Many a college student has professed a love of beer. Brian Schonder is no different.
But for Schonder, 25, a chemistry major at UNC Charlotte, it’s not about quantity, but quality.
Schonder is president of Niner the Elder, a UNCC social organization for craft beer aficionados, 21 or older.
Instead of funneling beer from a keg or crumpling can after empty can on their heads, members of Niner the Elder taste an array of micro-brewed concoctions 4 ounces at a time. Each sample is as different as night and day, from hints of coconut to back-end tastes of lingering lemongrass.
“It’s an art. I used to have problems saying that, because I come from the chemistry side of it,” said Schonder. “But it is an art form. You can really experiment with craft beer and bring out all of these crazy flavors.”
Schonder’s bedroom doubles as a home brewery, where hops, rye, handfuls of vanilla beans and anything else he can think of to flavor his craft beers line the shelves. “And I always have yeast sitting around,” he said. “My favorite fungus.”
His closet houses 15 varieties of beer at a time. What he makes depends on the season.
“My sweet potato pie ale has nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon and sweet potatoes I roasted in the oven,” he said. “It literally tastes like drinking a sweet potato pie.”
A fascination with the process of beer-making has driven Schonder’s interest in craft beers for the past four years. He has spent just as much time studying the chemical reactions that take place when water turns to beer as he has sampling his work.
This November, Schonder will give a lecture on the proteins found in beer during a meeting of the American Society of Brewing Chemists.
“He’s really smart when it comes to that stuff,” said Brian Mister, 24, who founded Niner the Elder at UNC Charlotte in 2011. Mister, who lives in Charlotte, graduated in May with a marketing degree but still follows the club’s events.
“It was great to pass it off to somebody who is as passionate about it as I am,” Mister said.
Mister started the club to introduce the pleasures of craft beer to his peers.
“I really wanted to show students that beer can be appreciated. That they can drink craft beer for the taste, not to get drunk.”
Today he works as the director of community optimism at NoDa Brewing Co. in Charlotte, where he helps spread the word to the public about the fast-growing, tight-knit craft beer society.
“It’s more than beer. It’s got a whole community behind,” said Mister. “It’s creating jobs for our community.”
Half a dozen breweries have opened in Charlotte in the past years. Across the street from NoDa Brewing is Birdsong Brewing. The Heist Brewery is a few blocks away.
“There are 65 to 70 breweries now in North Carolina,” said Mister. “There are new ones being added every week.”
At NoDa Brewing Co., customers line up around the corner to buy growlers when the latest brew goes on sale.
Each kind is different. For their seasonal pumpkin ale, Mister opened the loading dock doors to let 155 pounds of pumpkin be wheeled in.
Niner the Elder meetings often take place at breweries like NoDa Brewing, and club members will taste the pumpkin brew in the coming months.
In the meantime, Schonder may offer brews from his private collection.
“I have a beer now at my house that I’ve been aging for about two years,” Schonder said. “It’s a Scottish strong ale that I blended with a pint of single-malt scotch.”