Beer Here: Why some brewers are big on nanos

When I say there’s been a lot of big news in the Charlotte beer scene lately, I mean it literally: Birdsong Brewing recently signed a lease on a bigger location, NoDa Brewing is also on the hunt for a bigger space, and Sugar Creek Brewing started big by moving into the space left vacant when The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery moved into their new 8.5-acre brewery and beer garden.

Though they loom large here in Charlotte, these microbreweries – as that name implies – are a drop in the beer-filled bucket compared to the likes of Budweiser, Miller and Coors. Smaller still are those given the nanobrewery label, of which several are surfacing in the shadows of Charlotte’s larger breweries.

While the Brewers Association doesn’t have a definition for nanobreweries, most agree that these breweries brew three barrels or less at a time. One example would be D9 Brewing in Cornelius, which brewed just one barrel of beer (or 31 gallons) at a time when they first opened their small taproom last year. Now, they will move from the equivalent of a studio apartment to a nice-sized home as they hold a grand opening Saturday for their new 5,000-square-foot brewery in Cornelius.

“It was always our hope to move to a larger scale and building,” said Andrew Durstewitz, one of the brewery’s founders. “However, we left it in the community’s hands as to whether that would happen. In other words, if we made beer that people wanted, then we would grow to meet demand.”

With their new 10-barrel brewery, they will be better equipped to do just that. And though D9 has graduated to a larger system, that hasn’t stopped Josh Carl and Jake Reynolds, owners of Barking Duck Brewery in Mint Hill, from seeking their advice. The two opened their nanobrewery Sept. 2. During their opening night, they sold all their beer and have yet to reopen their doors, though they will once they have more beer.

This highlights a disadvantage of brewing on a nano level: you have to brew more frequently to keep up with demand. NoDa Brewing can brew 15 barrels of beer at a time, four times a day. The guys at Barking Duck are relegated to brewing when they are not at their full-time jobs, and then only a half-barrel (or 15.5 gallons) at a time.

Despite this, there are advantages in starting small. The cost is a fraction of what you would incur with a larger brewery, where those fermenters and big brewhouses quickly total hundreds of thousands of dollars, not to mention the number of kegs you’ll need to get all that beer out to accounts. Though the beer is served primarily in-house, these breweries are able to build their brand.

Often brewing on this scale also allows for more freedom. Consider Ass Clown Brewing, also in Cornelius. Founder Matt Glidden prides himself on brewing hundreds of different styles, which he showcases among his 32 taps, the most offered by any area brewery. That lineup would look a lot different if he had to brew 15 barrels of one single style and then move through all of that beer.

Glidden is, however, installing a larger brewhouse to keep up with demand. It’s a Frankenstein system of sorts that features three 150-gallon mash tuns and five 100-gallon kettles. This unique approach will not only allow Glidden to brew larger batches, it will also allow him to brew multiple batches of beer at once.

There are others that see this appeal. This fall, Bayne Brewing hopes to open their two-barrel brewery in Cornelius (19507 West Catawba Ave., Suite I) and Primal Brewery will bring a nanobrewery to Huntersville (16432 Old Statesville Road). Even Salud Beer Shop, a bar and beer store in NoDa, is expanding and adding a deli and one-barrel nanobrewery in their larger space. Guest brewers (commercial as well as homebrewers) will get their chance to brew on the system, and their creations will be tapped only at Salud.

While not the most common approach to professional brewing, nanobreweries are gaining ground. And though they be small, their passion equals that of their bigger brothers.