Tag Archives: charlotte beer

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.

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.

Five Beer Articles You Need To Read And Why, 2/16/16

I had to miss yesterday’s Five Articles and the blog post I have planned.  That means I have a new post today and a new post tomorrow.  The plan is to have one Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  On to a short and sweet Five Articles for today.

There are two beer stories that fascinate me.  One is the fight over putting beer into Colorado grocery stores.  The other is the Georgia taproom law fight.  It is a fight and the fight makes little sense.  This was a bill that was doomed from the beginning because the language of the law was ridiculously complicated which let the Georgia Department of Revenue interpret the law however they wanted to interpret it and put the brewery taprooms right back where they started.  This is a good column discussing why it has been so hard to get a common sense beer law passed in Georgia.

Beer geeks standing in line waiting for special releases is not the same as Black Friday mobs.  It is more a bunch of geeky dudes standing around in a line making snarky and ironic comments to each other.  I have often said I will not stand in a line for any beer.  There is no beer I will waste my time waiting to overpay for something.

Texas A&M and College Station, TX fascinate me.  There is some quasi-military idea of what the school is that the people that go there love about it.  Every time I here someone who attended the school, it sounds like a weird place. Here is a beer story from there.

Here is a press release about how great the craft beer scene in Ireland.

Now for a podcast featuring Daniel Hartis talking about craft beer and Charlotte.

Five Beer Articles You Need To Read And Why, 1/28/16

The week moves on and Thursday is here.  This has always been a weird day to me.  The week is almost over, but not quite.  You still have to work the next day, but you know the atmosphere is a little more relaxed.    Anyway, with legislative sessions around the country getting started this month, there is a lot of movement in the beer law front. To continue yesterday’s theme, here are a few articles on beer and alcohol laws around the country.

Taste Test: 2015 Up All Night and 2015 Up All Night Bourbon Barrel Aged

One of the trends that has taken hold in craft beer over the last few years is barrel ageing beers. They have become so ubiquitous that the Beer Judge Certification Program, the primary style definer of American craft beer, has two new categories for the 2015 edition of the style guide.

I find barrel aged beer interesting because they are usually a version of another beer the brewer already makes.  How the ageing changes the beer via the time spent in the barrels and the properties the barrels themselves provides the beer are both fascinating.  Depending on the type of barrel used, i.e. bourbon, gin, rum, scotch, tequila, or wine, what the barrels provide the beer is different each time. Bourbon barrels provides additional sweetness and caramel and wine barrels provide tart or buttery notes depending on the wine.

Despite the common misconception, the ageing does not provide more alcohol to the beer.  There are two reasons why this misconception persists.  The first, many times the beer aged in the barrels is a high ABV beer in order to stand up to the ageing.  The second is the beer usually takes on some of the taste characteristics of the liquid that was originally in the barrels.  The taste of bourbon often makes people think of alcohol.  I make a bourbon pound cake that people swear gets them a little drunk even though the alcohol cooks off as the cake bakes.

20160113_101339Weighing in at 10% the Triple C Up All Night and Up All Night Bourbon Barrel Aged start off big and flavorful.  Let’s begin with the Up All Night.

Up All Night is a breakfast porter, which means it is brewed with coffee.  Using a strong taste like that as your base for a bourbon barrel aged beer is important.  The bourbon tastes can overwhelm the beer taking away its unique qualities.  A

After pouring a nice dark brown with a good fluffy head, you get the clear aroma of coffee when you take a sniff.  There are also hints of vanilla and honey once it warms a bit.

When you taste it, its big coffee flavor matches the aroma with notes of honey on the back end.  As a fan of both coffee flavors and honey, I enjoy this beer immensely.  For a beer with as big an ABV and use of honey, it is still a porter which makes it comparatively light on the tongue and dangerously easy to drink.  High ABV beers often have what is termed a boozy taste, meaning the taste of the alcohol is present and honey often gives a beer a cloying heavy taste.  Neither is present in these beers.

The bourbon barrel aged version differs slightly.  As it should.  It is a little inkier and thicker in appearance.  That may be the psychological effect of knowing it is a bourbon barrel aged beer.  The aroma also changes in that the coffee is shunted to the background by bourbon and hints of caramel.  It isn’t as light on the tongue and has a more velvety feel on the tongue.  Interestingly, to my palate, the roasted nature of the coffee is more pronounced and give it a little more bite. Again, that is why coffee is a good match for barrel ageing, it is a strong flavor that stands up to the bourbon, in this case.

