There are a few things you can count on happening at the end of every year — getting burned out on Christmas music, eating too much, making resolutions for the new year and reading summaries about the previous year's goings-on. So put on "Jingle Bells," fix yourself a snack, make plans to start hitting the gym in January, and see how my hindsight on Charlotte beer is faring.
I start this column off with a note of regret — that I didn't keep impeccable notes on Charlotte beer goings-on before I got this awesome writing gig, and that someone else hadn't yet written their own year in review piece so I could crib off of it. Perhaps it's for the best. Now I'm forced to write about things I actually remember, so they surely had lasting impact. Advanced apologies if I accidentally overlooked something crucial.
Though the owners opened their taproom in November 2013, Unknown Brewing started brewing on their own system in February. Their first batches went directly to market in city-wide launch events on March 6. My first impressions of their beer solidified my mantra: "Every brewery should dump their first few batches on their new system while they dial things in." That's the bad part about first impressions — you only get one. They would eventually find their feet and make vastly improved beers, but it took some time for my trust to be regained.
Speaking of breweries and bad beer, Four Friends announced on April 30 that it was closing its doors. I enjoyed several of its offerings, but for every tasty 21 Karat, there was a diacetyl-laden I-77 IPA or muddled mess of Extinction. While the Friends themselves were incredibly nice people, the beers didn't leave the same positive impression, and the Charlotte beer scene saw its first casualty.
April wasn't all doom and gloom, though. NoDa Brewing lit the beer world on fire, bringing home the World Beer Cup's gold medal in the most competitive category, India Pale Ale. That's right, when you're in the mood to taste success, cruise to your favorite bottle shop and ask for cans of Hop, Drop 'n Roll, if the latest batch hasn't sold out already.
Come August, I began using one of my now-favorite phrases — new Olde Mecklenburg. After more than four years in its original space at 215 Southside Drive, OMB moved just down the street into a beautiful, must-visit facility. I can't say enough nice things about the place, so do yourself a solid and go check it out. There's plenty of green space, a massive 60-barrel brewhouse and a Germanic taproom with atmosphere that just can't be beat.
A few months ago, I wrote a piece that drew a line in the sand between Charlotte Oktoberfest and newcomer Charlotte Beerfest. Here's another difference: Oktoberfest organizers Carolina Brewmasters proudly announced charitable contributions totaling $81,000 all going to local nonprofits. Beerfest organizers have mysteriously ignored numerous requests for charitable donation totals. Next year, just remember: Charlotte Oktoberfest — often imitated, never duplicated.
Charlotte breweries also got wood this year, with many notable barrel-aged offerings appearing. Triple C aged two beers on rum barrels (The Force and The Dude Imbibes) with great success; NoDa had a whale of a release with its bourbon-barreled imperial stout (Monstro); Birdsong rested its Mexicali Stout in bourbon barrels (Turtles On Pterodactyls); and Unknown took a left turn with a tequila oak stave-aged beer with 99 freaking scorpions in it. I'll admit, the whole concept smacked of gimmick to me at first, but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.
New breweries alert! Sugar Creek Brewing moved into the (also fun to type) old Olde Mecklenburg space, and Sycamore Brewing converted an old auto garage into its new South End home. We're not done growing yet; 2015 will see the debuts of (at least) Free Range, Red Clay and Wooden Robot. Existing breweries either expanding or opening second locations? NoDa, Triple C, Birdsong.
So what does next year hold, besides new blood in the Charlotte beer scene? Hey, I'm just the beer guy; horoscopes run in the back of the book. I do plan to visit every brewery in Mecklenburg County, one a month, and give you a full report, in case you haven't been already. That's something to look forward to.
It's been a big year for Charlotte beer, and I'm looking forward to learning what 2015 will hold. Cheers!