Sycamore Brewing Lets the Good Times Roll

Approachable
adjective

  1. capable of being approached; accessible
  2. (of a person) easy to meet, know, talk with, etc.

This is the entry you’ll find using dictionary.com. And this is the experience you can expect entering Sycamore Brewing’s taproom and meeting the brewery’s owners, Justin and Sarah Brigham.

The always-smiling, ever-gracious couple took a beer break and chatted with QCBF about their journey leading up to their Nov. 1st grand opening, brewing (of course) and sprinkled in some Charlotte trivia for good measure.

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Sycamore came out of the gates strong at its grand opening a few weeks ago. Did you anticipate such an enthusiastic turnout and how did you make such a strong connection to the Charlotte beer community before opening your taproom doors?

Sarah:  It was overwhelming, in a good way. We always knew we had strong support from the South End and surrounding neighborhood, but we didn’t anticipate our reach to go so far beyond that so it was a welcome surprise and very gratifying.

When you talk about the Charlotte beer community, I don’t think you can say enough good things. We wanted to bring people into the process of what we were doing through our social media, and at the moment it’s more about the production side of the business. It’s a fascinating business on so many levels and I think our audience really enjoys being a part of it with us.

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Speaking of your taproom, it is quite stunning and the only place in Charlotte to enjoy a Sycamore brew. What is your favorite aspect of the taproom?

Sarah:  We wanted to create an atmosphere that was warm and welcoming, kind of like your home away from home – that was the mission throughout our build.  We just announced that some of our bottle shop friends will be offering Sycamore beers:  Chris at Good Bottle, Michael at Brawley’s Beverage, Rob at the Carolina Beer Temple and Jason at Salud are carrying our kegs so it’s a bit of a brave new world for us [laughs].

The taproom feature I’m most fond of is the beautiful wooden walls. It’s poplar wood from a farm in Pittsboro that Justin and his dad drove home on Father’s day. They’ve got a beautiful patina to them and I just love what they add to the taproom’s feel.

Justin:  I’m pretty sure I lost a few years of my life to the bar so that gets my vote. The copper sheet on there started out totally raw, which we then sealed and added its patina and turned it into what it is now. It really was an act of love.

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(Photo credit:  Eric Gaddy, Casting Shadows Photography)

Sycamore Brewing puts a strong emphasis on the ingredients it uses in its beers. Tell us about your beers.  What is your most popular so far and any talk of collaborations with other brewers?

Justin:  That’s right, high-quality ingredients are a priority. We use local ingredients whenever possible, which is a seasonal thing and that will make for a really interesting lineup of summer beers. Our base malt, with the exception of two or three beers, comes from Scotland. It’s an heirloom grain, non-GMO and it’s the same type of grain you’d use to make a high-quality scotch so that’s pretty cool.

Collaborations, yeah, it’ll happen [smiles]. We’ve talked with our South End friends down the road at Triple C about it so at some point we’ll do something. Who knows, it could be a South End friends kind of thing. We had all the South End breweries, Triple C, Lenny Boy and Unknown, on tap at our grand opening so it would be pretty cool to bring us all together and make a beer.

One of our most popular beers is the Blonde which really showcases the Scottish malt; the IPAs we’ve released have been really well received and Jordy’s small batch Peanut Butter Porter was our fastest-selling keg.

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Justin: as a native Charlottean, which Charlotte athlete, celebrity or person of notoriety would you most like to serve at your bar?

Oh wow, probably Muggsy Bogues. I remember going to his house trick-or-treating back in the day and he definitely had the best candy. So maybe I can return the favor in beer form [laughs].

How did you arrive at the name Sycamore Brewing?

We wanted a name that conveyed something natural that also spoke to a place, and the Sycamore tree is found predominantly in the south so it fits us really well.

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Bonus question for Sycamore brewer, Jordy Smith:  with which brewer, national or international, would you most like to create a recipe?

I’m a big fan of Jolly Pumpkin in Michigan and have traded a couple emails with Sean Brennan so it’d be cool to collaborate with him. Sorry, but I can’t guarantee you’ll see a sour beer from us just yet.

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QCBF 2015 Tickets On Sale Now

You’re invited to the 4th annual Queen City Brewers Festival and tickets are on sale NOW! QCBF will take place Saturday, January 31st at the legendary Bojangles’ Coliseum. ACEing Autism is the event host as we shine the spotlight on our city’s growing crop of breweries, brewpubs, bottle shops, and craft beer-focused restaurants.

