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.


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.


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

Betting Beers on Super Bowl 50

When the Carolina Panthers take on the Denver Broncos this Sunday, Vegas won’t be the only ones playing the odds. North Carolina’s brewers want a piece of the pie, and they’re backing their home team the best way they know how — by betting with beer.

The first beer-related bet came prior to the Panthers playing the Seattle Seahawks, and not from a brewer but from Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts. Roberts challenged Seattle Mayor Ed Murray to a friendly wager: if the Panthers lost, she’d send a trifecta of Queen City goodness in the form of barbecue from Mac’s Speed Shop, salted caramel brownies from Amélie’s French Bakery & Café and beer from The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery.

Fortunately, Roberts didn’t have to deliver on her end (and sorry, but she’s not sorry). Instead, Murray will be sending her a taste of Seattle: wine from South Seattle College’s Northwest Wine Academy, Chinese barbeque from Kau Kau and beer from Pike Brewing.

With the Panthers set to take on the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship, things got even more heated. The first shots fired came from Rob Fullmer, executive director of the Arizona Craft Brewers Guild, who in a video challenged the North Carolina Brewers Guild to a bet. The guild behind the losing team would not only have to send five different beers as well as food to go along with them, but they would also have to welcome the other guild into their state to brew a collaboration beer (to be named by the winning team).

Suffice it to say the Panthers are going to the Super Bowl, and some of North Carolina’s brewers will be travelling to Arizona to brew a collaboration beer (the details for which are forthcoming). The guild has also entered into a new wager with the Colorado Brewers Guild in which the losing state must host a tap takeover featuring five of the winning state’s best beers. And who decides which beers those are? You do, by nominating your favorite breweries from both states here

Individual breweries throughout Colorado and North Carolina are raising the stakes. Charlotte’s Wooden Robot Brewery has entered into a wager with Little Machine Beer, another robot-themed brewery that is located just a few blocks away from the Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver. If the Panthers win, Little Machine’s head brewer must dress up as Superman and perform “an undisclosed physical challenge” in tribute to Cam Newton. And if they lose, Wooden Robot’s Dan Wade will pay his own tribute to Peyton Manning by doing the same dressed as a sheriff, a nod to the longtime quarterback’s nickname.

Wardrobe requirements were part of Strange Craft Beer Co.’s challenge to NoDa Brewing as well. The Denver brewery has waged that if the Broncos win, NoDa’s co-founder Todd Ford must wear a Peyton Manning jersey at work and send a case each of the brewery’s Hop Drop ‘n Roll and Coco Loco Porter. If the Panthers win, Tim Myers from Strange Craft Beer Co. has agreed to send cases of their Cherry Kriek and Dr. Strangelove Barleywine. He’ll have to wear a Cam Newton jersey, naturally, and he’s going to have to dab on them folks. Both breweries will donate to charity in the other brewery’s name: NoDa Brewing to the Keep Pounding Fund, and Strange Craft Brewing Co. to the National Sports Center for the Disabled.

Last year Triple C Brewing’s head brewer Scott Kimball was in Denver at the Great American Beer Festival, where he accepted a bronze medal in the American-style Strong Pale Ale category for the brewer’s 3C IPA. Taking the silver medal in that category was Via Chicago, a pale ale by Coda Brewing Co. in Aurora. Given their shared proficiency in pale ales, the two have wagered a case of beer on their respective teams. And not only that, but one member of the losing brewery will have to get a tattoo of the other team’s logo.

Lone Tree and Sycamore

Triple C’s neighbors down the road at Sycamore Brewing have a similar wager. Like Triple C, Sycamore also won a bronze medal at last year’s Great American Beer Festival for its Southern Girl Lager in the American Style Lager or Light Lager category. Taking silver was Lone Tree Brewing out of Lone Tree, Colorado, and just ahead of them was that most famous of Colorado lager brewers, Coors Brewing Co. (for its Coors Banquet in particular). Sycamore and Lone Tree have since realized they have a lot in common, and so the two will be brewing a pair of India pale lagers soon (one featuring an ingredient from Colorado, the other with an ingredient from North Carolina). Until those are ready, the two breweries have come to an agreement: whichever team loses must dress in the other team’s colors and take a photo of themselves “drowning the sorrows of the loss with Coors Banquet beer.” The lower will also donate to a charity that supports the other team’s mascot (so horses for Colorado, and wildcats for North Carolina).

