North Carolina Goes West…and Dominates: The Great American Beer Festival

I made the pilgrimage. I went to The Great American Beer Festival last week in Denver, Colorado.

Of course, it was delicious and fun. Of course, you should go. Of course, I had all the rare beers.

But the experience was also filled with surprises. Three days prior to the festival I was offered a Wicked Weed beer at a barbecue joint in Boulder. Our waiter met my surprise with a cool, “Oh, it’s our third Wicked Weed keg.” Fast forward to a conversation with Certified Cicerone© Chris Westgard of Crafty Beer Guys, and I learn that many breweries around the country opt to distribute in popular beer cities in addition to or sometimes in lieu of local distribution. The delicious, agriculturally-focused Fonta Flora in Morganton practices this distribution method.

[Side note: It’s just another example of how there is no one right way to be in the beer business and the importance of leaving growth and distribution choices to each brewery regardless of production.]

Medals, Medals, and More Medals!

First, the medal count. North Carolina’s success this year is unprecedented. Seventeen and the best Very Small Brewing Company and Brewer of the Year (Brown Truck Brewery in High Point, opened in 2016 and yes the taproom is open daily!)

Seventeen medals. Only three states took home more: California (68), Colorado (38), and Oregon (21), which are home to some of the most popular and experienced breweries in the nation. North Carolina is a major player.

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In the  Charlotte-area, D9 Brewing Company (Cornelius) won Gold for Experimental Beer with Dry Hopped Systema of Naturae – Scuppernong & Lily and NoDa Brewing (Charlotte) won Gold for Herb and Spice Beer with NoDajito.  Suzie Ford, president of NoDa, was particularly excited for NoDajito winning gold, as it “makes us even more excited to get in and put our own twist on traditional styles; that’s what the NoDable Series is all about. Beer is fun and winning for NoDajito, a truly fun beer, reminded us of that.”

It was also a fantastic festival for some of our state’s older breweries, who have paved the way for the Wicked Weeds, Crank Arms, and Birdsongs out there. Foothills Brewing (Winston-Salem) won Bronze for Bohemian-Style Pilsner with Torch Pilsner, Olde Hickory (Hickory) won Gold for Old Ale or Strong Ale with Irish Walker and Silver for Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Stout with The Event Horizon, and Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery (Farmville) won Silver for Sweet Stout or Cream Stout with the classic Duck-Rabbit Milk Stout.

The Festival Hall: Where the Beer is Poured!

If you’ve not attended, the hall is divided up by regions, except for a Meet the Brewer area (where NoDa was located so participants could talk to Head Brewer Chad Henderson) and an area for state brewery guilds to answer questions about their state’s beer industry and try local beers that didn’t get a spot on the festival hall floor. Executive Director Margo Metzger of the NC Craft Brewers Guild was at the NC table the first night pouring Gibb’s Hundred, Ponysaurus, New Sarum, Wooden Robot, and others who did not have a table on the hall floor.

Now with 780 breweries in the festival hall, grabbing an attendee’s attention is a little like a book cover trying to capture the attention of someone roaming around a Barnes and Nobles. And despite the regional labeling, within regions there seems to be no method for where breweries are set up. For instance, an NC brewery can be found between a Florida and a Georgia brewery, not beside all the other NC breweries.

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So with all this choice and volume, first impressions and visuals mattered. And entertaining brewery names don’t hurt either. Ass Clown (Cornelius) had a significant and continuous line throughout the festival, a small circular brand sign accompanying the generic festival one. Birdsong covered up the generic sign with their big red branded banner and also saw continual business, as did Catawba Brewing with a banner and flags that attracted a steady crowd. Wicked Weed, with reputation in hand, had a branded ranch-style entrance sign, a hanging hop lamp resembling their logo, and two lines consistently 20-yards long to taste regular beers and their hard-to-get sours.

NoDa and The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery were two local breweries with tables but not the branded signage and the lines did appear significantly shorter. The group I was with felt a little bummed because we love these two breweries — the people and the beer — and felt the lack of branding was detrimental to getting more people at the tables. We wondered if it had anything to do with their respective roles with Craft Freedom, opting to keep all branding efforts stateside, but it turns out, at least in NoDa’s case, sometimes a banner just gets left unpacked – accidentally – in the rush to get out to Denver. But we did see the immediate impact of NoDa winning Gold with NoDajito on Saturday morning, as the NoDa traffic increased significantly at the evening’s imbibe session.

But What About Our Other Breweries?

There were 1,752 breweries in the competition and 780 tables. So most breweries were not lucky enough to snag a spot to pour to the public. This helps explains why Legion, Triple C, D9 Brewery, and our other breweries may not have had tables in the hall. But don’t feel too bad, while consuming all the beer, mere enthusiasts can forget that the festival is also an industry gathering place for brewers and industry folk to learn and connect. I ran into Legion brewer Alexa Long at the festival who beamed over the fact that she had been able to meet with so many other brewers, attend special tastings, and expand her network and knowledge. So while I was hoping to see her pouring her beer to attendees, it proved a proud moment to know our local brewers were engaging and networking with change-makers and influencers in the $22.3 billion-dollar craft beer industry.

Final Thoughts

This was just a small slice of the whole experience. The cheese, the hands-on learning opportunities, the Draught Quality Summit — did I mention the cheese? It is a fantastic three-day event. And for those planning to go next year, as you might imagine, each night gets a bit rowdier, more volunteers and less brewery staff at tables, more costumes, more daytime pre-gaming the event. For those who homebrew or are into sensory experiences, follow the Brewers Association and Cicerone© organization. The big guys and gals are all there, happily willing to chat.

