PHOTO: A flight of beers at Heist Brewery in Charlotte, North Carolina. (photo by Eric Bowman)
North Carolina Beer Month begins in April, and Charlotte’s got a lot to offer.
If you love beer, you’ll be hard-pressed to find another city that can deliver an exBEERience quite like Charlotte can. I spent this past weekend exploring the city and found out just how true that is.
The queen city is beautiful, and she knows how to have a good time.
Charlotte Brews Cruise
Scott Coggins is the owner and operator of Charlotte Brews Cruise and a native of the queen city.
A superb guide and a self-proclaimed Carolina boy through and through, Coggins has held multiple jobs in the tourism industry and is extremely well knowledgeable about the Charlotte breweries and the overall craft beer process.
The Charlotte Brews Cruise is currently paired up with seven breweries in the city: Birdsong Brewing Company, Blue Blaze Brewing Company, Heist Brewery, Lenny Boy Brewing Company, Legion Brewing Company, The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery and The Unknown Brewing Company.
Coggins picks three of these for the cruise and sets up a behind-the-scenes tour in addition to pouring everyone’s samples.
“We’ve found that three is fun, four is trouble,” Coggins said.
(With 12-15 4oz. sample pours over the course of the afternoon, it’s easy to see why they stick to the method of cruising around to only three.)
For my excursion, we ventured out to Birdsong Brewery Company, which names all its beers, except one, after songs. The exception is the very popular Jalapeño Pale Ale (5.5 percent ABV). While it may sound spicy, it really isn’t; Birdsong does a tremendous job capturing the smell and taste of jalapenos without adding the heat.
Our next stop was The Unknown Brewing Company, where we sampled the delicious Ginger Wheat (5.1 percent ABV) and learned how owner Brad Shell went through several hoops with the city to secure such an awesome location down the street from Bank of America Stadium, home of the Carolina Panthers.
Our final stop was Heist Brewery, where we sampled the flight of beers seen above. In addition to solid brews, Heist is also well-known for its exceptional food. You can find fantastic food trucks at several breweries in Charlotte, but Heist has a full menu to feed your beer munchies.
Whether you’re a local, in town for the weekend or visiting the city in a bachelor or bachelorette party, Charlotte Brews Cruise is a must if you love beer. Start your exBEERience off right and join the Saturday public brewery tour for $49 a person, or set up a private brewery tour any day of the week for $54 a person.
Drinking beer while learning how it was made and packaged, what could be better?
Brews Cruise was founded by Mark and Trish Lyons and began in Asheville, North Carolina. In addition to Asheville and Charlotte, there are Brews Cruise locations in Charleston, South Carolina; Denver, Colorado; Atlanta, Georgia; Chicago, Illinois; and Nashville, Tennessee.
READ MORE: The Best Beers To Try on Each Continent
The Cellar (at Duckworth’s)
So, you’ve been drinking all day, and now you need something to eat.
Well, for a truly exceptional experience unlike anything else in the city, The Cellar at Duckworth’s has everything you could want. Where else can you find a vintage beer cellar?
The focus of your day has been all about great beer. That shouldn’t stop when it comes time for dinner. Located below the Duckworth’s sports bar and grill, The Cellar has a speakeasy vibe and 481 available beers.
In fact, General Manager Charles Read told me that, during prohibition years, they believe the downstairs Cellar was a legit Speakeasy.
The underground space was originally built in 1912, with the upstairs being a pharmacy. In the 1980’s, it was home to Johnathan's Jazz Cellar. According to Read, what is now a six-person booth was a stage where, “BB King, Eric Clapton, and Prince all performed.”
A well-informed staff (shoutout to my amazing server, Darren!) will help make your exBEERience even more remarkable by guiding you through the Vintage Beer Cellar, which is a cool 55 degrees. Per Read, the styles of beer in this rare cellar are “Porters, Stouts, Barleywines, Strong Ales, Belgians, and Sours or Wild Ales.”
As you expand your horizons and try new brews, you will also feast on some of the best food in the city courtesy of Executive Chef Fred Quinones. The truffle mac and cheese is life-changing, the lamb chops are from New Zealand and the candied jalapeno bacon is perfect with any beer.
However, the house-made waffle cones might just steal the show. (side note: The kitchen is behind the walls of the bathroom, which means whenever you have to go, the restroom smells like an old-timey ice cream shop, every time. What a pleasant surprise to anyone who broke the seal far too early in their day of drinking. )
With more brews to choose from than one can fathom and outstanding food to wash it all down, The Cellar at Duckworth’s impeccably completes a sensational day fixated around beer.
READ MORE Best Spots for a Beer in Asheville, The Brewery Capital of America
Other Brew Options
Charlotte has 16 breweries, at least five more on the way and a plethora of great bars to find quality drinks. So, trying to fit everything into one weekend is impossible.
Outside of the those listed above, other top-notch breweries are NoDa Brewing Company, Sycamore Brewing and Triple C Brewing Company.
Duckworth’s itself has 150 beers on tap (I highly recommend the Bonito Blonde Ale from Ballast Point Brewing Company) and tons of TVs for your sports viewing pleasure. And for an excellent city view, go to Fahrenheit’s rooftop for after-dinner drinks.
If you find yourself itching for a Guinness, like I often do whenever I travel, make your way to The Workman’s Friend. When entering an Irish pub and restaurant, and your bartender is Irish, you know you’re in a great spot.
Special thanks to the wonderful people at Charlotte’s got a lot for setting up portions of such a splendid trip.