Food and Drink

Brawley’s Black and Blue returns for its 7th year

Much has changed since Michael Brawley opened Brawley’s Beverage in 2003. Long one of the first dedicated beer stores in Charlotte, Brawley’s Beverage underwent renovations a little more than a year ago that added a tasting room and exterior upgrades that mimic how the store appeared when his father operated Mike’s Discount Beverages in the same building.

But one thing that hasn’t changed all that much? Black and Blue, the festival Brawley has hosted for the last seven years at The Visulite. Of course, the specific beers and breweries pouring at the festival change each year. So too does the time it takes for the festival to sell out, going from weeks to days to hours and, this year, to just minutes.

But the basic premise behind this Saturday’s festival?

“It’s just not something we really want to change much,” said Brawley. “We want it to be like it is.”

And what it is — what it’s always been — is an intimate festival filled with live music and limited beers inside The Visulite. Of all the festivals in the city, it’s Black and Blue that boasts the most impressive beer list in terms of rarity and selection.

Brawley’s Black and Blue
Eric Gaddy
Casting Shadows Photography

Which is why the festival now sells out so quickly. A couple hundred people made sure they were online when tickets went on sale last Christmas Eve morning, and the festival sold out in mere minutes.

Here is where another festival promoter might be tempted to move venues, so as to sell more tickets. But not Brawley. He admits to feeling under a lot of pressure to change venues and acknowledges that he could make more money by doing so, but that’s not what the festival is about for him.

For one, he has a history at The Visulite. He tended bar there from 1999 to 2004, noting that the money he made there helped him raise the money needed to start the businesses from scratch.

(Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Michael Brawley purchased the business from his father, when his father actually sold the business to another person. Michael Brawley did recently purchase the building, which he had been leasing from his parents.)

For another, the small festival helps him maintain the more limited lineup of beers, which simply wouldn’t be possible if the festival were larger. More widely available beers would likely sneak there way in, and that’s just not what Black and Blue is about.

Brawley and Shane Icenhour ultimately have the say in who pours at the event, sending out invitations to new and old breweries alike. There’s a big emphasis on North Carolina brewers, as well as breweries that aren’t often seen in the Old North State. But when it comes to the beer list, they don’t have to involve themselves too much.

“We don’t have anything to do with the beer selections,” said Brawley. “Everyone pretty much knows the deal now.”

The deal is that every brewery should bring something that will stand out in the crowd. This could mean a vintage keg, an experimental one-off, or just something that’s never been poured in this market.

This year, 30 breweries will be in attendance (you can see the still-developing beer list over on BeerAdvocate). Brawley also goes to great lengths to line-up volunteers for any brewers who wish to enjoy the festival on the other side of the taps.

“It’s really about them,” said Brawley of the brewers. “If they’re enjoying it, they’re going to bring the heat.”

One thing that does change each year is the glass. This year’s version is something of a stemless tulip glass, with this year’s festival logo. The same style glass is being used for the Mad Park 5K, a race the shop is hosting on Saturday, March 12.

But I digress. If you’re reading all of this, you’re likely one of the thousands of people who weren’t able to get tickets to the event.

Don’t worry. All is not lost. Brawley’s Beverage is hosting a pre-party this Friday at the store from 6-8 p.m. Many of those pouring at the festival will be in attendance, so you’ll have a chance to share a beer and chat with some esteemed brewers.