Tag Archives: beer culture

Denver, Charlotte, and Craft Beer Culture

I got off the airplane and weaved my way through DIA to the train platform, bought my ticket and took the 25-minute ride all the way to Union Station in downtown Denver.  Once I got off the train I found a local coffee shop and grabbed an Americano and a Danish.  Since my check-in was still a couple of hours away and I didn’t want to wander too far, I went to the Terminal Bar and had lunch and a couple of Colorado beers.  That was all within the first 3 hours of me being in Denver.  I don’t think you can do that in Charlotte. First, the light rail gets nowhere close to the airport and our transportation hub isn’t quite as well stocked.

Whenever I go to Denver, I’m struck by how Denver is 10-15 years ahead of Charlotte in so many ways.  I think I do that because the cities are so similar in population and ambition.  You see it from the way the light rail works to what I care most about, how the beer culture in Denver is ahead of Charlotte’s. I sit on the airplane on my way back home and I can’t help but ruminate on the greater idea of where Charlotte is compared to Denver, but especially where it is in comparing beer cultures.

There are two primary ways I think about this.  First, how the beer culture is an excepted part of the overall city culture.  Second, how there is no such thing as peak brewery.

The first thing you truly get when you stay in Denver for a few days is the beer culture is part of the overall area’s culture.  Denver is the mecca for beer.  It may not have been the first city with craft breweries, but it is the city the first embraced the idea of craft beer culture.  Let’s put it this way, there are not many other cities in the US that would work with the NFL to make sure its team didn’t have a home game during a beer festival.  Denver does that with the GABF.  Every time I go to Denver, my love and my faith in this little part of American culture I’ve fallen in love with and want to see succeed is renewed and strengthened.

In Denver, for instance, the mid-level restaurants curate their beer selection.  I went to multiple restaurants that had all craft beer on tap and most of that craft beer was from Colorado and it wasn’t just New Belgium or Great Divide.  In Charlotte, that niche of dining is filled by chains that let the distribution reps and corporate mandate decide what gets put on tap. Craft beer is a thing they must do to appease a certain segment of potential customers. In Denver, you have restaurants where the beer buyer thinks about and curate their craft beer selection.  That is why in Charlotte, I can almost guess the “craft” and local beer a restaurant has before I walk in to eat.  That is slowly changing.

I only get that renewal in little pockets in Charlotte.  That is because while there is a growing craft beer culture, a lot of people in Charlotte view craft beer as this little fad over in the South End and NoDa that all the millennials are playing in until they get real jobs.  That is why buying craft beer for most bars is an afterthought.  In Denver, breweries are competing to get on tap.  That is slowly coming to Charlotte.

To go hand in hand with that, recently, there has been a lot of talk of reaching peak brewery in Charlotte.  What the discussion centers around is when will there be more craft breweries in Charlotte then Charlotte can support.  Denver proves that concept is a fallacy.  The Denver MSA has only a slightly bigger MSA then Charlotte’s as far as population (MSA estimates for 2016 put Denver at about 400k more people) but has many more breweries. Denver has somewhere like 5.2 breweries per 100,000 people. Charlotte is around a little less than half that number. 

One of my favorite places to go in Denver is Ratio Beerworks.  It is a great brewery and a great place to hang out and have a beer.  There are at least another 4 breweries within a 10-minute walk of Ratio including Epic’s Denver brewery and taproom.  Do you know what that kind of proximity does?  It creates a mostly friendly competition in which each brewery pushes the other.  You can’t be mediocre and you can’t rest on your laurels from 2 years ago much less 8 years ago.  Everyone has won medals.  Yours aren’t special and you have to keep getting better or you will fail. If your brewery sucks you can’t continue to coast on being the local brewery.  If I don’t like your beer, I can walk out your front door, turn left, and get better beer with a five-minute walk.

That is why we need more breweries in Charlotte.  Especially breweries started by experienced brewers who will come out strong and push the already established breweries to be better and stop coasting.  That doesn’t mean breweries won’t fail.  It means the ones with bad beer or a bad business plan or no real plan at all will fail.  The breweries with the best combination of beer, plan, and culture will succeed.  That isn’t a bad thing. It is how every other business works.

