Food & Drink

Mind your mug manners at Charlotte’s breweries

Don’t hold up the line at a busy brewery: Picking a flight lets you get small glasses of several beers.
Don’t hold up the line at a busy brewery: Picking a flight lets you get small glasses of several beers. tsumlin@charlotteobserver.com

Have you been to a brewery lately? Kids, dogs and people from the millennials to grandparents are all crowded around the tables. And somewhere in all that, there’s beer.

Brewery culture has bubbled up so quickly here, fans are still learning to navigate it. Thursday marks 10 years since Pop the Cap, the legislation that raised North Carolina’s alcohol limit in beer from 6 percent to 15 percent by volume. This seems like a good time to get advice from two experts immersed in the beer world, beer writer Daniel Hartis and Dave Tollefsen of the website ncbeerguys.com.

“When you get entrenched in it, you don’t think about it from a newcomer’s point of view,” admitted Hartis, who writes about the local and statewide beer scene for The Observer.

We’re not kidding: Kids

Many local breweries are community gathering spots, and community means family. While no one younger than 21 can be served alcohol, many places bring together people of all ages.

Tollefsen was shocked the first time he walked into Fullsteam in Durham and saw a 2-year-old’s birthday party. But when he told his wife, she pointed out that small children often don’t know where they are and little kids’ parties are also for the parents.

Some breweries make a point of accommodating kids. Charlotte’s new Free Range Brewing in NoDa built in a kids’ area, with chalkboards and shelves for games and books. Others are offering nonalcoholic drinks, like root beer at Rivermen in Belmont. When Asheville’s Bhramari Brewhouse opens, it will have craft sodas from local ingredients.

Tollefsen likes the standard he says he noticed once in Seattle: Keep breweries adults-only after 9 p.m.

“Kids shouldn’t be out after 9 p.m.,” he says. “If I’m there at 10:30 and I see 3-year-olds, that’s when I question the parents.”

Dogged enthusiasm

Even more than kids, you’ll see dogs. Most breweries are fine with it. Just keep your dog leashed or well-controlled, and take responsibility for cleanup. Some places are starting to provide baggies and wipes.

If you’re hanging out for the afternoon, though, it can get hot by the cornhole board. Bring a portable water bowl just in case and make sure your dog can get shade under a bench.

Eat, drink and bus your own table

Breweries make beer, but unless they’re a brewpub, they don’t make food. Many are regular stops for food trucks, though, and they want you to support them.

If you bring food inside, you shouldn’t expect the brewery to clean up, including wiping the table.

“Do you go to a park with your food, eat it and leave?” asks Tollefsen. “No. There’s no difference. It’s an indoor picnic.”

Table: The discussion

While many breweries have bars, they also have a variety of styles of seating, including communal tables where everyone sits. That beer-garden atmosphere is part of the culture, says Hartis.

“I’m an introvert by nature,” he says. “And yet every time I’m forced to sit next to a stranger, something good comes of it. I learn something.”

It is an environment with enthusiastic young people drinking alcohol, though, so brace for language that can get loud and R-rated. That comes with the territory, says Tollefsen. He suggests tolerance.

“They’re having a good time. If it’s getting loud (for you), maybe it’s time to go.”

Speaking of crowds

Popular spots get jammed. When you get a chance to order, it’s not the time for long discussion of styles.

“Prepare, be ready,” says Hartis. “Don’t sit on your phone in the line and expect to make a decision right when you get up to the bar.”

It’s OK to ask for advice, though, as long as you do it quickly. Hartis’ question: “‘What are the four I shouldn’t miss?’”

That’s when beer flights come in handy: You get four to six small glasses, letting you explore flavors.

And don’t:

▪ Take pictures of other people without permission. Tollefsen says phone apps like Periscope, which displays live video, are getting popular. Not everyone wants to be seen while they’re drinking. So ask or let people know you’re doing it.

▪ Brag. It’s nice that you’ve been to Munich and all over Colorado, but boasting about your beer knowledge can be off-putting, says Hartis. Everybody comes at craft beer from a different level of experience, and we all like what we like.

▪ Trash-talk another brewery. “Brewers don’t actually like it,” says Hartis. “They’re fans of the other breweries.”

Kathleen Purvis: 704-358-5236, @kathleenpurvis

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