Queen City Brewers Festival Coming to Bojangles’ Coliseum on Jan. 31, 2015

Charlotte, NC – The fourth annual Queen City Brewers Festival (QCBF) will take place Saturday, Jan. 31, 2015 at the legendary Bojangles’ Coliseum. QCBF is a tasting event that showcases Charlotte’s breweries, brewpubs, bottle shops and craft beer-focused restaurants. Funds raised by the event benefit ACEing Autism. QCBF will be the first beer festival held at Bojangles’ Coliseum, which opened in 1955 as Charlotte’s first coliseum.
“The Charlotte beer landscape has soared since the inaugural festival in 2012,” said QCBF creator and Program Director of ACEing Autism-Charlotte, Nils Weldy.  “We needed to find a venue that would properly host our city’s award-winning breweries, exhibitors and sponsors, while maintaining an intimate festival experience.”

Roughly 2,000 attendees will enjoy unlimited beer and food samples on the same floor that has seen performances by Elvis Presley and The Rolling Stones, and was once home to the American Basketball Association’s (ABA’s) Carolina Cougars and the Charlotte Checkers.

Brewers are encouraged to bring one “super” flavor or style of beer especially for QCBF, as the Super Bowl takes place the following day. Works by local artists and live music will be on hand during each of the two tasting sessions:  1-4 p.m. and 6-9 p.m.

QCBF’s mission is to spotlight Charlotte’s craft beer industry while raising awareness and funds for ACEing Autism, a non-profit that uses the sport of tennis to connect with children on the autism spectrum.

Tickets go on sale Saturday, December 6, 2014. Updates will be posted regularly on:
www.QCBrewFest.com
www.ACEingAutism.com
www.facebook.com/qcbrewfest
@QCBrewFest #CharlotteOnTap #cltbeer

Event address:  2700 East Independence Blvd, Charlotte, NC 28205

About Bojangles’ Coliseum
Bojangles’ Coliseum first opened in 1955 as the largest unsupported steel dome coliseum in the nation. Since then, the 10,000-seat multipurpose venue has hosted a wide array of concerts, sporting events, family shows and other diverse entertainment events. The celebrated facility has been known by many names: Charlotte Coliseum, Independence Arena, Cricket Arena and most recently Bojangles’ Coliseum. bojanglescoliseum.com

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The Unknown Brewing Company is Ready for Game Time

“The expectation was to come out with beers made with diamonds and shark blood,” the Unknown Brewing Company’s owner and founder Brad Shell jokes as we finish our plates at neighborhood gem, Three Amigos on Central Ave. 
 
While The Unknown Brewing Company doesn’t make any beers with diamonds or shark blood, Charlotte’s rabid beer audience was anticipating the brewery to hit the market with beers more aggressive than their core lineup of Over the Edge IPA, Head First Pale Ale and No Shame Wheat – all named to reflect Brad’s charismatic personality.  
 
“We needed to dial in our brewing system and then get a foothold in the market,” Shell explains about his brewery’s initial strategy.
 
With Unknown’s brewery a few football fields away from Bank of America Stadium, and the Panthers home opener just days away, it’s fitting now that Unknown begins to hit its stride with big beer releases like its recently tuned up Vehopcirator Double IPA and soon-to-be released Escorpion en Fuego, a Mexican Imperial Lager brewed with agave nectar, serrano peppers, then aged on tequila oak staves.  And in true Shell fashion, 99 food-grade scorpions will be added to the brew. 

Unknown is coming up on its first year anniversary, what has been the biggest learning experience – inside or outside the brewery – so far?

I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is that it’s a lot harder owning a brewery than running a brewery.  I’ve operated breweries for years, but it’s a lot tougher to own ‘em than to run ‘em.  Other than that, I’d have to say it really does take a village and you can’t do it by yourself.  You have to have the community involved; you have to have the brewing side involved; and it really is about being a part of the craft beer movement.  You can’t have one person push a product so hard, so quick; it really does take the support of everyone to be successful.

You are well-traveled when it comes to brewing cities and scenes.  How would you describe Charlotte’s craft beer identity?  

I think the trait that best describes Charlotte is that it doesn’t have a trait.  Maybe I’m wrong about that, and maybe I should apologize, but Charlotte is such a new market that’s still finding its way.  At this point we’re all in the experimental phase; we’re trying new and different beers all the time as a way to find our niche.  A town in Germany might be known for its Alts; you look at Portland and it’s all about big IPAs and sours; there are towns in Washington state where it’s stouts or nothing.  You come here, and shit, it’s an open playing field.  You can find anything from a German-style beer; to a sour; to a Berliner weisse; to an IPA; to a cider; to a mead to a. . . sweet tea beer [grins].