Th thing about this idea of beer culture is that it takes time and Charlotte is an impatient city when it comes to things like culture.  This is a city that grew and became an economic power overnight. That kind of growth is the kind that is bought and built quickly and overnight.  Just look at all the condos and apartments going up around town like so many Lego houses.  Charlotte is the embodiment of a boomtown in our microwave culture.

You must explain why Asheville, Denver, Portland, Portland, and Seattle (and maybe even Raleigh to an extent) have better craft beer cultures to many in Charlotte.  They are simply older and more mature.  Yes, we have breweries, but the vast majority are less than 5 years old.  Wynkoop Brewery opened in downtown Denver in 1988.  While many breweries opened and closed in Charlotte beginning around the same time, the oldest still in existence is Olde Mecklenburg which opened in 2009. That is a huge difference.  There were people who were born and came of legal drinking age in Denver between the time Wynkoop served its first pint and Olde Meck celebrated its 1st anniversary.

So, while I think Charlotte beer culture has a long way to go, I also know, it is only through time and making sure we keep our focus on good beer that we will get there.  We can’t buy it, we can’t build it overnight, but we can keep moving forward and build it with one brick every day.

One Beer Article You Need To Read And Why, 2/6/17

Again, another day where I don’t want to write about the articles appearing in my timeline and Google Alerts.  The only thing about beer news today I could wrangle any feeling for were articles about the Adolphus Busch commercial.  To that, I will say truth is the greatest protest possible.

All that matters is the liquid in the glass.  I have fallen in love with that sentence over the past few months.  I stole from someone. Unfortunately, I can’t remember who.

It’s a great sentence and it is the essence of what I think craft beer is about.  It strips away the marketing and the buzz that surrounds so much beer today. Too many people buy too much beer simply because of the name of the brewery.  Some breweries could put out a beer that tastes like urine and it would fly off the shelves of bottle shops around the country.  I know, I see it every day. There are a few breweries beers we buy simply because we know they will sell regardless of the quality of the beer.

Too often, in all parts of lives, we get distracted.  In craft beer, we get distracted by the search for the next hot style.  We get distracted by who is “selling out” to whom.  We get distracted by who has the longest lines at festivals.  We get distracted by all these things that surround what goes in the glass that we forget that what is in the glass is the whole point.

I’ve met brewers who are nice who make bad beer and brewers who are raging ass holes who make great beer.  I’ve also met brewers who are great people who make wonderful beer and brewers who are jerks who make crap beer.  That is why it is important not to let things like the brewer’s personality distract you from the beer.

It is often true for consumers to buy something we have to buy into that something’s story.  When someone makes the choice to drink craft beer they are buying into craft beer culture and the story that it tells about beer and more importantly about themselves.  However, sometimes we let those stories distract us from the liquid in the glass.

Maybe that is what has happened the last two days. Maybe I’m just tired of having to pay attention to all the stuff.  All the stuff about big beer and their distributors.  All the stuff about stupid legislation and beer laws. All the stuff about who is being sold to whom.  That stuff matters, we have just elevated all of it to a point of obscuring the thing we fell in love with in the first place: the liquid in the glass.

All the stories that we fell in love with to make us craft beer drinkers don’t matter if what we’re drinking is crap.  Then all we’ve done is replace the crappy beer of the 70s and 80s with the crappy beer of the 2010’s.

One Beer Article You Need To Read And Why, 10/12/16

Jason Notte had a similar experience as I did when I went to GABF this year.  He went to New York City for work and it gave him a better view of the beer culture of his home. Here is a link to my previous piece.

As usual, whenever I read one of his pieces there are many things I get out of it.  One of the primary things is how cities and areas sometimes become insular and protective of their beer and breweries.  It is an insularity and protectiveness that is similar to what happened to English soccer.

English soccer fans are always very quick to remind you that they invented the game and they sometimes seem to think that means they have nothing to learn from other soccer playing countries.  I’ve noticed the same kind of insularity in the beer communities of some cities.  I have had distribution reps tell me how hard it is to bring new breweries into the Charlotte market.

In Charlotte, it often seems if you aren’t local (by local I mean within the confines of Mecklenburg County), from Asheville (I don’t understand that one), or already a famous name in the beer world it is an uphill battle.  The number of times I’ve told someone that a beer came from a brewery in North Carolina but not from Charlotte or Asheville that I get a look of complete shock is amazing.  That is beginning to change as more people in Charlotte are exposed to more craft beer.

