Spending your spare moments at a local brewery leisurely sipping craft beer is a trending pastime around the Charlotte area and other cities across the country. Heck, there is an entire demographic that is highly likely to schedule an amazing vacation around drinking craft beer. We can confidently say Charlotte and surrounding areas are doing a great job creating their own craft beer scene and is home to 20 plus breweries, each unique enough to meet the needs of your whim at hand. Whether it’s popularity or curiosity nudging us in the direction of our local brewery, what happens if you don’t drink beer or just can’t tell the difference between a craft beer and say a Budweiser? Well, we hope after reading this article, you will at least have a better understanding of this brewed beverage and can come to the table with a bit more knowledge than you had before you started reading.
To equip you with the information to confidently order that beer, we needed to do our own research. Let us introduce our new friend and local beer expert and blogger, Bryan Richards @brichwrites. Initially, blogging started as a creative outlet for Bryan, but with his passion for writing, a background in Communications and Marketing, and love for beer a new career evolved for him. It wasn’t long before he became a commissioned journalist who has been featured in Men’s Journal, Beer Advocate, and Charlotte Parent, to name a few. Bryan keeps busy writing for his food, travel and beer blog, The Wandering Gourmand, and projects that come his way. When he isn’t writing, he is spending time with his wife and two-and-half-year-old son. We met Bryan at the Carolina Beer Temple in downtown Matthews, NC. Carolina Beer Temple was a perfect place to study our subject. The walls are lined with locally brewed and imported craft beer and you can find a draft list with 18 rotating taps. You can even taste a beer with locally grown strawberries from Bush-n-Vine, which we featured in a previous blog post here. We never remember Chemistry lab being this much fun! Here we go!
We thought we would start off with the basics, what is craft beer?
Bryan laughingly explained this could be a whole conversation by itself, and was kind enough to keep it high level for us novices. As larger companies like Anheuser buy up smaller craft breweries such as Goose Island or Devils Backbone, it’s hard to define craft as ‘craft’. So, I lean more to independent breweries, that are individually-owned, privately-owned or owned by families. Locally-owned are smaller in what they produce and you find that their beer tends to be more ‘artisanal’. This is the term we are using to define beer these days. Independent brewers have more creativity and freedom in brewing which will get you more flavor profiles that are a bit more challenging than the Bud Lights of the world.
Look at what I call ‘big beer’—I don’t like to call them ‘domestics’, because they aren’t—none of the ‘big beer’ companies are domestically owned, they are all owned by foreign entities. So, when you talk about craft or independent, you are talking about American owned breweries. They are owned by the family down the road. They are employing people that you know. Bryan laughs a little, but that’s more along the lines of a political conversation on the subject.
But back to these beers here, Bryan gestures to some beers he selected from the diversely stocked shelves at the Beer Temple. There are several creative beers produced right here in Charlotte. You have the Bourbon Barrel Aged triple by Triple Brewing Co., Sycamore’s Mountain Candy which goes away from the citrus forward IPAs you get from most independent breweries and delivers notes of fruit punch almost. You also have something like Birdsong’s Lazy Bird Brown Ale.
What seemed like a simple question, wasn’t so simple. Sorry, Bryan.
How do we choose the brewery if we are asked to provide a recommendation?
Think about breweries like restaurants, ranging from a casual setting to a more sophisticated setting. Bryan advised us to first think about the type of occasion before selecting a brewery. If you are going out with the family, look for a more family-friendly brewery. For example, The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery has a giant beer garden that is just a ton of fun, and the kids can run and play. Free Range Brewery actually has a cool kid’s corner in the back with games, books, and puzzles. These will be more of your family friendly types of places.
For the day date or if you want to walk the ale trail with your husband or significant other, I would suggest the Wooden Robot. It’s a little more intimate, you’re not going to find kids, but you could bring the dog! Which sometimes is easier to handle, Bryan laughs, and let’s face it – we agree!
For date-night options to enjoy craft beer, I would recommend Divine Barrel Brewing in NoDa. It is a newer brewery in Charlotte with chandelier lighting and hanging greenery, and it offers a unique atmosphere. The Carolina Beer Temple in Matthews is an excellent option as it offers an intimate environment with a higher-end selection of beer from Belgium to local brews. Heist Brewery would be a great date night spot that has a very creative kitchen. Lastly, The Cellar at Duckworth’s. They have a nice food selection, but what is cool about The Cellar is they age vintage beer. They have a special menu where you can pick out Belgiams that have been aged four or five years. As Bryan is talking, we are making mental notes to set up sitters, because these suggestions sound fantastic!
Depending on the brewery, you will have a selection of brews to choose from. How do you decide?
This is where it may get a little overwhelming for us. However, Bryan is so energetic and knowledgeable when he discusses craft beer, that he has a way of encouraging us to get out of our box and try some new brews. Again, think about the occasion and maybe the weather. If it’s a hot afternoon, I probably wouldn’t recommend a double IPA or brown. Maybe a pale ale, session IPA, or one of the lighter farmhouse ales. If the sun is going down, you can bring in a more flavorful, heavier bodied beer. If you like a lighter beer stick with kölsch, wheat, pilsner, session beers. That didn’t seem so bad. And don’t be scared to ask for recommendations at the counter.
Now we feel like we already know the answer to this question, but we are fans of ciders. Are ciders considered to be a craft beer?
Bryan gives us a good-natured chuckle (thanks Bryan for being so patient with us)! No, but there are some good ciders here in Charlotte.
Ok, you can’t possibly leave out food. Are there rules to follow when pairing craft beer with food?
Unfortunately, pairing beer with food isn’t quite as easy as pairing wine with food. It doesn’t follow the same rule of thumb that wine does. You need to think about the heft of beer and the flavors of the beer. From there you want to think how the flavors are going to contrast each other or complement each other. We need a few examples to get that one to sink in! Let’s talk about several pairing examples: Sycamore Mountain Candy has soft fruit notes that pair nicely and compliment the richness of a New York cheesecake – creating cherry like topping effect. In this example, it acts as complementary and contrasting flavors that pair nicely together. A New England IPA pairs nicely with a slice of mango. Contrast wise, pair this with smoked gouda as it would wash down the fattiness. Malted Double IPA pairs well with ribeye steak. The beer will complement the flavor, not overpower it.
Several Adverse Pairings Are: Pair Oktoberfest with a dill pickle and you will bring out the garlic taste. Pair a Bourbon Stout with ribeye steak and they will overpower each other and lose the flavor of both.
Any last words of wisdom for us, Bryan?
Shop beyond the grocery store or Costco when it comes to beer. At a place like Carolina Beer Temple, you will have a better selection of choices, and access to a knowledgeable staff member to help you select a beer suitable for your occasion. AND, the beer will be FRESH! If you see an IPA on sale, run away from it! Beer should be drank fresh. Beer is not like wine, my friends, it has an expiration date! Who knew? We are such bargain shoppers; we typically would have gladly picked up the reduced-price case for our hubbies and friends – whoops!
We hope that you have at least come away with a bit more knowledge of craft beer. Since our time with Bryan, we’ve already visited a local brewery and give him full credit for taking away the “deer in headlights” look!
We are so appreciative that Bryan took time out if his very busy schedule to answer some of our questions. Make sure you follow Bryan on Instagram at @brichwrites and be enlightened by his writing on The Wandering Gourmand. Also, a big thanks to Carolina Beer Temple located in Matthews, NC for your hospitality. Stop in and speak with their very knowledgeable and accommodating staff – they are wonderful at helping you find an amazing brew!
Thank you for stopping by! We appreciate you!
Karrie and Maribeth