My wife and I spent a few days in Charlotte, NC last week. I was there for the annual conference of the Mid-Continent Regional Science Association. And yes, I gave another talk about the American craft beer industry. This time the topic was the intra-urban clustering of craft breweries. This is work that I am doing with Isabelle Nilsson, a faculty member at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte and Matt Lehnert a doctoral student in the Spatially Integrated Social Science Program at The University of Toledo. Isabelle and I shared the presentation. I provided the background and context for our study while Isabelle presented our methodology, analysis, and findings.
Charlotte was founded in 1768 and is named after Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III of Great Britain and Ireland. As a result it is known as The Queen City. Charlotte, like many cities in the United States, has a burgeoning craft brewing industry. According to the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce there are 28 craft breweries in the Charlotte region, with 16 of those being in the city of Charlotte proper. In addition to these establishments there are 11 new breweries slated for opening, 5 of which will be in the city.
During our first evening in town my wife and I went to our hotel bar for a drink. I asked the bartender what beers he had on draft. “It’s all local beers on draft” was his reply. I must admit I was surprised. The hotel – the Charlotte Sheraton – is part of a multinational chain. I had expected the draft selection to include at least a couple of macro-beers. So kudos to the hotel for supporting the local beer scene in this way. And when I say local I mean local. All of the half dozen draft beers were from breweries in Charlotte.
The next evening a group of us met up at the NoDa Brewing Company on North Tryon Street. The brewery is named after the NoDa, Charlotte’s historic arts and entertainment district. NoDa is short for North Davidson, the Main Street that traverses the district. The brewery on North Tryon is actually NoDa’s second brewery in Charlotte. The original (opened in 2011) is just over a mile away on North Davidson. The Tryon Street location opened in October 2015 and was built as demand for NoDa beer exceeded the capacity of the North Davidson Brewery. I was keen to try NoDa’s Hop, Drop, ‘n Roll, an American-style IPA, that had earned the brewery a gold medal at the 2014 World Beer Cup. Our hotel bar had it on draft but there is nothing like tasting a beer at the source. I was not disappointed. The NoDa brewery does not have a kitchen but a different food truck is there most evenings. When we visited The Improper Pig was on site with a variety
of BBQ offerings.
My conference ended at lunchtime on the Saturday, leaving us with the afternoon free before heading back to Toledo the next day. We decided to fill the afternoon by going in the Charlotte Brews Cruise. The Brews Cruise is the brainchild of Mark and Trish Lyons and originated in Asheville, NC in 2006. Since then it has expanded to other cities – Charleston, NC, Denver, CO, Atlanta, GA, Nashville, TN, Chicago, IL, and of course Charlotte. The Charlotte Brews Cruise was established in 2013.
For $49 per head you visit three Charlotte breweries. There are seven breweries that the Brews Cruise have a working relationship with so you could theoretically take a second cruise and visit three entirely different breweries. The three that we visited on our cruise were Birdsong Brewing Company, The Unknown Brewing Company, and Heist Brewery. The departure point for our cruise was the Heist Brewery. There we met the other six people who were going on the cruise with us as well as our cruise tour guide, Zuri. We all then jumped into a twelve-seater van and headed off to Birdsong. When we go there our tour guide, Zuri, took us to the production area of the brewery and provided us with a description of the brewing process. As he did so he weaved in information about the brewery and its founders, Chris and Tara Goulet. As Zuri was talking he had a pitcher on hand that contained one of Birdsong’s brews. Sample glasses were 4oz but the pitcher contained enough beer for second servings. At Birdsong we sampled four different brews.
Left to Right (above) – Birdsong, Unknown, and Heist Breweries
After Birdsong we went to The Unknown Brewing Company and, after that, Heist Brewery where we were again provided with generous samples while Zuri regaled us with stories of the breweries and their owners. The Brews Cruise was highly enjoyable. It was well-organized and informative – overall a great way to spend three to four hours on a Saturday afternoon.