Even Durham’s Fullsteam Brewery has made what it’s calling “a sports ball wager in the name of beer” with Denver’s Spangalang Brewery. If you’re familiar with Fullsteam’s beers, it shouldn’t surprise you that their wager involves local ingredients. The winner of this wager will design a recipe for a beer that uses indigenous ingredients from their state, but the beer will be brewed and served in the loser’s brewery. Fullsteam’s crowdsourcing potential names, beer styles and ingredients on their Facebook event page.

Fullsteam’s even pre-gaming on Friday, Feb. 5 by releasing a beer called “Bless Their Heart.” It’s a twist on the Winter Rambler gruit they brewed with Charlotte’s Free Range Brewing, and it contains foraged juniper, Fraser fir and chokeberry syrup. It’s that last ingredient they feel best embodies Peyton Manning’s history of choking in the Super Bowl.

Whether Manning and the Broncos will do just that remains to be seen, but one thing is certain — North Carolina’s brewers have a lot at stake this year. And it’s not just the brewers: the Charlotte Observer has also entered into a wager with the Denver Post, with beer and barbecue on the line. Graphic designers from both Colorado and the Carolinas are facing off in a Design Brawl, with a six-pack’s worth of designs based on the Panthers and Broncos. And while you can’t influence the outcome of the game, you can vote on your favorite designs at

Brewers Collaborate for the North Carolina Brewers Celebration

Gary Brown from Boondocks Brewing

Gary Brown, founder of Boondocks Brewing, measures out hops for the red IPA. The beer will be served at the NC Brewers Celebration at BB&T Ballpark on Saturday, June 27.

Representatives from breweries across the state met at NoDa Brewing this morning to brew a collaboration beer for the North Carolina Brewers Celebration, to be held at BB&T Ballpark on Saturday, June 27. The festival is presented by All About Beer magazine in conjunction with the North Carolina Craft Brewers Guild.

The collaborative beer is a red IPA brewed with Pacific Jade, Equinox, Azacca, Chinook and Bravo hops, and it will be served at the festival as well as in the taprooms of participating breweries. The following breweries were in attendance to help brew the red IPA: Boondocks Brewing, Check Six Brewing, The Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery, Four Saints Brewing Co., Mystery Brewing, Natty Greene’s Brewing Co., Triple C Brewing, White Street Brewing Co. and Wise Man Brewing.

The festival will feature around 50 North Carolina breweries as well as several local farmers, retailers and beer stores. At a small “cask ale festival,” six NC breweries will pour a variety of cask-conditioned beers.

General admission tickets for the festival are $45 and include a 4-ounce commemorative glass and unlimited samples of more than 150 beers from 1-5 p.m. VIP tickets are $70 and provide the aforementioned samples, early entry at noon, a festival gift, and access to 20-30 limited beers not available to general admission ticket holders, plus access to private bathrooms and an air-conditioned lounge in the club level.

Tickets for the North Carolina Brewers Celebration are available at

NoDa Brewing to release NoDajito in cans this month

NoDa Brewing NoDajito Cans

Tomorrow is Derby Day, and would-be mixologists everywhere are buying handfuls of mint with which to craft their own mint juleps.

NoDa Brewing has mint on the mind as well, but for a different reason. Today, they released the can design for NoDajito, which should hit shelves the week of May 18th.

This is the third in the brewery’s line of seasonal cans, following December’s Hoppy Holidays and February’s Hop Cakes. As you would expect from the name, NoDajito is a Mojito-inspired witbier brewed with mint leaves and lime zest. Four-packs of the beer should retail for $9.99.

And if you, too, fancy yourself something of a mixologist, why not make your own version of what NoDa Brewing calls its Thin Mint. Simply mix equal parts NoDajito and Coco Loco (which is also in cans now) and you have a dark, minty blend that rivals the Girl Scout cookies for which its named.

An Elaboration on Collaborations

Earlier today, I posted about Birdsong Brewing and Hi-Wire Brewing collaborating on a beer, which will be released Friday. And a couple months ago, I wrote about The Boozehound, a collaboration between Triple C Brewing and Sycamore Brewing that was tapped on Valentine’s Day.

