Food & Drink

Beers at 1 p.m.? Charlotte breweries fuel a rise in day drinking

Chad Barnes (left) and Montell Watson spent some time at Legion Brewing drinking Juicy Jay IPA and Wooden Robot combination beer Saturday. On nice weekend days breweries, like Sycamore Brewing and Legion Brewing can be packed with patrons flocking to their patios to enjoy the weather.
Chad Barnes (left) and Montell Watson spent some time at Legion Brewing drinking Juicy Jay IPA and Wooden Robot combination beer Saturday. On nice weekend days breweries, like Sycamore Brewing and Legion Brewing can be packed with patrons flocking to their patios to enjoy the weather. jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

Some societal changes happen all at once. But most are evolutionary. You don’t realize what was once frowned upon is now the norm.

Such is the case with day drinking. Not so long ago, sipping from a pint glass at, say, 1 p.m. on a Saturday may have raised eyebrows.

The level of acceptance – indeed, celebration – for drinking while the sun’s still up hadn’t occurred to me until my editor told me his adult daughter had taken him to a few Charlotte breweries on a weekend afternoon. “And it was crowded!” he said.

“Well, duh,” I thought. Until it hit me.

It wasn’t always thus.

It’s only those of us of a certain age who haven’t always known #daydrinking (it’s a popular hashtag) to be one of the best ways to spend a sunny afternoon.

And in Charlotte, much of it centers on the exploding brewery scene, where friends gather to sip hoppy flights of craft beer – often at communal tables outdoors – and compare notes on the latest specialty brews.

It’s a tectonic shift from just a few years ago, when day drinking was mostly confined to St. Patrick’s Day, the occasional pub crawl, or big-time sporting events. And those partaking agree: It’s very different from the typical bar vibe.

Sycamore Brewing’s beer garden on a recent Sunday looked like a scene from a latter-day Norman Rockwell painting, complete with young families, kids and dogs in tow. The day before, they’d hosted a bachelorette party.

“It’s not just young people,” said Kellie McCann, 27, a bartender at Sycamore Brewing in South End. “It’s family-friendly and dog-friendly.”

The venues are popular with professionals, too. Ashley-Nicole Carmichael, 26, is in Charlotte for a five-week rotation at a pharmacy as she finishes her Ph.D. She enjoys trying new beers – as she was at Sycamore – and spending time outside. If there’s live music, all the better. Sycamore hosts bands Sunday through Thursday. On Sundays there’s a food truck; they are becoming fixtures at the 25-plus craft breweries in the region.

Jan Hartman, 62, of Charlotte, had been on a morning Segway tour of uptown with her friend from Yadkinville before stopping by Sycamore. They’d passed Lenny Boy Brewing Co. on their way and considered stopping there. But there was a yoga event (yoga goes with organic, gluten-free beer), and Hartman joked, “We didn’t want to ruin a good thing – beer – with exercise.”

Hartman and her friend Ruth (who didn’t want her last name used) were just there to hang out and enjoy themselves.

“In our 20s and 30s, a pretty Sunday might have meant Frisbee in the park,” Ruth said. “Having a beer at a brewery seems to have taken the place of that.”

Babies and breweries

Alan, 31, was feeding his 4-month-old son a bottle. (Like a number of people I spoke with for this story, Alan didn’t want his last name used, so there appears to be at least a little lingering stigma.)

He and his wife, Katie, enjoy visiting breweries when the weather’s nice. “I don’t drink like I did in college,” Alan said. “We come to enjoy being outside.” He said he’d already seen three other baby carriers – and they hadn’t even made it out to the beer garden yet.

At one of Charlotte’s newest breweries, Legion Brewing, Brett Buckingham, 33, and his wife, Cari, 34, were with Brett’s parents on a brewery tour that started at Birdsong in NoDa.

Both Buckinghams are bartenders, and Sunday is the only day they both have off. “You can’t stay inside on a day like today,” Brett said. He was right. It was a sunny and about 75 degrees. I asked if day drinking was a prelude to going out at night.

Not when “The Walking Dead” is on, he said.

Walking is exactly how a lot of people get around during a day-drinking session. Several people I spoke with at Legion live in Plaza Midwood and had made the short walk from their homes.

CMPD officers say they haven’t seen a spike in DWI arrests since the number of breweries in Charlotte has exploded. But warmer weather always brings with it daytime festivals, beer … and DWIs. It’s a seasonal thing, said Sgt. Dave Sloan.

“We don’t see breweries as being big party hangouts,” he said. “Mostly, people go to taste-test beer.” In contrast, he cited a few pub crawls and well-known area festivals that typically do result in higher DWI arrests.

Brett introduced his mom, Betsy Quattrocchi, 65, and her husband, Augie, to craft beers. I asked Betsy what she’d be doing Sunday if she weren’t on a brewery crawl, and she thought a minute. “Laundry and housework, probably,” she said.

We agreed day drinking was preferable.

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