Insider's Guide to Charlotte's Craft Breweries

April 21, 2016

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (April 21, 2016) – With the opening of The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery in 2009, Charlotte began to carve out a craft beer identity. Seven years later, 28 breweries have joined the Charlotte region’s hopping homegrown scene and more than 15 more are in the works. But with ingredients, atmospheres and brewers as different as the porters and pale ales they pour, each of these brew havens has cultivated its own unique personality and claim to fame. That’s what keeps the Queen City’s craft beer culture incomparable, despite its abundance. 

Here’s what to know, along with a few lesser known tips and traits, about each of the 15—and two soon-to-come—breweries within Queen City limits and how to experience each like an expert.  

Blue Blaze Brewing Co. (coming soon) 
Charlotte’s first West End craft brewery will open at the historic Savona Mill this summer. The name pays homage to blue blazes on the Appalachian Trail—side trail markers that identify to backpackers sources of water, places of interest or places of rest. The brewery plans to take full advantage of its location on the Stewart Creek Greenway by using custom-built Bullitt cargo bicycles to deliver kegs to local businesses and restaurants. 

Birdsong Brewing Co. 
Birdsong Brewing Co.’s popularity is a result of its free-spirited vibe and tasty brews, like the best-selling Higher Ground IPA and the seasonal St. Tuber Abbey, a sweet potato Abby-style ale. Birdsong’s Jalapeño Pale Ale even has a cult following that spans as far as Italy, Alaska and Bristol, Connecticut, where ESPN sports report Darren Rovell is known to enjoy a can. Try the Lazy Bird Brown Ale, which medaled at the 2015 NC Brewers Cup and be on the lookout for the brewery’s Honey Pie Double IPA, a limited brew typically released in January. 

Free Range Brewing
Free Range Brewing is the product of a dream of brothers Jason and Jeff Alexander. The farmhouse brewing approach incorporates local fruits, vegetables and herbs. Even the taproom bar, made from 200-year-old reclaimed heart pine lumber, and the seats, reclaimed from an old school bus, reflect the brewery’s spirit of sustainability. In addition to offering short-run small batches on 11 of their draft lines, Free Range also has three taps serving non-alcoholic options, including cool-brewed java, kombucha and sparkling soda. And for those looking for a take-home option outside of the traditional glass growler, give a “crowler,” a half-growler-sized 32-ounce can, a try—Free Range has a crowler machine on-site.
Heist Brewery 
Located in historic Highland Park Mill, originally a cotton mill constructed in the early 1900s, Heist Brewery is a contemporary brewpub where bold, exquisite and unexpected combinations are the norm. The French Toasted Joe, oatmeal stout brewed with coffee, maple and cinnamon exemplifies that. Heist’s bar manager and mixologist Stefan Heubner, named one of GQ magazine’s “41 Most Inspired Bartenders in the Country,” has created a delicious spin on cocktail’s featuring Heist’s Brewery’s very own brews like The Black Fog, which fuses Heist stout, Jim Beam Rye and blackberry puree.

Legion Brewing 
Plaza Midwood’s first brewery, Legion Brewing, is a 15-barrel neighborhood brew hub that is all about bringing friends and beer together. Under the leadership of Phil Buchy, Newton Craver and Alexa Long (Charlotte’s first, and currently only, female brewer), Legion combines Old World techniques with local and seasonal influences to craft high-quality beers, like the best-selling Juicy J IPA. Features throughout the brewery, including a Brodt sign that tops the building and a piano in the corner of the taproom, give a nod to its former tenant of 60 years, Brodt Music Company. A trip to the restrooms reveals a unique alternative to wallpapering—the rooms are lined with old toilet tank lids. 

Lenny Boy Brewing Co. 
Serving up organic kombucha, gluten-free wild ales, gluten-reduced beers, sours, traditional beer and more, Lenny Boy Brewing Co. is the only certified organic microbrewery in North Carolina. Try the Burn Down for What, which swept the category of Best Organic Sour at the 2015 National Organic Beer competition. Lenny Boy’s kombuchas have carved out a name for themselves in the Queen City with favorites like the Good Ol’ Ginger and Lost Rose. The brewery currently produces 6,000 gallons of kombucha a month, a number that will double once the brewery moves to its new 30,000-plus-square-foot location in late summer 2016.

NoDa Brewing Company 
Named after the NoDa neighborhood, this 15-barrel unique production brewery crafts small-batch premium beers including the popular Hop Drop ‘n Roll, the 2014 World Beer Cup® Gold Award Winner in the American-Style IPA category. Their second location located on North Tryon Street houses a 60-barrel production system. In 2016, Southern Living named NoDa one of the South’s Best Breweries. NoDa’s rotating taps and its NoDable Series, weekly small batch beers released every Tuesday, open up the possibilities for mixing and matching. In the summer, try blending the seasonal Nodajito with Coco Loco porter for a “Thin Mint.”  

Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery
Head Brewer Robb Macleod is at the helm of this national restaurant chain’s unique local beer operation. Here on site, Macleod creates handcrafted beers that are dedicated to the Charlotte market. While an inventive seasonal menu brings in new craft blends each month, a menu of three favorites is standing and includes Charlotte’s Gold (kölsch), Uptown Amber and Hop Goddess IPA.

Salud Cervezeria 
The craft beer bottle shop and tasting room has expanded and opened a one-barrel nanobrewery that features rotating brews from local home brewer clubs, local breweries and in-house experimental batches. Craft creations, like the El Quatro Gringo Mole Stout, incorporate local ingredients and experimental hops.

Sugar Creek Brewing Co.
Sugar Creek Brewing Co. is Charlotte's first Belgian-inspired craft brewery dedicated to the craftsmanship of fresh, high-quality beer in a style and commitment representative of Belgian Trappist monks. Try Sugar Creek’s Biére de Garde, which won a gold medal at the 2015 NC Brewers Cup and at the 2016 Best of Craft Beer Awards and is brewed with eight different specialty malts imported from France. Or sip on the hard-to-get, heavy-hitting Sugar Creek XV, named as a nod to the highly sought after Westvleteren 12, a beer brewed by monks at the Trappist Abbey of Saint Sixtus in Vleteren, Belgium. 

Sycamore Brewing 
Led by husband-and-wife duo Justin and Sarah Brigham, Sycamore Brewing features the freshest ingredients possible to brew all-natural, tasty craft beer. Stop by to try the Southern Girl Lager, which won a bronze medal at the 2015 Great American Beer Festival or any one of the taproom’s 28 draft offerings, including wine and cider. This spring, the brewery became the new location of the city’s beloved Food Truck Friday event. Sycamore also recently announced plans to expand its tap room, add a rooftop patio with views of the skyline and create a space for private events. 

The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery
What sets OMB apart from other breweries in the area is its strict adherence to the German Reinheitsgebot beer purity law, which permits only water, barley and hops as beer ingredients. Stop by to take the brewery tour, which was named the best in the nation by USA TODAY 10Best readers in 2016. And try the seasonal Mecktoberfest, which won a gold medal at the 2015 European Beer Star competition in Germany, earning OMB the honor of becoming the first American brewery to win any medal in the German-style Marzen category since 2011. 

The Unknown Brewing Co.
Just three blocks south of Bank of America Stadium, The Unknown Brewing Co. motivates craft beer lovers to live without boundaries. Try one of the three signature craft beers: Over the Edge American IPA, Pre Game Session Ale and Ginger Wheat. Or get adventurous with one of the “weirder” beers such as La Jordana del Escorpion en Fuego Hacia la Casa del Chupacabra Muerto, which roughly translates to “the path of the fiery scorpion through the house of the dead chupacabra” and is brewed with 99 scorpions, peppers and agave nectar. Not surprisingly, the Strange Brew festival, which debuted in Charlotte in November 2015, is also the brainchild of Unknown’s co-founder, Brad Shell. 

Three Spirits Brewery
Three Spirits Brewery is the brainchild of a former emergency room doctor. The taproom emulates the feel of an old English pub and comes complete with a pinball machine. The 9,100-square-foot, 10-barrel brewhouse produces a flagship red lager called Reed Moon Rising in addition to a variety of other unique craft beers. Pair your beer with an offering from one of the food trucks on the weekends or take advantage of the brewery’s partnership with on-demand food delivery service Postmates.

Thirsty Nomad Brewing Co. (coming soon) 
Thirsty Nomad Brewing Co. is slated to open soon in South End. Serving taps that range from pale ales to chocolate stouts, the brewery’s design will imbue a steampunk theme, with welded gears and wood backing on the bar front.

Triple C Brewing Co.
Hop on the LYNX Light Rail and stop at the New Bern station for quick access to Triple C Brewing Co. The brewery recently expanded its South End facility, boosting brewing capacity by 50 percent. While enjoying the new upgrades, sample Triple C’s best-selling beer, 3C IPA, which won a bronze medal at the 2015 Great American Beer Festival in the strong pale ale category. For something a little different, taste the Smoked Amber, a style not readily available in the Charlotte area. 

Wooden Robot Brewery
Wooden Robot Brewery, the urban farmhouse-style brew hub, specializes in Belgian saisons, sour ales and hoppy American ales. It features 16 constantly rotating taps and is the only Charlotte brewery with a foeder, a large oak barrel used to age brews. To taste the fruits of the foeder, pour a pint of Universal Automation sour farmhouse ale or Renegade of Funk mixed fermentation farmhouse ale. Pair a homegrown brew—like the Good Morning Vietnam Coffee Vanilla Blonde Ale—with a bite from the Twisted Eats food truck, parked out front most days and serving fare that incorporates the brewery’s beer.

(In celebration of NC Beer Month, this five-part content series about Charlotte as a beer destination features facts and information that help tell the story of the city’s burgeoning craft beer scene.)

High resolution photos are available for download here

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