Well, these breweries aren’t the only ones feeling the collaborative spirit. This Thursday, March 12, NoDa Brewing is doing something they’ve never done before: brewing two collaborations with two different breweries and in two different cities. Head brewer Chad Henderson is out in Portland, Oregon, where he will be brewing an Imperial IPA with Ben Edmunds at Breakside Brewery. The beer will feature 180 pounds of NC honey and 180 pounds of Oregon honey. Both breweries know a thing or two about IPAs: last year NoDa Brewing won gold at the World Beer Cup for its Hop Drop ‘n Roll, and Breakside won gold at the Great American Beer Festival for its Breakside IPA. This collaboration beer will make its debut at the Craft Brewers Conference in April (and will find its way into NoDa’s taproom in late April as well).

While Henderson and Edmunds are pouring 360 pounds of honey into a massive Imperial IPA, NoDa’s lead brewer, Bart Roberts, will be across town brewing a hoppy bock with Lenny Boy’s John Watkins. This one will later be brewed at NoDa as well, and both versions will use organic malts. Roberts and Watkins are just two of a handful of brewers who worked at Charlotte’s Alternative Beverage homebrew store, so this will be a reunion of sorts.

Also this Thursday, Salud Beer Shop will be tapping Hop Rocks Sour IPA, a collaboration between Fullsteam Brewery in Durham and Wooden Robot Brewery, which is currently building in Charlotte’s South End.

So that’s Thursday, and a busy one. Then this Saturday morning, Kevin Kozak and Kelsie Cole from Wilmington’s Front Street Brewery are making the trip to NoDa to brew an oyster stout — but this is not the same one you might have had in previous years. This one will be a 9 percent ABV, imperial version of that beer brewed to celebrate Front Street’s 20th anniversary. And instead of being called “Mother Shucker,” this one will be called “Muthah Shuck Yo Mouth.”

NoDa Brewing Releases Hop Cakes Cans on Feb. 9

NoDa Brewing Hop Cakes Can NoDa Brewing will release four-pack cans of Hop Cakes, a double IPA brewed with maple syrup, at the taproom this Monday, Feb. 9. The cans will be distributed around town starting the next day, but if you want to try it on tap head to the brewery this Friday, Feb. 6 (kegs, too, will make their way to area bars next week). This beer first appeared as a small-batch NoDable beer almost three years ago when head brewer Chad Henderson interrupted a lumberjack convention to tell them about the beer. The brewery has since brewed larger amounts and had it on tap at the brewery, though not often. This will be the first time they have packaged the beer. This is the second in the brewery’s line of specialty cans. The first, Hoppy Holidays, was released last December. Though it was distributed to many bottle shops around town, Hoppy Holidays didn’t last long on the shelves. At more than 3,000 four-packs, Hop Cakes will be much more plentiful than Hoppy Holidays. Still, it’s limited. I’d recommend trying to find it sooner rather than later, as it’s sure to sell like — well, you know.

NoDa Brewing releases Hoppy Holidays

NoDa Brewing has released Hoppy Holidays, the first in a new series of specialty cans. Four-packs are currently available in the taproom and will make their way to area beer stores later this week, though it is limited.

Hoppy Holidays is a 6.5 percent IPA that has been dry-hopped with Simcoe and Chinook hops. After checking out the label, you might be wondering, “What does this IPA have to do with Christmas?”

Besides the cool label design, you mean? Well, Hoppy Holidays was also dry-hopped with spruce tips, adding even more to the piney notes that you’ll often find in IPAs.

NoDa Brewing Hoppy Holidays

Upcoming Bottles (and Cans) from Charlotte Breweries

Several Charlotte breweries will be releasing new bottles and cans in the weeks to come, which is perfect timing for anyone wishing to share some local beer over Thanksgiving dinner or give a bottle or two to someone for Christmas.

