Olde Mecklenburg neighborhood rocks Charlotte’s brewery scene

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olde-meck-outside-webCompared to other North Carolina beer cities, you could say that Charlotte came later to the dance. Though places like Asheville (Highland Brewing, 1994) and Chapel Hill (Carolina Brewery, 1995) have had a lively brewery scene for more than 20 years, Charlotte’s first local brewery, Olde Mecklenburg, opened in 2009.

But Charlotte has made up for lost time. More than 20 local breweries offer residents and tourists something more to do than watch football and basketball games. And many of Charlotte’s breweries are clustered near the city’s light rail system, making it even easier to visit a few and still get home safely.

On a recent trip to Charlotte, we found a cluster of breweries within a two-block area, starting with the county’s first brewery, Olde Mecklenburg. As a brewery that specializes in Bavarian-style lagers, Olde Mecklenburg also offers a great selection of German food and sandwiches. So we started there for lunch – German sausages with sauerkraut and potato salad. We tried these beers – Hornet’s Nest Hefeweizen, Yule Christmas Bock, Captain Jack Pilsner and Fat Boy Porter – all were good.

Later we returned for the Olde Mecklenburg brewery tour. We heard more about the commitment to brewing according to the Law of Purity – using only hops, yeast, water and malt. The brewery is now building a second location in nearby Cornelius, reported to be larger than the Charlotte location, which means it will be, well, huge.

bar at sugar creek

Sugar Creek Brewing also serves food, along with good beer and a friendly atmosphere.

Nearby Sugar Creek Brewing Co.  is located at the site of the first Olde Mecklenburg. This brewery is also a friendly place, with good bar food – a fun place to watch football games on a Sunday afternoon. Sugar Creek had a nice fire burning pit outside on a cold afternoon.

mug of cider on table

Warm mulled cider was a great choice on a cold afternoon at Good Road Ciderworks.

Finally, we stopped at Good Road Ciderworks, a smaller place, with a variety of ciders. We tried four – New England Heritage, a dry cider, almost like a pilsner; Stayman, also dry, made with North Carolina-grown apples; Waymaker, a sweeter cider, flavored with ginger; and a seasonal mulled cider, served warm, hard or without alcohol. A nice way to warm up on a cold afternoon. The ciderworks had a large event space and a good selection of board games to play with your group.

Just around the corner was the Breweries at 4001 Yancey – a large shared space featuring Southern Tier Brewing Co. and Victory Brewing Co. This location appeared to be really popular with the football crow.

Scaleybark light rail station is just a five-minute walk from this area. Enjoy yourself all afternoon without ever having to get behind the wheel of a car.

At breweries: The kids are alright?

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hi-wire brewing (2)Several years ago, I was having a late-afternoon beer at a Durham brewery when I noticed something I hadn’t seen before. There were nearly as many kids around – mostly preschoolers — as there were adults.

I was stunned, mainly because my parents would have blown a gasket if I had taken my kids when they were young to what would have been considered a bar. I found a sippy cup on a table, and asked whose beer it was. A small child came toddling up and grabbed it.

My husband pointed out that many of the kids seemed to be part of a group event gathered there, and he didn’t really have a problem with it. And looking around, I realized that a lot of the families had probably walked over to the brewery from nearby neighborhoods.

Later that evening when my husband and I moved inside the brewery, I was surprised again when two unsupervised kids took over a small performance stage, banging on keyboards and playing with the mics. Where were their parents?

I remembered this episode when I read that Hi-Wire Brewing in Durham has imposed a curfew of 8 p.m. for those under the age of 21. The original plan was for a 7 p.m. curfew, but after push-back on social media, they moved it up an hour.

At the other brewery, I asked fellow Baby Boomers there what they thought of a kid-friendly brewery. Most were equally thrown off by it, having never actually thought about taking their own kids out for a drink.

So Hi-Wire Durham generated quite a bit of discussion on its Facebook page when it proposed the 7 p.m. curfew. Some thanked the brewery for trying to be more of an adult space and for reigning in the challenge of “kids running wild.” Others shared their frustration that the brewery’s position appeared to discriminate against parents who just wanted a little time out of the house to mingle with other parents.

In the end, the brewery decided on an 8 p.m. curfew, so beer drinkers who prefer a more adult environment can have their space, while families are still welcome afternoons and early evenings. And the brewery says they are planning to create a space where kids can hang out.

Maybe the same scrutiny could be applied to dog-friendly breweries, which is almost every brewery. While there are people who love to take their dogs wherever they go, others can’t be in the same space as dogs, either out of fear or because of allergy problems.

I guess the question for any business becomes how  to be all things to all people? How do you welcome the toddler and terrier, as well as adult drinkers who prefer to a more mature brewery experience – and the darts players, the game watchers and the trivia champions?

