University City

Beer festival tickets selling fast

A festival about local craft beers is coming to Charlotte's Neighborhood Theatre Feb. 4, aiming to convince consumers that they should switch from major brands to microbrews.

Tickets are on sale now for the Queen City Brewers Festival. About half of the 600 offered have sold since sales started earlier this month.

Those who attend will get to taste the rare brews that are being created in the Charlotte area, said festival organizer Nils Weldy of Nils Weldy & Associates.

That sort of showcase would not have been possible even three years ago because of the scarcity of local brew houses in the area, Weldy said.

Today he estimates the area has about eight local brewers. Some of those signed up to exhibit at the festival include Olde Mecklenburg and Rock Bottom breweries.

"With this, the spotlight is just shining on Charlotte breweries," Weldy said. "They're not sharing the attention with Sam Adams or Sierra Nevada."

Craft brewers are generally small operations that produce 6 million barrels of beer or less annually. They also tend to be independently owned and use traditional methods, according to the Brewers Association.

Micro brewing, or production in small batches, is one of the fastest-growing segments of the alcoholic beverage industry, according to the association.

Craft brewers sold nearly 10 million barrels of beer in 2010, up from nearly 9 million in 2009, the association reports.

Overall, U.S. beer sales were down an estimated 1 percent by volume in 2010.

Weldy himself was won over to craft beers five or six year ago after attending tasting festivals in Boston, his home until moving to Charlotte four years ago.

Weldy, 31, is a fan of the Charlotte Oktoberfest festival, this year a sold-out event at Metrolina Expo that brought more than 5,200 tasters and about 75 breweries, among them national and regional operations.

Oktoberfest raised $60,000 for three local charities.

The festival coming to the North Davidson Street arts district is a fundraiser for nonprofit Partners for Parks. It should be a more intimate event, said Oktoberfest Festival Director Lisa Johnson.

"It's probably a better way to try to get a good sample of a fewer number of beers," she said.

Weldy has asked each brewer to create a special drink to mark super bowl Saturday, the day before the NFL championship game and festival day.

He plans to round out the festival with vendor booths for artists and a couple of food stands.

The arts district is the right location for the festival because beer-making is an art, Weldy said. He also sees more craft beers turning up in NoDa's restaurants and bars.

"The bulk of their business is still going to be the Budweiser brands, but it's shifting," Weldy said.