to see what they like and what they are good at, but they are not there yet.

This isn’t meant as damning criticism.  It is meant as a reminder of how far Charlotte has to go to reach its full craft beer potential.  Just in the 2 years I’ve been around, I’ve seen a huge change and lots of growth in the number and the quality of breweries that are opening.  The future is bright because the potential is there and obvious for everyone to see.

What I don’t want to see happen is the scene in Charlotte becoming insular and closed off to the rest of the beer world.  People in Charlotte are rightfully proud of the progress made in such a short time, but that sometimes leads to an attitude of not acknowledging that there are other good breweries in North Carolina outside of Charlotte or Asheville. One only needs to look at the NC Beer Cup and the GABF results to prove that.  There are times I think some breweries coast on size and reputation and not the quality of the liquid in the glass.