Be on the lookout for the following beer releases:

  • Tuesday, Nov. 11: Fresh off the heels of releasing The Force and The Dude Imbibes, Triple C Brewing will waste no time getting their next bottles out. They have bottle their White Blaze winter ale for the first time, and you can pick up bottles at the taproom starting on Tuesday (they will soon be in area bottle shops). This winter seasonal is brewed with cinnamon and vanilla beans.
  • Thursday, Nov. 13: Birdsong Brewing will release “Turtles on Pterodactyls,” the third in the brewery’s Take Flight series. Last year, they put some of their popular MexiCali Stout in bourbon barrels, where it’s been aging for the last 11 months. They’ll blend this aged beer with a little of this year’s MexiCali Stout and throw some more cinnamon and cocoa nibs in for good measure. The bottles will be released at 4:30 p.m. this Thursday, with a four-bottle limit per person. It will be on draft as well.
  • Saturday, Nov. 15: Their White Blaze might be new to bottles, but this will be the third year that Triple C Brewing has sold bottles of Up All Night Breakfast Porter. This beer is brewed with chocolate malt, flaked oats, honey and lactose before being aged on coffee beans from Charlotte’s Magnolia Coffee. They will sell bottles starting at noon on Saturday, Nov. 15, and this year they are also offering some package deals. You can get two bottles of this year’s Up All Night plus a Teku glass for $30, or a bottle each of 2013 and 2014 Up All Night and a glass for $32 (these Teku glasses, which you can see here, are $10 by themselves).
  • Tuesday, Nov. 18: NoDa Brewing’s Coco Loco Porter is hardly new, having been a popular beer at the brewery since they opened their doors three years ago. But next week, you’ll be able to find this medal-winning porter in cans. It will be the brewery’s fourth canned beer, following in the footsteps of Hop Drop ‘n Roll, Jam Session and CAVU Blonde Ale.
  • Friday, Nov. 21: The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery will release Dunkel, its winter seasonal. They brewed this dark lager earlier this year and have had it on tap at the brewery, but now fans of the beer will be able to grab six-packs.

NoDa Brewing Coco Loco Cans Hitting Shelves Soon

NoDa Brewing Coco Loco Porter Cans

NoDa Brewing Co. released the label for Coco Loco Porter, which they’ve brewed since they opened in October of 2011. Now, three years later, the beer will join Hop Drop ‘n Roll, Jam Session and CAVU as their fourth canned beer when it hits shelves starting on Tuesday, Nov. 18.

The porter won a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival in 2012 (and since there was no gold awarded, that was the highest-ranked beer in the Robust Porter category that year).

Like their other three canned beers, the label for Coco Loco was designed by the folks at Saturday Brand Communications. For this one, the brewery wanted to continue with the vintage aesthetic while tying in the coconut without specifically having it on the can, according to president Suzie Ford.

The copy reads: “Enjoy the blend of chocolate and brown malts in this robust porter with crazy-rich color and ruby highlights. The subtle bitterness of chocolate is balanced by sweet, organic toasted coconut. Perfect to pair with food or just enjoy alone. So go nuts, you’ll be glad you did.”

Four-packs of the beer will retail for $10.99, as it’s a more expensive beer to make than Jam Session and CAVU. At the taproom, the brewery will offer mixed four-packs of their full lineup of cans.

NoDa Brewing Announces New Location

This past May, NoDa Brewing announced they had run out of space at their current location in NoDa and were looking for another building. Today, it was announced in the Charlotte Business Journal that the brewery will sign a lease on a building at 2921 N. Tryon Street.

At 32,000-square-feet, the building is much larger than NoDa Brewing’s current location. The building, which was built in the 1930s, was once home to the Fleischmann’s vinegar plant and is now the headquarters for the Ray Roofing Company.

If you’re fond of the brewery’s current home in NoDa, not to worry: they will continue using this space as a barrel-aging facility and taproom. Asheville’s Wicked Weed Brewing took a similar path this year by opening up their sour-beer-focused Funkatorium  while also announcing plans to open a separate production facility in 2015. NoDa Brewing’s new facility will feature a 60-barrel brewhouse, which will allow them to brew four times the amount of beer in a single batch. They also plan to add their own canning line (currently their beers are canned by Land of the Sky Mobile Canning).

NoDa isn’t the only brewery to run out of space after a few years in business. The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery recently relocated to a bigger facility at 4150 Yancey Rd., where they too graduated from a 15-barrel brewhouse to a 60-barrel brewhouse. Birdsong Brewing is currently in the process of moving to a larger location about a mile away from their current home. And while Triple C Brewing isn’t moving, they did recently announce their own expansion plans that include additional fermenters, a grain silo and their own canning line.

NoDa Brewing Company's New Location

NoDa Brewing Company's New Location (photo taken from Google Maps)