Tickets are limited, $40 per session and attendees must be 21+. Admission provides unlimited beer tasting, food sampling from a variety of craft beer-focused restaurants, live music and local artists will be displaying their works.

Tickets can be purchased online via Ticketmaster OR directly from the Bojangles’ Coliseum box office beginning today at 10AM. Click here for box office hours (please note: the only fee charged at the box office is a $2 facility improvement fee per ticket).

The event’s lineup of breweries includes newcomers Barking Duck Brewing, Salud Beer Shop Nanobrewery, Sugar Creek Brewing and Sycamore Brewing. Expect a variety of their beers including one “Super Brew” per session!

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In addition, QCBF welcomes a number new and returning craft beer and food Exhibitors for your sampling delight! Please visit them leading up to the event and check our website regularly to see who has been added.

A big thank you to our sponsors for enabling us to deliver you a high-quality experience, including Responsible Patron Partner, East Charlotte Nissan. Don’t forget to register for a free ride!

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 On behalf of ACEing Autism, we can’t wait to welcome you to the upcoming Queen City Brewers Festival!

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 Two Tasting Sessions:

1 – 4 PM

6 – 9 PM

Tickets are $40 per session

Buy Tickets

See you there!

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Giving Thanks for the Beer Growler

A half-gallon — 64 ounces or four pints — no matter how you do the measuring, growlers are meant for sharing. With Thanksgiving feasts fast-approaching, bringing varying extensions of family and friends together, the beer growler serves as the perfect accoutrement to scenes of celebration and homecoming.

Earlier this year, Charlotte welcomed its first growler fill shop when The Beer Growler opened at 1427 South Blvd on the fringe of Uptown, essentially across the street from World of Beer. The store has 45 rotating taps with a focus on fresh, local, regional and a few national breweries. In the near future, expect a few more taps featuring cider and sodas.

Owners Brandee, Jessica and Kristen finished topping off a few growler refills to fill us in on their operation, and we can’t to welcome The Beer Growler to QCBF on Jan. 31.

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(The beer growler positioned for holiday celebration)

Tell us about your first beer growler experience, and how did it lead to you opening Charlotte’s first-ever growler fill shop?

We were celebrating Brandee’s birthday in Savannah, GA, when we came across this growler filling store. The owner was incredibly nice and informative so each of us picked a beer, got our growler and went on our way. The next day we went back to the store to get a fresh growler filled to bring home. It was on that ride home that it occurred to us that Charlotte had nothing like this, and as huge craft beer fans, it became our mission to open Charlotte’s first growler fill store.

 
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For those unsure about growler care and upkeep, what exactly should one do once his or her beer growler is finished? Bonus question:  what is your gnarliest growler refill experience?

We’re a very welcoming bunch at The Beer Growler. Any size, shape, or type of growler; we’ll clean, sanitize and fill it. Because we’ll fill any growler it also means we see all kinds of conditions, and yes, that does include some gnarly ones [laughs]. Nothing too over-the-top comes to mind, but one guy brought in what must have been a relic from his garage, caked with dust and complete with scum. But we got it totally cleaned up for him and I’ve never seen a customer leave our store so happy.

In terms of care, there’s not much to it. We suggest a good rinse, then drop a little detergent into it, or Star San for our homebrewer friends. Keep an inch or two of water in there before sealing it up nice and tight. Then, bring it back to us of course [laughs].

How do you select your tap lineup and what trends have you noticed so far?

It wasn’t originally our intention to feature almost all North Carolina beers, but what we’ve found is that North Carolina beers are so plentiful that we can maintain a great variety without really having to go outside the state.

Beers that are not bottled or canned and not necessarily distributed in our immediate market are the beers that sell really well. For example, Raleigh Brewing Company and Asheville Brewing’s seasonals are very popular.  Any beer we literally have to travel to and pick up ourselves is going to sell well, which tells us we have a customer base that is totally dialed-in to the beer scene. We also update our taps via social media pretty much in real-time and we’re getting solid feedback right away.

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The Beer Growler has recently introduced growler punch cards and flights. Anything else new we can expect in the future?

Yes, we’re seeing people start with our 4-beer flights and then select their growler. The Frequent Filler Cards are being redeemed so that’s been great for our regulars. In terms of new offerings, we love hosting beer education nights. Cam from Great Lakes was our first brewery presenter and was awesome, so we’ll continue to invite breweries to serve up knowledge and fresh beer.  We also continue to explore the possibility of serving pints, but just like our brewery friends have experienced, rezoning takes time. In the meantime, we’re going to keep doing what we do best. So if you have an empty growler, we can fix that [laughs].
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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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