“Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall, ninety-nine bottles of beer, take one down, pass it around” — we all know where this is going. Only now, it’s not just in bottles with big-brand labels. A growing number of independent brewers are making small batches of brew designed to take your taste buds on a thirst-quenching journey. With a reputation for being more innovative and of better quality than its mass-produced cousin, craft beer is in a creative category all its own. And this month you can sample some of the best local, regional and international craft beers at the third annual Lake Norman Beer Festival at the Galway Hooker Restaurant and Irish Pub in Cornelius. “It’s a fun, cultural event,” says Chris Boukedes, co-owner of Galway Hooker and Bouk Management. “We’ll have some great live music and up to 70 different beers featured, with every brewery here represented.” This around-the-world craft beer showcase will also feature some of the area’s homegrown breweries, including Lake Norman’s own Ass Clown Brewing Company. In 2009, Matt Glidden turned his passion for garage brewing into a fully operating brewery. After 15 years in the mortgage business, he is now brewing 20-gallon batches at Ass Clown Brewing in Cornelius. For quality ingredients, he consults with mountain farmers and combs local farmer’s markets for honey and other nutrients to use in his concoctions. Oh, and about the name: Glidden explains that a buddy from his mortgage business days started jokingly calling him an ass clown around the time he was trying to come up with a moniker for his brewery, and it stuck. Glidden figured the name would stand out and people would remember it. Ass Clown Brewing Company’s motto is: “Don’t be one, drink one.”Other breweries that will be at the upcoming festival include the Charlotte-based Olde Mecklenburg Brewery, which focuses on German-style lagers, and Natty Greene’s Brewing Company, headquartered in Greensboro. Founded in 2004 and now North Carolina’s second-largest brewery, Natty Greene—which pays homage to Revolutionary War General Nathanael Greene—has already distinguished itself among craft aficionados, and will have three varieties to sample at the festival, including its Freedom American IPA. “It takes time and money for consistent quality, says Natty Greeene representative Taylor McDermott. “We have some really talented brewers able to make our beers consistent regardless of where you get it and how it’s delivered—bottle or draught.” Glidden with Ass Clown Brewing Company say he has 80 different flavors rotating through his brewery, including Buttered Apple Pie Amber, Dark Chocolate Ancho Porter and Raspberry Vanilla Stout. He says flavor options are almost limitless, and he often finds himself tasting different spices or flavors and trying to incorporate them into a beer. “Craft beer just has more body, more taste and better ingredients,” he says. In addition to dozens of local, regional and national brewers, The Lake Norman Beer Festival will also feature live music (including bands Simplified, Of Good Nature, Dave Kellan and Charity Case), along with food trucks and raffle prizes. The festivities are scheduled for Sept. 22 from 3-10 p.m. Tickets are $30. VIP tickets, for $50, include early entrance at 2 p.m., a collector’s stein, access to six select beers in the VIP tent, and a sampling of beer-infused food. For details go to http://www.lknbeerfest.com/.
Sidebar:Getting CraftyA number of Lake Norman restaurants, bars and retailers go beyond the typical lineup of big-brand beers and offer a variety of specialty craft brews. Below is a thirst-quenching guide to some top choices.
Flatiron Kitchen + Taphouse215 South Main St., Davidsonwww.flatirononmain.comThe center of this lively Davidson restaurant is dominated by the “Tap Tower,” which dispenses a wide variety of craft brews from North Carolina and around the world. Daily specials include at least six beers from North Carolina.
Duckworth’s Grill & Taphouse 560 River Highway, Mooresvillewww.duckworthsgrillandbar.comDuckworth’s has about 50 beers on tap from a wide variety of brewers, including many from North Carolina. To help you find the draught right for you, Duckworth’s offers a beer sampler, which is any four (4.5-ounce) draft brews for $6.
Mac’s Speed Shop19601 Liverpool Pkwy., Cornelius www.macspeedshop.comThe slogan here is “beer, bikes and barbecue,” and they certainly don’t scrimp on the beer part, with about 100 varieties, including ales, pales, IPAs, lagers, pilsners, porters, stouts and “high-octane” sipping brews.
Brixx Wood Fired Pizza16835 Birkdale Commons Pkwy., Huntersvillewww.brixxpizza.comThis Charlotte-based franchise has a location in Birkdale, which boasts an impressive beer menu including local craft brews. The restaurant also has a Brixx Master’s of Beer Appreciation program, in which the more beers you sample the more free stuff you get, like T-shirts and appetizers.
Galway Hooker Pub17044 Kenton Drive, Corneliuswww.galwayhookerpub.comThe host of the annual Lake Norman Beer Festival, Galway Hooker claims to “pour the coldest pints this side of Dublin.” In addition to a great beer selection and traditional Irish menu items, Galway also has a Comedy Zone upstairs with weekly shows.
Summit Coffee128 South Main St., Davidsonwww.summitcoffee.comThis popular gathering spot is known primarily for its coffee, but it also offers craft brews on tap from England, Belgium and the U.S., and transforms its upstairs into the “The Freckled Dog Pub” pub every Friday evening.
Healthy Home Market261 Griffith St., Davidsonwww.hemarket.comThis local grocer has an abundant selection of craft beers, including organic and gluten-free, from local and international brewers. You can buy individual chilled bottles or create your own six-pack. The store also holds monthly beer tastings.
Davidson Beverage Company 442 South Main St., Davidsonwww.davidsonbeverage.comThis new store and bar has over 300 craft beer choices with six rotating taps. You can sample brews in the bar and lounge area and take home your favorite ones.
Earth Fare14021 Boren St., Huntersvillewww.earthfare.comThe Asheville, N.C.-based natural food grocer has about 10 locations in North Carolina, including Huntersville, where you’ll find an excellent variety of local, regional and European craft lagers, stouts, porters and ales.
Ass Clown Brewing Company10620 Bailey Road, Suite E & F, Corneliuswww.assclownbrewery.comThis new brewery uses local ingredients and specializes in unique flavors to make a stout, porter, IPA, ale, lager and wheat beers. Swing by Fridays or Saturdays for tastings, and take home a just-brewed growler.
Sidebar:A Pint-Sized History of Beer
Beer is one of the oldest beverages made, dating back to the 5th millennium B.C. Artifacts reveal that in ancient Mesopotamia they were brewing it, and 5,000 years ago Egyptian Pharaohs were drinking it daily. With the eventual rise of Christianity, monks began brewing beer. By the 14th and 15th centuries, monasteries and pubs were making it for the thirsty masses. Many Europeans have special brewing traditions that have remained the same since that time. In North America, natives produced a corn beer before the Europeans arrived. During the 17th and 18th centuries, most beer was made in the home. Our founding fathers—Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and Benjamin Franklin—even brewed their own ales. Today’s craft brewers take their cue from ages old wisdom, creating smaller batches using quality ingredients. In 1976, home craft brewing in the U.S. became popular, spurring new microbreweries in the 1980s. Their numbers have been increasing ever since, and their presence in the industry is growing. According to the Brewers Association, in 2011 the craft brewing industry grew 13 percent and gained 15 percent in retail sales while the overall U.S. beer market was down 1 percent. The evolution of beer making continues, one finely brewed barrel at a time.