Walk into one of Lake Norman’s growing number of microbreweries or bottle shops these days, and you’ll find two things: An exotic variety of home-grown craft beers and bars full of beer lovers with a strong sense of community.
Craft brewing has taken root across North Carolina, but few places have the concentration of taprooms now found in Lake Norman, and Cornelius in particular. They’re not only feeding demand for local pale ales, porters and stouts, they’re also becoming hangouts for friends and neighbors.
With beer tastings, running and yoga nights, food truck rallies and live music, these new taprooms are actually helping to build community. They’re Lake Norman’s version of the neighborhood pub.
Kelly Bayne was pulling pints at Bayne Brewing Co., off West Catawba Avenue in Cornelius, on Oct. 5 as a steady stream of customers walked in. A family gathered around one high-top table, while two couples sat at the bar, with flights of Bayne’s brews before them – from an India pale ale to red and brown ales.
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“We get a mix of people,” said Bayne, whose husband and brother-in-law run the business. “We’ll get older people, we’ll get young people in here, we’ll get families.”
Bayne opened in December 2014, one of a slew of new beer businesses taking advantage of a 2013 zoning change that made it easier to open breweries and brewpubs in Cornelius. Town rules formerly classified breweries as industrial and prohibited microbreweries and taprooms from locating too close to schools or neighborhoods.
Cornelius Mayor Chuck Travis said town staff, including town manager Anthony Roberts and planning director Wayne Herron, were ahead of the microbrewery trend. “I’ve got to give credit to Anthony and Wayne for seeing it coming and encouraging us to change the ordinance,” Travis said.
Now, local beer-lovers are reaping the rewards.
Cornelius is now home to Bayne and two other microbreweries. Ass Clown Brewing Co. was the pioneer in 2011, opening first at Kenton Place, off West Catawba Avenue, then later moving to Parkway Commerce Park, off Bailey Road.
D9 Brewing Co. opened its first 5,000-square-foot brewery and taproom in September 2014 in a business park off N.C. 115 south of town, and has expanded since then.
Not far away, off N.C. 115 in Huntersville, Primal Brewery opened in December. And Mooresville has Lake Norman Brewing Co. on Barley Park Lane, off Mazeppa Road.
Meanwhile, local beer lovers also have another option: Bottle shops, which serve draft beer in their tasting rooms, in addition to selling craft brews for takeout. They’re one of the hottest new business types in Lake Norman, from Ultimate Ales in Mooresville to Davidson Beverage Co. in Davidson to Old Town Public House, Cornelius Daft House and Bottled & Tapped in Cornelius, to The Crafty Beer Guys in Huntersville.
Town officials were wary when Ass Clown founder and brewer Matt Glidden first proposed opening four years ago. “They weren’t used to it, and they didn’t know what to expect. I think they were thinking it would be a drunk-fest,” Glidden said.
But that wasn’t the case.
Said Roberts, Cornelius’ town manager: “We’ve realized they can fit right in with the neighborhood.”
Expect the trend to continue: The mayors of Cornelius, Huntersville and Davidson have formed what they’re calling the Lake Norman Beer Council. They’ll meet again later this month to talk about promoting the industry around Lake Norman.
“The craft brew movement is developing, and we want it to come to our region,” Travis said.
Bottle shops multiply
Wes Lucas and Casey Ashlock opened Cornelius Draft House in June in a shop facing the gazebo and green at Jetton Village, off West Catawba Avenue. It’s near hundreds of homes, including the Peninsula and other neighborhoods between Jetton and Bethel Church roads.
The partners used to work together at eeZ Fusion & Sushi in Birkdale, and first thought about opening a restaurant. But after looking at the economics and potential locations, they narrowed their plans to a neighborhood bottle shop. Bottle shops are ostensibly retail stores, but Lucas said the young business is thriving mainly because it has become a neighborhood gathering place.
“I’d say 70 percent of our business is people within a mile and a half,” he said. The shop is open daily from noon to midnight, offering 200 beers on the shelves. And neighbors come for game nights, Thursday night tap takeovers by local breweries, bands and Sunday afternoon football.
Home brewers Ray Steimel and David Hoy were home brewers who decided to take things a step further in 2014 when they opened Primal Brewing, on N.C. 115 in Huntersville. They don’t aspire to the brewing big time, but they love the beer.
“We are the true essence of craft beer. Our hope is we do enough (business) to pay the mortgage,” he said.
David Boraks is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org
Laketoberfest Brew & Music Festival
Six local breweries and bottle shops will be at the fourth annual Laketoberfest Brew & Music Festival from 4-9 p.m. Oct. 17 at Bailey Road Park, Cornelius. With 15 food trucks, live music, a cornhole tournament and a kids zone. Proceeds benefit the Lake Norman Wildlife Conservationists. For details, go to www.facebook.com/events/457279801104494/.