While the rest of the country waits until July 4 to celebrate its independence, we here in Charlotte will celebrate ours early this Friday.
That’s because May 20 is Meck Dec Day, the day Charlotte recognizes Captain James Jack’s delivery of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence to the Continental Congress in 1775, a year before the signing of that more famous document.
It should be noted that although this is taken as gospel by many proud Charlotteans, there is some debate over whether Captain Jack actually carried the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, or if the documents were instead the Mecklenburg Resolves.
What isn’t up for debate is that many local businesses rally around this “Paul Revere of the South.” His name lives on through Jack’s Militia, a group of fans supporting the Charlotte Independence soccer team. He still haunts the city, at least on Twitter, through the poetic account of one @CptJacksGhost (though he’s been a bit quiet the last two years).
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But perhaps the best and most fitting tribute to the man can be found in the beer that shares his name: Captain Jack Pilsner from The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery.
After all, Captain Jack was much more than a courageous courier. He was first and foremost a tavern keeper. A concrete marker uptown notes where the tavern and home he shared with his father once stood. It was burned to the ground in 1780 by General Cornwallis, who famously decreed that Charlotte was a “hornet’s nest of rebellion” (and now you know why OMB also brews a Hornet’s Nest Hefeweizen).
We can pretty safely assume there weren’t any pilsners at Captain Jack’s tavern. Imported beers weren’t often seen this far inland, and the style requires a lagering period that, in the South, wouldn’t have been possible before the advent of refrigeration and the Industrial Revolution.
Beer in Captain Jack’s day, at least here in the Carolinas, was quite different from what we know today. Those hops we love and adore so much in our IPAs were tough to come by here, so early brewers used ingredients like spruce tips and juniper berries to provide bitterness instead. Molasses or persimmons were popular ingredients, providing the sugar necessary for yeast to make alcohol.
But we can’t say with certainty what was available in Captain Jack’s tavern, since no records remain. No one waxed poetic about the beers they imbibed via Yelp reviews, or ascribed ratings through apps like Untappd. Beer was everywhere, but it was so ubiquitous, so much a part of daily life, it just wasn’t something to be remarked on. This beer writer would have had to find a different path in 1775.
But what self-respecting tavern wouldn’t serve beer? It’s quite possible they even brewed at Captain Jack’s place, as was common at taverns, restaurants and inns. It calls to mind the more modern model of the nanobrewery, where a brewer produces small batches of beer that are typically served only in-house.
Prohibition put an end to that model once, and it’s taken us quite a while to catch up. The U.S. now claims more breweries than it ever has. That it took the country this long to surpass that previous number shows how commonplace small breweries and taverns were in those days.
And what would Captain Jack think of the beer scene today? He might not immediately take to a bracingly bitter beer like NoDa Brewing’s Hop Drop ‘n Roll or Wooden Robot’s mouthpuckering sours, but I think he would appreciate the area’s commitment to local beer.
Just don’t tell him about those new Budweiser cans with the word “America” on them.
Daniel Hartis is the digital manager at All About Beer Magazine in Durham and author of “Beer Lover's The Carolinas” and “Charlotte Beer: A History of Brewing in the Queen City.” Reach him at mailto:email@example.com or on Twitter, @DanielHartis.
The Dreamchaser’s Brewery Grand Opening
When: noon-1 p.m. Saturday.
Where: 115 E. North Main St., Waxhaw.
What: Union County finally gets a brewery to call its own when The Dreamchaser’s Brewery opens this Saturday. The new brewery will have five of its beers on tap and an outdoor beer garden until 6 p.m. Waxhaw is also hosting its annual Kaleidoscope Fest, so it would be a good time to visit if you’re coming from out of town. Details: www.facebook.com/dreamchasersbrewery/.