Living Here Guide

Want to understand Charlotte’s brewery scene? Start with these 6 beers

Bartender Caitlyn Higgins pours a customer's beer at NoDa Brewing in North End.
Bartender Caitlyn Higgins pours a customer's beer at NoDa Brewing in North End.

The modern Charlotte craft beer scene began with the opening of the Olde Mecklenburg Brewery in 2009. Back then, the concept of locally made beer was a hard sell for many Charlotte bars. These days, it’s practically ubiquitous.

Nearly 20 more breweries have opened in Charlotte since 2009 – and even more in the surrounding area – providing locals countless varieties of lagers and ales. Honestly, all of the options can be a little overwhelming.

Want to understand Charlotte’s brewery scene? Start with these six beers.

(1) Captain Jack Pilsner – Olde Mecklenburg Brewery; 4150 Yancey Road, Charlotte

Capt. James Jack was given a difficult task in 1775: deliver the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence to the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia, 500 miles away. The month-long journey was perilous, fraught with spies and hazards.

To celebrate the spirit and courage of this feat, Charlotte’s May 20th Society teamed up with Olde Mecklenburg to create a traditional Pilsner that proudly carries a history lesson on every bottle.

Don’t let the light body and crisp finish fool you; this beer is also a technical marvel. It’s nearly impossible to hide flaws in beers this delicate. It also boasts one of the longer production times in Charlotte beer, a true testament to properly lagered beers. Captain Jack is perfect for those just dipping their toes into craft beer and for seasoned craft supporters alike.

(2) Jalapeño Pale Ale – Birdsong Brewing Company

Robert Lahser CO Birdsong
Birdsong Brewing Company, 1016 N. Davidson St. Robert Lahser; 1016 N. Davidson St., Charlotte

Take a jalapeño, remove the seeds, add it to a well-hopped pale ale, then repeat until you’re left with a pepper-infused beer that can stand well on its own or paired with a wide range of food options. Heat from the jalapeños is present yet pleasantly restrained, thanks to the labor-intensive deseeding process. It’s adventurous and, more importantly, easily approachable for new-to-craft drinkers looking to spice things up.

Jalapeño Pale Ale was the first beer Birdsong canned, thanks to earnest local demand. Speaking of local: All the peppers for this pale ale come from a farm just north of here in Concord.

(3) Coco Loco Porter – NoDa Brewing Company; 2921 N. Tryon St., Charlotte

Hop, Drop ‘n Roll IPA may have put NoDa on the national map with a big World Beer Cup win, but the brewery’s first major medal comes courtesy of Coco Loco, which hauled home a silver at the Great American Beer Festival in 2012.

This beer was born in a Cotswold garage, with brewery founder Todd Ford making several test batches to find the right balance of toasted coconut and cocoa nibs to complement the flavorful richness of the base porter. Marrying slight chocolate bitterness and gentle coconut sweetness, it’s decadence in a pint can.

NoDa T Ortega Gaines CO
Bartender Caitlyn Higgins pours a customer's beer at NoDa Brewing in North End. T. Ortega Gaines

(4) Good Morning Vietnam Coffee Blonde – Wooden Robot Brewery; 1440 S. Tryon St. Suite 110, Charlotte

To make this fan favorite, Wooden Robot starts with an approachable, light-bodied blonde ale, then adds blonde-roasted Ethiopian coffee courtesy of Charlotte’s own Enderly Coffee Roasters, and finishes with the luxurious sweetness of Madagascar vanilla beans.

It’s a tricky balancing act to manage the disparate extremes of sweet, earthy and rich, but Wooden Robot finds a way.

Good Morning Vietnam courtesy of Wooden Robot
Good Morning Vietnam Coffee Blonde. Courtesy of Wooden Robot Brewery

(5) Citraquench’l IPA – Heist Brewery; 2909 N. Davidson Street Suite 200, Charlotte

Heist’s brewers went all-in on a controversial beer style, and the gamble paid off. Its version of a New England IPA, excessively turbid due to the late addition of Citra hops, struck a chord with proponents of the burgeoning style known for its low bitterness and juice-like flavors.

It’s certainly done much to revitalize the perception surrounding the brewery itself, and has propelled Heist to soon open a second production-only facility in addition to its current brewpub. It’s a welcome respite to years of tastebud-punishing IPAs seemingly racing to be crowned most bitter.

Heist Brewery -- John D Simmons CO
Heist Brewery, 2909 N. Davidson St. in NoDa. John D. Simmons

(6) 3C IPA – Triple C Brewing Company

Triple C Taylor Slaughter
Triple C Brewing Company, 2900 Griffith St. Taylor Slaughter; 2900 Griffith St., Charlotte

Just because South End’s Triple C has opted for a more traditional approach to an IPA doesn’t mean it’s boring. The brewery leans heavily on three workhorse hop varieties (Citra, Centennial and Chinook) for this unabashed IPA, which won bronze at the 2015 Great American Beer Festival.

While Triple C’s barrel-aging program is swiftly raising its perceptions around town, this pleasantly bitter beverage is still at the heart of the brewery’s success.