It probably has to do with the maturity of the craft beer culture and the number of local breweries.  Portland’s culture is much older then and much bigger than Charlotte’s culture.  That is one of the interesting things that I often forget.  The Charlotte craft beer culture in particular and the North Carolina craft beer culture is really only 20 years old.

I have become really interested in what the future holds for Charlotte and North Carolina beer culture.  Here is an interesting thing some enterprising blogger or reporter could do: Compare the beer culture of Charlotte to Asheville, Denver, and Portland.  How would you do that?  Compare beer history.  Compare demographics.  Compare craft beer penetration.

I think what you find is the overall culture and style of the city and area effects the beer culture.  Is the city a “gateway” city or a mountain enclave or a business focused town?  How does that change or effect the beer culture and how it grows and responds to outsiders? Some of these questions can’t be answered easily or objectively.

In Notte’s piece, he notes how New York isn’t a center of beer culture, but it is a place that allows a craft beer drinker to try different beers and different styles from around the country.  Is that simply because New York is the ultimate gateway city and has people that live there and pass through the city?  As I ponder it, Charlotte is a city where there are few Charlotte natives in many parts of the city. Could that lead to a more inclusive beer culture overall as it matures?

I’m going to have to think about his a little more.

GABF 2016: Notes On Day 2

What did we do on Day 2 of GABF 2016 and day 3 of being in Denver?  We drank.  We drank a lot of beer.  We didn’t go to the Friday session, but we saw a bunch of people who were going or had gone.

Dave and I started the day with a bagel sandwich breakfast at Dudleroy’s Bagels followed by a great deal of lounging around and some work before we headed out to lunch and brewery visits.  After an Uber ride with a guy who literally just moved to Denver this past Saturday from Daytona Beach, we had lunch at Snarf’s a local sandwich shop chain.

We walked from Snarf’s intending to go to Epic Brewing.  On the way, we passed Stem Ciders and decided to go in and have a cider as a warm up.  I had a nice semi-dry cider made from wild fermentation.  After that quick stop, we continued our journey towards Epic.

I will say as an aside, the walk was a bit sketchy.  These breweries are all in a former warehouse and industrial district still undergoing redevelopment so sidewalks don’t always exist.

Anyway, we walked onto Epic where there was a line to just get a spot at the bar. So, we made the quick decision that there was too much beer in Denver to waste standing in a line like that no matter how much we both like Epic’s beer.  We took a short walk over to Bierstadt Lagerhaus a place that is pretty new in the Denver beer scene.  As the name implies Bierstadt is all German style beer brewed in accordance to the Reinheitsgebot.

I had the Dunkel and the Oktoberfest, both were excellent.  The best thing about the place was the atmosphere and the view.  It is in an old printing facility and uses some of the old equipment as decorations as well as kept the hard industrial feel of the metal and concrete that fills that place.  Also, it has one of the best views of Denver you can get.

From there we made another short walk to Ratio Beerworks.  The thing that I love about the Denver beer scene is how different all the breweries are from each other.  Ratio is a completely different experience then Bierstadt.  Ratio has a punk DIY aesthetic that I fell in love with immediately.  Also, as someone who has spent a month diving back into Fugazi, the first beer I got there had to be the Repeater extra pale ale followed by another great beer the French Saison, Dear You.

By then, Ginny had joined us from work and after our second round, she drove us to Hogshead where I had in order, the AK Ordinary Bitter, the Barge’s Mild, the Chin Wag ESB, and finally the 2013 Window Licker Barleywine.  All on cask.

If anything, this week has shown me what the future of beer in Charlotte could be.  Every brewery I have been to is different than the last and the next brewery.  The great thing is they were all good.  They seem to care most about the liquid in the glass (the most important part) yet come at the process in different ways.  Charlotte is just starting to develop that feel where all the breweries are great yet still differentiate themselves.  I’m sure there are mediocre breweries in Denver, but that percentage seems to be lower here because the beer culture is so mature and ingrained in Denver culture in general.

Five Beer Articles You Need To Read And Why, 6/16/15

Why is it so hot in June?  Anyway, here are the links.  Today we go in order from the largest to the smallest stories.  It will make sense once you read the descriptions.