How did your experience at the breweries you previously worked for shape Unknown’s brewing system?
Well, in a way it was great; I screwed up a lot with other people’s money.  In all seriousness, you don’t know what works or what you like until you get enough experience at operating different brewing systems.  What I like about the Unknown system is its simplicity.  You can find all the parts in any supplier’s catalog so there’s nothing too complicated about it.  My goal was to build a brewing system that had a really big engine so that we could grow into our production volume, and not have to go back and replace that engine down the road.  If I haven’t mentioned it already, I’m not the smartest man in the world, so if I can run this system, anyone can run it.

You always seem to have fun and not take yourself too seriously.  What is the funniest/oddest thing that’s happened at the brewery?
No question we have a lot of fun at the brewery.  Now, we take the beer we make very seriously, but as long as the brewing is done right, it’s game on when it comes to having fun.  I really only have two rules when it comes to working at the brewery:  show up on time and get the damn job done.  Hell, you can show up to work with no pants on and it won’t matter to me as long as the beer we’re making is awesome. 
 
I’d say the biggest oddball moment was actually our no pants charity party.  There was a moment that night – we had a hundred or so people in the brewery, everyone there is in freaking underwear, a Brazilian marching band is pumping tunes and I’m dancing in my Ninja Turtle underwear – I looked around and realized, yep, we really don’t take ourselves too seriously.



 

Unknown’s beers just started hitting the market in bottles and cans.  Any news or surprises?  Can give us a hint about your next announcement?

Well, this winter the beers will be getting into my zone.  I’m a big guy, I like big beers and our brewing system is meant to handle recipes that are high gravity so expect to see some big Belgian Quads, Tripples, Imperial Stouts and some other stuff that doesn’t even have a name but, believe me, will melt your face. 

Escorpion en Fuego



 

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Cheers to Cheers Charlotte

As the craft beer market continues its surge internationally, across the United States and especially here in Charlotte, we have the Cheers Charlotte podcast to thank for keeping us in the know.  The trio of Jay “Weezie” Brown, Cesar Leyva and Ford Craven, all homebrewers and staples in the Charlotte beer community, just toasted one year (that’s 52 episodes to be exact) and don’t expect them to slow down anytime soon.

During each 50-55 minute show, the guys cover quite a bit through a number of “cheersworthy” segments.  You’ll be able to catch up on industry news and notes, meet a special guest (like a brewer, event organizer, musician author or chef), go through an official BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) beer tasting, hear from a homebrewer in the Homebrewer Spotlight and then wash it all down with some beer trivia. 

Speaking of trivia, did you know that Weezie and Cesar met through a Queen City Brewers Festival planning meeting?  Now it’s time to interview the interviewers.

You’ve covered Charlotte’s craft beer scene on a weekly basis for a full year – what aspect of Charlotte’s beer culture drives the show for you?

Cesar:  For me it’s the combination of the local brewery community and the homebrew community.  The show is split into segments, and it’s the focus on the homebrewer that is so interesting and important because, essentially, that is what drives the Charlotte brewery scene.

Jay:  I agree with Cesar in the sense that when we interview professional brewers like Chad and Todd from NoDa Brewing and then feature a homebrewer on the same show, it’s really cool to make that bridge.  The homebrewer can’t help but to feel as if he’s part of something bigger than the recipe he just made on his back porch.

Ford:  What drives the show for me and the reason I’m involved is because it’s a way for me to focus 100% of my attention on craft beer for at least one day a week.  We’re all so busy and scattered in our everyday life, and I’ll certainly pick up craft beer news & notes throughout the week, but this is my dedicated craft beer outlet and in particular I like our educational and beer style segments the most.




If you had to give one and only one piece of advice to a homebrewer turning pro (commercial brewing), what would it be?

Cesar:  I’d tell him to stick to his gut as far as recipes.  That’s what Chad is doing at NoDa, Sam at Triple C and now Eric at Heist.  The recipes these guys have homebrewed for years is what has gotten them to where they are. 

Jay:  I think it’s important for a brewer to try new things too.  Yes, you want to supply your customers with well-brewed beers, but most craft beer drinkers try not to drink the same beer twice so mixing it up and having a wide variety is going to be key.