Hats off to Hi-Wire Durham for trying to walk that line…

Read more from the Charlotte Observer

Post from the Hi-Wire Facebook page:
UPDATE: Thanks to everyone for offering input into our updated taproom policies. Your enthusiasm for our space here in Durham is much appreciated! We’ve made some slight adjustments to the rules going forward. We’re also in the process of creating a space for younger children to enjoy, and working on some sound dampening for the taproom. Hopefully these updates will result in a great experience for everyone. We are proud to be a gathering place for the community, and welcome families and pets into our taproom and beer garden. Hope to see everyone soon!
– Please see bar staff for equipment to play games
– Soccer Pool and other game areas are intended only for guests that have checked-in with the bar
– Children must be under supervision of their guardian at all times
– Guests must be 21+ after 8 p.m.

Make the Drive to Red Oak’s Lager Haus and Biergarten

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Not that long ago, if you wanted to visit Red Oak Brewery in Whitsett – tour, sample, taste – you had to go on Friday afternoons for the one-hour brewery tour, followed by tasting up to four beers before the party was over and everyone had to go home.

Red Oak has always offered one of the best brewery tours, with lots of details about brewing Red Oak’s signature Bavarian-style lagers. But it didn’t really allow enough access to the iconic glass house brewery that sits right by I-85.
Last year, Red Oak opened its long-anticipated Lager Haus and Biergarten right next door that, well, rivals most tasting rooms in North Carolina with its elegant Nordic simplicity.

This summer, when it’s normally way too hot to drink a beer outside, we visited the Lager Haus and Biergarten. Mature trees planted in the Biergarten provided ample shade to enjoy a flight, then a pint, outside even on hot days. We were not alone. Most tables were taken, some with families who were enjoying a board game or cards from the selection in the Lager Haus.

Whats on tap at Red Oak?

The Biergarten also has a regular food truck schedule, providing guests with a diversity of food styles. The day we were there, they had North Carolina barbecue, alongside Louisiana Cajun fare. And the nearby water feature – a manmade rocky stream that actually flows under the gift shop – adds to the feeling of cool, even on a hot day.

We had a flight of two regulars – Hummin’ Bird Helles Golden Munich Lager and Red Oak Bavarian Amber Lager – and Big Oak Vienna Lager and Oak Hopgarten Baverian Pils.

Inside the Lager House, long tables provide seating for many beer drinkers. There’s a “fireplace” that is a fountain in summer, as well as a gift shop. And as if there’s not enough artwork on the grounds of the Biergarten, there’s an art museum under construction next to the Lager Haus.

There are still tours Fridays, starting at 4:30 pm (beginning Sept. 1), and other times the brewery is open you can drop in for a free taste. Don’t miss this exciting new addition to North Carolina’s craft beer scene.

Red Oak Brewery
Lager Haus & Biergarten
6905 Konica Dr.
Whitsett, NC

Tours are Fridays, 4:30-5:30 pm ($15 a person; beer tasting at 5:30 following the tour. No reservations required)

two pints of beer

Red Oak Lager Haus

Nash Community College: Producing brewers for Eastern NC

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patio at community collegeBig things are brewing at Nash Community College. The college, outside of Rocky Mount, boasts successful academic programs that are preparing students for the craft beer and hospitality industries.

In April, the beginning of NC Beer Month, NCC held a community workshop to showcase the skills of its culinary and brewing students. Guests enjoyed a meal of seafood paired with college-brewed beers under the lights on NCC’s patio.

Located just minutes from Rocky Mount Mills, home to an “incubator brewery” where would-be brewers can try their hand at brewing before launching their own operations.

The evening opened with guests learning to shuck their own grilled oysters, harvested from North Carolina’s Pamlico Sound. The first beer of the evening was Andes Mint Chocolate Stout, brewed with a Dutch chocolate malt, with fresh spearmint and peppermint added at the end of the brewing process.

The Seville Nights-themed dinner included two types of paella, potatoes and calamari, with two types of sauces, salsa verde and garlic aioli. In addition to the beer, the meal included a Sangria made from grapes grown at the college.

Trent Mohrbutter, NCC’s chief academic officer, said the NCC Brewing, Distillation and Fermentation program was developed to support the state’s brewing industry, and specifically to help boost the number of breweries in eastern North Carolina.

Randy and Danny

Randy Griffin and Danny Toole shared their specialty brews with guest at the NCC dinner.

The program, which leads to a two-year associates in applied science degree, is built around three tracks: the science of brewing, the industrial/mechanical and maintenance aspects of brewing, and the entrepreneurial/small business development side of starting a brewery. The college also offers certificates and a diploma of shorter duration.

Two brewing students shared the secrets of the beers they brewed for the dinner. Randy Griffin created an oyster stout by adding oysters on the half shell to a classic American stout during the last 15 minute of the brewing boil. The beer had a lightly salty flavor to it, but no overwhelming oyster taste.

Griffin said he saw a sign about the NCC brewing program while visiting Rocky Mount Mills. A long-time craft beer drinker, Griffin said he was ready to make a job change and enrolled in the brewing program. “I want to know everything possible. I want to learn the business side as well as the brewing side.”

