What's In Store

Exclusive: One of the oldest beer-makers in Germany plans massive brewery in Charlotte

A German brewer that’s been in business since the 16th century is planning a massive brewery in Charlotte that will eventually have the capacity to brew up to 500,000 barrels per year. That’s almost 25 times the capacity of Olde Mecklenburg, Charlotte’s biggest brewery.

Gilde, based in Hannover, Germany, has been brewing beer since 1546. The company’s CEO, Karsten Uhlmann, has lived in Cornelius for about a year as he and his team quietly put their plans together to expand into Charlotte, their first U.S. market.

Ultimately, Uhlmann said, Gilde plans to open a brewery in “a dynamic part of Charlotte” that’s roughly 100,000 square feet, or about the size of a department store.

Gilde’s decision to pick Charlotte was both logical and poetic.

Charlotte is a rapidly growing city with a bustling airport, Uhlmann said. It’s relatively close to Charleston, the port city through which it will import its beer, and Charlotte also has a sizable German business community. Gilde wants to take advantage of the growth of Charlotte, which Uhlmann called “a city in the making.”

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A statue of Queen Charlotte rests along the Liberty Walk on the corner of College St. and Fifth St. Abbi O'Leary aoleary@charlotteobserver.com

And the city’s German namesake, Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, was the wife of England’s King George III. She also ruled over Hanover, Gilde’s hometown, in the early 1800s.

“We believe that obviously Queen Charlotte forgot to bring her beer (here) ... and we’re trying our best to correct this mistake,” Uhlmann said.

Baby steps into Charlotte

Gilde will expand into the Charlotte market in phases, Uhlmann said.

Currently, the brewer is developing its expansion infrastructure. That means securing a distributor — Adams Beverages, the largest of its kind in the region — working with lawmakers on regulations and establishing relationships with retailers such as grocery stores like Harris Teeter and Food Lion, Uhlmann said. (Food Lion confirmed it’s been in talks with Gilde but would not provide a timetable for when it will sell its products.)

The first batch of imported bottles and cans arrives in the Port of Charleston in mid-July, Uhlmann said, and will be found in many area grocery stores in August. After that, Gilde will be seen in the community more, including in pro sports facilities and at beer festivals, Uhlmann said.

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A Gilde koozie, a foam holder meant to keep beer cold Katherine Peralta kperalta@charlotteobserver.com

Gilde made its first appearance at a U.S. beer festival at the South End Hops Fest in May.

Charlotte’s craft beer craze has generated “a lot of interest in brewing,” Uhlmann said, but the city doesn’t have a heritage in brewing.

Gilde’s authentic German recipes aren’t like the experimental craft beer that Charlotte’s used to, he added. Many large German brewers like Gilde have been using the same beer recipes for hundreds of years.

The purpose of importing and distributing Gilde beer in Charlotte before the brewery has a physical presence here is so Gilde can introduce local beer drinkers to its “heritage beers” such as pilsners and hefeweizens, Uhlmann said.

A physical presence

Gilde’s first brick-and-mortar location will come soon after the initial introduction to Charlotte.

By the end of the year, Gilde will open a microbrewery called “the Embassy.” It will be around 5,000 square feet, the size of many of Charlotte’s established craft breweries, and will have the capacity to brew a few thousand barrels of beer annually.

Uhlmann has the location for the Embassy narrowed down to about five sites, although he declined to say where they are. The microbrewery will employ up to 30 people, Uhlmann said, and will not do any bottling onsite. The brewing done onsite will be in small batches, he added.

Two to three years down the line is when Gilde plans to open its massive flagship brewery in Charlotte, Uhlmann said, although he declined to say which locations Gilde is eying for that facility.

It will employ up to 100 people and will have a spacious taproom, beer garden and full kitchen, Uhlmann said.

There, Gilde will teach employees the craft of German beer-brewing. Along with front-of-house staff, the brewery will have an array of other jobs, including filling line operators, mechanics and brewers.

To cultivate young new talent, Uhlmann, a chemical engineer, said he would like to eventually work with Central Piedmont Community College, which has garnered national and international attention for its manufacturing apprenticeship programs.

Although it’ll be the largest beer-maker in the state, Gilde’s Charlotte brewery will still be dwarfed by the company’s original brewery in Hanover. That produces about 850,000 barrels per year, Uhlmann said.

Once Gilde’s big brewery opens in Charlotte, its Embassy will remain open, Uhlmann added.

“We think we can build something with our heritage here,” he said.

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As the retail and sports business reporter for the Observer, Katie Peralta covers everything from grocery-store competition in Charlotte to tax breaks for pro sports teams. She is a Chicago native and graduate of the University of Notre Dame.

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