Lake Norman Magazine

Booming Breweries

Assclown Brewing Company's taproom has a large selection of the beers they make available at their bar.
Assclown Brewing Company's taproom has a large selection of the beers they make available at their bar. Grant Baldwin Photography

While the light rail corridor in Charlotte has fostered the region’s brewery renaissance—with 10 breweries operating by the end of 2014—the eastern shore of Lake Norman has fostered a brewery boom of its own.Between Huntersville and Mooresville lie five breweries: Ass Clown Brewing (Cornelius), D9 Brewing Company (Cornelius), Lake Norman Brewing Company (Mooresville), Bayne Brewing (Cornelius) and Primal Brewing (Huntersville).The region saw a brewery boom and bust through the 1990s and 2000s, but home brewing groups remained strong, especially Iredell Brewers United around Lake Norman.Starting with The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery in 2009, Charlotte saw eight new breweries spring up by 2013. Lake Norman’s first brewery, Ass Clown Brewing in Cornelius, opened in 2011. “There weren’t the types of beers that I like out there on the market,” says founder and brewer Matt Glidden, whose recipes include a broad spectrum of ingredients. “There was no brewery in the area, and it was like, ‘why not?’ I was brewing out of my garage, driving my wife crazy, taking over more and more of the house.”As the most established brewery in the area, Ass Clown has by far the most variety, brewing 300 different beers during three years in business and pouring from 32 different taps every night in its taproom. With its success came a neighbor—D9 Brewing Company—in 2013 and more momentum. “The feedback was so positive over the next few months that in March 2014, we signed the contract on a new 5,000-square-foot location,” says D9 co-founder and co-brewer Andrew Durstewitz, who, with co-owners/co-brewers John Ashcraft and Aaron Burton, opened the new location in September 2014.All the brewers have seen common themes making the Lake Norman area ripe for breweries. Those themes include an unfulfilled niche and a family-driven community with a local focus. Durstewitz emphasizes, “To us, the brewery is a community project. This is not a bar. Bring your family. We’re adding family stuff at the brewery every week. We’re putting in games catering to kids, juices and craft sodas on tap. No one should be excluded. You want to bring wine, you want to bring food—bring it.”That aspect of the model is one explanation for the success of this boom. The previous model for breweries was often a brew-pub—a restaurant that also did small-scale brewing. “Now, craft is a culture,” he says. “It finally made the inroad to survive.” Breweries often partner with food trucks—themselves an industry flourishing in the region—to simplify their operation and focus completely on the quality of the beer.Durstewitz says D9’s goal is to strike a balance in producing quality beers accessible to people used to light, mass-produced beers. “If the community doesn’t want the beer, we can’t make it. I lived out West, and their beer was much bigger than East Coast beer. We honed in on this concept of Fanatical Ales. In everything we’re doing, we’re trying to make the light side of big, strong beers. Not in terms of ABV (Alcohol By Volume) or density but in flavor, character.”Mike Prascak and his family saw an unfulfilled niche in Mooresville with more than 32,000 residents and no local breweries. In March 2014, they opened Lake Norman Brewing Company with three other owners, including brewer Sterling Smith, who is one of the state’s few female head brewers.Prascak home brewed for 15 years and led tours at nearby Carolina Beer & Beverage (maker of Carolina Blonde) before it was sold to Foothills Brewing in Winston-Salem. He says the emergence of places like Duckworth’s—with 112 beer taps at its Huntersville location—have also fostered local breweries.Bayne and Primal both started operations at the end of 2014. Ass Clown, D9 and Lake Norman say business is doing well enough to where they are all looking at expansion. There are a number of other home brewers in the area with ambitions of opening breweries, many of which have already filed for incorporation.“Lake Norman has a lot of potential and growth. You have a great mixture of people,” says Glidden. “I think it’s going to keep evolving, and people are going to keep thinking outside of the box.”