But my main takeaway is that North Carolina is a craft beer state. I encourage you to all check out a few breweries this coming weekend and say, “Thank you.” They did us proud.

Beth Salyers is a freelance writer based in Charlotte. She can be reached at salyers.beth@gmail.com

The Fussy Pumpkin and Peach Craft Beer Brew Off at D9 Brewing on April 25

Remember Budweiser’s Super Bowl ad, wherein they poked fun at craft beer drinkers who fussed over their “pumpkin peach ales“?

D9 Brewing in Cornelius wants to have a little fun of their own, and for a great cause. The brewery is inviting area homebrewers to submit their own pumpkin and peach beers in The Fussy Pumpkin and Peach Craft Beer Brew Off, which will be held at the brewery from 2-10 p.m. on Saturday, April 25.

It is free for homebrewers to submit their beers. For the price of a pint, anyone who visits D9 Brewing that day can sample the various homebrews and vote on their favorite. The winning homebrewer will get to brew their recipe on the brewery’s pilot batch system as part of D9’s “Community Brew” series.

While the event is a fun way for area homebrewers to fire back at Budweiser’s Super Bowl ad, it’s much more than that. It will also raise funds for the Purvis family. Two years ago, Jim and Shawna Purvis’s sixteen-year-old daughter Shelby was diagnosed with  High-Risk Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. She spent the next year quarantined at home, or at a clinic receiving chemotherapy.

Two years have passed, and Shelby — now eighteen — hasn’t let her diagnosis stop her from serving others. Her efforts raising funds for charities like Hope Cancer and the Make-A-Wish Foundation led to her being nominated as Woman of the Year by the Leukemia and Lymphomas Society. Shelby will graduate high school this summer and undergo her final treatment on July 29.

So in addition to the beer and food trucks, you can also expect to see representatives from the Be The Match bone marrow registry, Alex’s Lemonade Stand (they fund childhood cancer research) and Ace and TJ’s Grin Kids. When the winning homebrewer’s beer is later tapped at the brewery, all proceeds will go to the Purvis family.

The Fussy Pumpkin and Peach Craft Beer Brew Off

D9 Brewing releases Black Ice Imperial Black Ale

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Black Friday seems as good a day to release a beer as any, especially if that beer is D9 Brewing’s Black Ice.

The Cornelius brewery will release their 10 percent Imperial Black Ale at the brewery  on Friday, Nov. 28. The beer is brewed with cacao nibs and aged on whiskey-soaked oak, and it will only be at the taproom for Thanksgiving weekend.

The brewery will also host a bottle share at the brewery at 2 p.m. and will award the first snifter of Black Ice as well as a free growler to the person wearing the most ridiculous winter hat. This will be awarded at 4 p.m., right when Black Ice starts pouring.

Outside, Karma Kafe will be serving food, and Vel-crow will take the stage at 6 p.m. to play some funk.

D9 Brewing Taps Golden Eagle this Wednesday, Nov. 12

D9 Brewing CompanyThis past August, the Carolina BrewMasters homebrew club met at the Carolina Raptor Center for its Thursday Night Flights events. As part of the event, the homebrewers brought beers to compete against one another for a chance to brew a beer with D9 Brewing in Cornelius.

Joe Domm won the competition with his Belgian blonde ale, and got to join the guys at D9 Brewing to brew a pilot batch. The brewery will tap Golden Eagle Belgian Blonde Ale from 6-8 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 12, and proceeds from the sale of the beer will benefit the Carolina Raptor Center.

No stranger to homebrew contests, Domm also won The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery’s US Open Rein Stein competition in 2013 with his Domm Kolsch. His Riverend Rye Porter also won Triple C Brewing’s Harvest Fest homebrew competition and was featured at the brewery’s festival on Nov. 1.

D9 Brewing Company Expands to New Location, Bigger Brewery

D9 Brewing Company

Last November, D9 Brewing Company opened a small taproom right around the corner from Ass Clown Brewing in Cornelius. From the first time I spoke with co-founder Andrew Durstewitz, he told me he knew their one-barrel system simply wouldn’t provide enough capacity to really get the beer out in other accounts (let alone supplying their own taproom), and that they would like to expand with a 10-barrel brewhouse later on.

Now, after just four months in business, they’re doing just that. Andrew and his two co-founders, John Ashcraft and Aaron Burton, have leased a new location at 11138-C Treynorth Drive in Cornelius (off exit 25). In it they will install a much larger 10-barrel brewhouse, two 20-barrel fermenters and a 20-barrel brite tank. Once the new location is fully licensed by the TTB and ABC, they will close the current location.

In total, the new building offers 4,700 square feet of space: 2,000 for the brewery, and the rest for the new taproom. They hope to open this location in August, though that’s dependent on the licensing, equipment arrival and construction.

“In general the response to our beer has been extremely positive, and we are very grateful,” said Andrew via e-mail. “Our mission is to stay in constant communication with the community as we grow so we can ensure the absolutely highest quality selections. We prefer to think of our selections as being ‘on the light side of big’. We all like big beer, but big beer that’s drinkable – and I think that resonates with the craft beer community.”

The larger brewery will allow D9 to brew ten times the amount of beer they were brewing in a single batch, and the increased capacity will help them build enough of an inventory to supply area bars and restaurants. Some of the brewery’s more popular beers so far include Black Ice Winter Double, Experiment #12, Viking Froach, Battle Hymn Black IPA and Hakuna Matata IPA.

They will brew those beers on the big system, while still using the pilot system for small batches and recipe development. They have no immediate plans to package their beers, and will use the next year to keep up with demand and dial in their recipes. To learn more about D9 Brewing, visit D9Brewing.com.