Ford:  Remember the community.  It’s a shame when you have a homebrewer that goes pro and then becomes totally unreachable.  Yes, it’s a whole new world when you’re tasked with running a successful business operation where before you were homebrewing for fun.  But to bring up NoDa Brewing again, we had Todd and Suzie on the show the week after they claimed a gold medal at the World Beer Cup.  It’s keeping up that authentic connection to your roots that’s so important, in my opinion.


(Capture the Crown 2013 winners Bill Lynch (2nd Place) and Carson Warstler (1st place)

With several recent expansion announcements, friendlier zoning language and new brewery and cidery openings on the horizon; give us your snapshot of the Charlotte beer/cider/spirit landscape five years from now.

Cesar:  I see more attrition.  I see the quality of beer improving with friendly competition – the bar is being raised year after year.  The thing with Charlotte is you have a real melting pot of people from all over the place.  I honestly think you’re going to see the same thing with breweries; breweries specific to style, cideries, meaderies – there will be a little bit of everything.  I’ve also noticed breweries are buying or sitting on a large number of barrels so it wouldn’t surprise me to see a big uptick in barrel-aged and sour offerings.
 
Ford:  I think we’ll have double the number of breweries that we have now.  No doubt about it.  There are still plenty of gaps outside of NoDa, South End and northern Charlotte.  Plus, the Rocky Mount Brewmill is going to develop a whole new wave of brewers that may just migrate to the state’s biggest city.  
 
Jay:  It’s interesting, I think Charlotte is helping the state progress its craft beer industry and the state is setting the example for the region.  We saw recently that South Carolina relaxed its laws with the hopes of attracting Stone Brewing so it’s logical to think we’ll see greater brewery representation down there.  So to be included in the same beer category as an Oregon or California wouldn’t surprise me.


 

(Both the Charlotte Chamber and Charlotte Regional Partnership submitted bids to Stone Brewing Co.) 

We know beer tasting festivals are a natural gateway to craft beer.  What was yours?

Jay:  Monday nights at Brixx pizza you could get $1.50 domestic drafts from breweries like Rogue, Bell’s and Highland.  Granted they came in frozen pint glasses, which I didn’t realize was a bad thing at the time, but that’s how I discovered and was able to pay for good beer.
 
Ford:  It was two separate experiences for me.  In college I worked for Cottonwood Brewery when it was still in Boone so as soon as I turned 21, and maybe a year or two before that [laughs], I had local craft beer right at my fingertips.  As far as the Charlotte scene and this generation of craft beer, it was the Charlotte Beer Club that fueled my interest in the local beer scene and it introduced me and my girlfriend to an awesome network of people.
 
Cesar:  When I was 21 it was also $1.50 drafts and that was at Karl Strauss in San Diego.  Their amber lager in particular was my go-to, and when I moved to North Carolina I couldn’t find anything like it.  So I went on a beer hiatus, got into wine and it wasn’t until moving to Charlotte and discovering OMB’s lagers that I got back into beer.

 With regard to festivals, what makes an event “Cheersworthy” to you?

Jay:  I think it has to have a real craft beer vibe to it, and that is totally indicative of the crowd.   Some beer festivals you know judging by the audience that they’re just there to drink and the fact that there is good beer on hand is a bonus to them. 
 
Cesar:  The way you can tell if it’s a good festival is if you see the owner or brewer pouring their beer for you.  That’s how you know it’s a good festival.
 
Ford:  I try to find out what kind of values the festival is representing because it trickles down from there.  You’ll get the brewers, owners and a great audience if there is a true theme or meaning to the festival.



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Beer, Wine and Bulldogs

Bulldog Beer and Wine owner, Rob Johnson shares a similar story with successful craft beer entrepreneurs including Todd & Suzie Ford of NoDa Brewing, Heist’s Kurt Hogan and Carolina Beer Temple’s Rob Jacik.  All devoted years of their career to a corporate entity before pursuing a business centered on craft beer.  Rob opened the original Bulldog Beer and Wine in the craft-friendly college town of Boone, NC back in 2008 after 15 years in the financial industry in Atlanta.  It wasn’t until a trip to South End’s World of Beer in 2012 did he realize an on premise establishment – sans kitchen – could exist in his hometown of Charlotte.

We posted up at Bulldog Beer and Wine on Park Rd in Dilworth (naturally, Winston, the Bulldog, kept us company) and got the scoop from Rob as his casual pet-friendly Charlotte store comes up on its first birthday.

At Charlotte Oktoberfest and most recently at QCBF you had some amazing additions to beer samples like candied bacon bits added to Left Hand Milk Stout and Hop Nosh randaled through habanero peppers; what’s the thought process behind these creations?