The bourbon barrel Up All Night does what a barrel aged beer should do:  It adds different flavors and highlights ones already present in the original version.  Both Up All Night and Up All Night Bourbon Barrel Aged are well worth your time if you can still find them.

Here is another cool thing, this time, next year, I will do a vertical tasting of 2015 and 2016 bourbon barrel aged versions.  I’m already looking forward to it.

Five Beer Articles You Need To Read And Why, 10/20/15

I’m sorry the Five Articles are late today, I was distracted by Rick Pitino being involved in another sex scandal.  Is it possible a coach who wins consistently and has never had a real basketball related scandal get fired for stuff that happens off the basketball court that doesn’t involve academic improprieties?  Anyway, onto beer.

Five Beer Articles You Need To Read And Why, 9/2/15

The Five Articles are here a little late (blame laundry and breakfast).  Two other things to bring up before the links.  First, go over to Gravity Magazine and read about NC craft beverages, including a couple of things by yours truly.  Second, real football starts tomorrow when my alma mater takes on a sports program which has two nicknames owned by other schools (USC and Carolina).  The loser tomorrow won’t be able to use Carolina for the next year.

Five Beer Articles You Need To Read And Why, 8/27/15

There is a definite North Carolina slant to the Five Articles today with 3 coming from North Carolina and one coming from Upstate South Carolina.

Five Beer Articles You Need To Read And Why, 8/10/15

The Five Articles will be quick and dirty today.  I went to New Grass Brewing in Shelby yesterday and sampled many of their beers and then did a tasting at home for the series of reviews that will begin getting posted today. Also, I watched the season finale of True Detective.  Please, let how this episode ended be the prologue to a season 3.

Beer Counselor Special: South End Charlotte Brewery Tour, August 2015

Last week, I decided since I had my first Sunday off in 6 months I would use that time to do something special: Drink beer.  You may ask, “Don’t you do that every day.” Why yes, yes I do.  However, this time I wanted to make a full day of it in Charlotte (my once and future home) and do a brewery tour.

So, I texted Lankford, “What are you doing today?”

“Nothing, just cleaning house and laundry.”

“I’m going to Charlotte to drink beer, want to come along?”

“What time do you want to leave?”

“11:30”

“I’ll text you when I’m on the way.”

Thus began the South End Brewery Tour of August 2015.

20150802_131409We arrived at Olde Mecklenburg around 12:30 to an already packed house.  I decided to start off with something slow. I choose the barrel-aged Fat Boy Baltic Porter.  I say slow because this is a great sipping beer.  It’s dark, heavy, and flavorful.  You don’t want to rush a beer this good.  It is even better in a setting like OMB. The best way to describe it, to craft beer drinkers who haven’t been is a mini version of the Sierra Nevada brewery in Asheville.

20150802_133617Next, we went across the street to Sugar Creek.  This is a smaller, more intimate space.  We sat down at the bar this time and I had the Saison, which I love, and Lankford had the award winning Dubbel.  This was another pretty full house and like Olde Mecklenburg and the other places we would visit that day, there were a lot of families there.  This is one of the things I like about craft beer.  It is trying to build a community and become just a regular part of people’s everyday lives.

20150802_145555We left Sugar Creek and headed to Triple C passing by Doc Porter’s Distillery, which looks to be coming along nicely.  We settled in at Triple C and ordered up the Smoked Amber.  This is a good introduction to smoked beer.  It isn’t heavily smoky but it does have a distinct smoked presence that if you like you can expand upon with other smoked offerings out there.  There was another nice crowd at the bar and families with kids and dogs scattered throughout.

20150802_154010We were both hungry at this point so we took a quick pit stop at Fuel Pizza on South Blvd. for a couple of slices and garlic knots.

20150802_162123Our next stop was Wooden Robot.  I parked over at Craft and we walked the two blocks or so to get to another packed house.  Lankford did comment that everywhere we went there seemed to be a good crowd.  Here I had the first beer of the day I had never had before, the rye saison.  This provided an interesting taste as the rye provided an intriguing addition to the light spiciness of the saison.

We finished up at Craft where we went to hang out and harass Dana and Julio before heading back home.  It was a good relaxing day filled with beer and friends.  I need to do this more often.  The next time I’ll change up the breweries and hit Sycamore, Lenny Boy, and Unknown.