A fan of brown ales, Griffin said that another major brewing project was a marshmallow brown ale he calls “Sta-Puff.”

Brewing student Danny Toole created a pecan porter, brewed with real roasted pecans. The pecan taste was very distinct. Toole said he would use more of the porter’s pale chocolate malt in future batches.

Toole said he found the NCC brewing program online. “I wanted a different are in the craft beer industry that is growing in North Carolina.” Eventually, he would like to own a brewery of his own.

buffet line and oven

A wood-fired grill is featured on the patio of the culinary program.

Entrance to building

Culinary arts building at NCC.

Childress Vineyards: Big-time winery in a small town

Childress Vineyards -- front

Childress Vineyards

There are some North Carolina wineries you should visit just to see the scope of the state’s wine industry, and Childress Vineyards is certainly one of them. As the largest winery in the Yadkin Valley with a history dating back to 2002, Childress offers amenities and an experience you might expect from wineries on the West Coast.

The winery is located just outside of Lexington, just off of Highways 52 and 62. It is about a half-hour drive from Winston-Salem and less than an hour from Charlotte. When I visited recently on a January weekend, both the tasting room and the Bistro were filled with tourists, and even the winery staff seemed surprised by the crowds.

Childress Vineyards opened its doors in 2004, after establishing vineyards on site and at the estate of owner Richard Childress. A NASCAR team owner, Childress had a personal interest in wine making and wanted to develop his own winery. To help him achieve his goal, he hired award-winning winemaker Mark Friszolowski.

Wine tasting

Wine tasting at Childress Vineyards.

The vineyards produce a wide variety of European varietal grapes, and all wines are made from estate grapes, except for the muscadine wines. Muscadine grapes are for Childress wines are purchased from vineyards in Eastern North Carolina, where they are better adapted to the drier soils and temperatures.

In January and February, Children Vineyards is offering “Winter Weekends,” with music on Saturdays and games (trivia and bingo) on Sunday in the pavilion.

Front entrance

Front entrance of Childress Vineyards.

The popular Bistro is open for lunch and brunch, but a few menu selections can be ordered in the pavilion with a glass of wine, beer or mimosas. In the interest of time, I grabbed a quiche with fresh fruit, which made for a delicious brunch. There is a beautiful patio overlooking the vineyards, which would be great on a warm day. But don’t bring your picnic — no outside food or beverages are allowed.

On weekends, tours of the winery are offered every 30 minutes. Weather permitting, you’ll walk through the outdoor areas, including 41 acres of vineyards that can be seen from the hilltop winery. You’ll also see the crush pad where grapes are brought in to be processed, the winemaking room, barrel rooms and special events spaces.

After your tour, stop by the tasting room for informal tastings ($15 for eight wines) or get a more private tasting in the Victory Lounge ($30 for nine wines). You can choose from a list of dry or sweet wines.

The wide variety of wine choices is one reason that Childress is so popular. Not a big fan of dry wines? Turn to the muscadines and Reisling. Don’t love sweet wines? Choose the dry tasting for Viognier, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malbec. Then choose a bottle of your favorite to purchase before you leave.

Patio overlooking vineyards

The events patio overlooking vineyards.

So if you’re looking for a quick getaway that will leave you feeling as if you’ve just dropped into a West Coast winery, make the drive — winter or any season — to Childress Vineyards.

Childress Vineyards
1000 Childress Vineyards Road
Lexington, NC
336-236-9463

Open daily, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wine tastings, 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Winery tours, M-F, 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m.; Saturday & Sunday, every half hour, 10:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m.

Some Wicked Good Beer

beer on ice

Wicked Weed beer tasting at NC State University Club.

Wicked Weed Brewing was the darling of Asheville’s craft beer market until earlier this year when they shocked their fellow brewers by selling their operation to Anheuser-Busch, makers of Budweiser. But in spite of the ownership change, the brewery has continued with business as usual, with a goal of expanding their distribution throughout the Southeast, according to Wicked Weed’s Raleigh rep Gregory Little.

Wicked Weed brews a little something for everyone, and recently, they rolled out a tasting at the NC State University Club in Raleigh that included some favorites and some brews I hadn’t tried before.

Lunatic Blonde: A Belgian blonde, lightly hopped and refreshing.

Napoleon Complex Hoppy Pale Ale: A little more hop than I care for.

Pernicious IPA: Yes, it’s hoppy, but it’s more of a citrus hop; no bitter finish.

Hop Coca Porter: More coca than hop, this porter is a great cool weather beer – brewed with coca nibs.

Brettanomyces Farmhouse Ale: The one sour – nice cider-like quality.

Any time you’re in Asheville, be sure to make a stop at Wicked Week Brewing – either the brewery or the nearby sours brewing facility, the Funkatorium. The food at the brewery is actually really good, and like many of Asheville’s dining establishments, they throw open the doors and make the whole restaurant feel like a patio in warm weather.

beers

Wicked Weed brought out the goods for the NC State University Club.