I’m not particularly known for hyperbole. When I say that last weekend was one of the biggest for Charlotte Beer, I mean it.
• Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new local brewery. In case you somehow missed out on its Saturday afternoon grand opening shindig, Sycamore Brewery has opened its doors in South End, at 2161 Hawkins St. to be precise. The owners invited thousands of their closest friends in the Charlotte beer community to celebrate, with five in-house beers flowing at their inside bar and at outside taps set up for the event. Conveniently, they’re just up the street from Lenny Boy Brewing, making this street a one-stop good afternoon.
Let me tell you about two beers that really impressed me there: Southerly OPA and Winchester ESB. No, that wasn’t a typo, as they’ve added Oats to a solid Pale Ale for slight bitterness and smoother mouth-feel. ESB, or English Special Bitter, is my “desert island” beer style of choice, and the Winchester didn’t disappoint at all. Rounding out their first-day offerings were a South Mountain Cream Stout, Grassy Knees Blonde Ale, and Opening Day IPA.
Moving forward, Sycamore will be open seven days a week, but will be closed until Wednesday, Nov. 5, at 4 p.m. What can I say? It was a big party, and they deserve the time off.
• Speaking of big parties, earlier that Saturday morning hundreds of die-hard beer faithful braved wind and rain over at NoDa Brewing, eagerly awaiting the release of its bourbon-barrel-aged whale-of-an-ale Monstro Imperial Stout. The first in line arrived at 3 a.m. (yes, 3 a.m.) for the 10 a.m. bottle release. By 7 a.m., the line had 60 people in it, and not 40 minutes later we had crossed the 100 threshold. Numbered wristbands were assigned to those in line, with doors opening just before 9 a.m. to allow respite from the elements.
Once inside, Monstro was flowing on tap, giving those bottle-seekers a delicious taste of what to expect. Bottle sales started at 10, with a limit of one case of 12 bottles per person. Here’s where things get tricky — NoDa didn’t expect every person in line to buy their full case allotment. Problem is, people did.
It’s worth mentioning right now the warning all of us received when donning our wristband: just having a wristband does not guarantee beer will be available to you. It just guarantees your spot in the buying order. Of the 170 people wearing wristbands, only 109 folks took home bottles; Monstro to-go was sold out just 90 minutes after coming online.
This isn’t NoDa’s first bottle release; they’ve offered take-home TriUmphant (twice) and Imperial Coco Loco in the past. This crowd was, however, probably equal to the combined crowds for those other three releases. Thanks to their success of Hop, Drop & Roll, this beer’s release was on the radar for beer geeks all across the Southeast. Next year promises larger bottle availability and smaller per-person limits, ensuring more will be able to get their hands on this whale.
• Birdsong Brewing, also in NoDa, heralded the release of its popular winter seasonal, Mexicali Stout, on Friday night. This ale is further spiced with cinnamon and chili spice, and is a beer I look forward to all year. This year, I got some great news — it’s been barrel-aged. Turns out several bourbon barrels have held last year’s offering for 11 months. This libation will be blended with 2014 Mexicali, and further spiced with cocoa nibs and more cinnamon, courtesy of South End’s Savory Spice Shop. Expect the resulting treat, now known as Turtles On Pterodactyls, to be released in bottles on Nov. 13.
• From the “good things come to those who wait” department: Brawley’s Beverage on Park Road is now in the on-premise business. That’s right, in addition to being a top-shelf bottle shop, Brawley’s now has a tap system and the permits allowing beer to be poured. Brawley’s has also almost cornered the market on New Belgium’s La Folie, so if that’s your speed (and it certainly is mine) be sure to swing by.
• Lastly, I have a wonderful bit of news concerning the ownership of the NoDa Brewing. Much has been written on Susie and Todd Ford’s risky decision to convert their retirement savings into start-up capital for their brewery. Their gamble has certainly paid off; they’re currently shopping for a new brewhouse that will quadruple the amount of beer that can be brewed at once. The Fords recognize talent when they see it, and are offering Chad Henderson, their head brewer from Day One, a minority stake in the company. I want to congratulate them all on this move, and wish them continued success.
This weekend’s journey began Thursday night, where I was able to confirm that the Panthers relocated a trespassing beer cart from their Local Craft beer garden. Friday, I journeyed to Asheville for Wicked Weed’s release of “Dark Arts,” a bourbon-barrel sour stout, then shot right back to Charlotte. Three hours of sleep later, I was in line at NoDa, then pinballing between newcomer Sycamore Brewing and neighbor Lenny Boy.
Thank goodness for daylight savings time ending. I certainly needed that extra hour of sleep.