The thing with beer festivals is that if you’re not memorable, if people aren’t talking about you on Monday, then you’ve failed.  You’ve really got to maximize the opportunity so that you make a strong, lasting connection.   I want someone who’s tried my bacon beer to tell his friend, and then he comes over, and then tells his friend and so on.  We approach sampling events with the mindset that we’re not going to do something average or even above average; you’ve got to spice it up if you want to be talked about.

What’s important too is that we’re creating awareness by getting in front of cats from Lake Norman, Ballantyne and Gastonia.  Sure they’re going to stick to their zip code for the most part, but once they meet us, chances are we may get a Twitter follow or a Facebook like, and who knows, maybe they’re in the neighborhood three weeks later and stop by.  We’ll be glad they did.

Bulldog is not shy when it comes to social media, and it looks like there’s never a dull moment at the store – tell us about how you keep it lively.

During the week we try to mix it up.  We start with “Meat Up Mondays” where a steady group of about 20 people come over and use our big grill out back, and once the weather gets better I think that number will continue to grow.  You should have seen the grilled pizzas some guys were making last week – dough from scratch with all the fixings, it was amazing.  And of course during football season it feels like a giant tailgate.

On weekends we’ll have bands play in the store, and speaking of weekends, we’ll be going all out for our 1-year anniversary March 28-30, so yes, stay tuned to our social media feeds for details.

Bulldoggraphic

NoDa and OMB recently announced Charlotte’s first-ever production collaboration beer; what’s your impression of the Charlotte craft beer industry with a year under your belt?

In just the year and a half since I’ve been back in Charlotte, it has grown exponentially.  There’s no hiding that this is the place to be in terms of a growing craft beer scene.  The beer and vibe across town is different from location-to-location, but you also have so many interests being served like biking, running and yoga, which I think is really cool.  What I also like is that it’s an all-around friendly arena, unlike the financial industry background I came from.  That was a cutthroat atmosphere whether it was to your face or behind your back, but I’ve found our brewery owners and fellow bottle shop owners to be friendly, wholesome, quality individuals and that, again, is so refreshing in contrast to where I came from.

It goes beyond the brewery owners too.  It’s the delivery guys, distributor reps, brewery reps – in fact I know brewery reps that are dating – we have such a welcoming environment right now.  Will it always be this way, do I know the point of brewery or bottle shop saturation, no.  But I know that there are thirsty craft beer drinkers in all directions – the Lake-area, Belmont, Gastonia, South Charlotte and Ballantyne – you add it all up and that’s well over a million people, and that’s quite a bit of pie to slice up.

Quintessential bottle shop owner question:  What is your favorite style of beer and specific beer of that style? 

Man, I would tell you it is going to be an IPA, and more likely to be a Double IPA.  As a beer store owner, I have access to just about anything on the planet, but I’ll take home one of three beers when I finish a workday at 11 o’clock at night:  Lagunitas’ Hop Stoopid, New Belgium’s Ranger IPA or NoDa’s Hop, Drop n’ Roll; that’s it man, it’s like clockwork.  Trust me; I love doubles, but can’t drink ‘em everyday.
 

 

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Thank You from ACEing Autism

We hope all who attended Queen City Brewers Festival 2014 had a blast.  Judging from these smiling faces, we feel safe saying you did!  With a new venue that provided enough space to host our beloved Charlotte breweries, local beverage exhibitors, artists, sponsors and a select group of craft beer-centric restaurants, we were confident each tasting session would be a success.  We’d also like to recognize our hardworking volunteers (including a number of members of the Carolina BrewMasters) and the guys at Zali Presents for their expertise behind the scenes.  To all those in attendance, we would like to say. . . 

THANKYOU_DDBecause of your support, ACEing Autism-Charlotte programming will launch on March 1 at Alexander Street Park near Uptown.  Please visit the Charlotte program page if you would like to learn more about clinics, how to become a volunteer or instructor and/or to make a donation.

Lastly, congratulations to our raffle prize winners.  We had close to 400 entries and are so appreciative of the generous contributions from our sponsors, breweries, exhibitors and partners.  Hard to argue there was a more exciting moment than when the winners were announced!

QCBF14 - 091(Photo credit Tom Henderson Photography)

Stay tuned for upcoming profiles on The Unknown Brewing Co. as well as the famous Bulldog Beer and Wine.  And before you know it, we’ll be getting you ready for next year’s QCBF:  January 31, 2015.  Cheers!

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