Brewers at 4001 Yancey may be all but one year-old, but when you consider the decades of institutional experience behind the bustling brewery and taproom, it’s easy to understand how they’ve successfully leveraged the resources at their disposal to deliver a guest experience that’s quickly turned first-time customers into weekly regulars.
Dowingtown, Pennsylvania’s Victory Brewing, Lakewood, New York’s Southern Tier Brewing and the recent addition of Brooklyn’s Sixpoint Brewery, form the Artisanal Brewing Ventures (ABV) family of breweries. “ABV is a support platform that provides like-minded, independent craft brewers the resources to compete against the bigger players in the beer industry, but allows them to maintain their culture and authenticity,” said ABV Field Marketing Manager, Christina Dwyer. With their headquarters here in Charlotte, we benefit from the coming together of these brands, expertise and vision for the ultimate in taproom hospitality (there’s no self-serve yourself water jug to be found here) in the form of Brewers at 4001 Yancey.
Head brewer David Harries who commands a 25-barrel brewhouse along with fantastic hand-me-down pilot brewing systems from Pennsylvania and New York along with Corporate Executive Chef Drew Ward (formerly with Mama Ricotta’s, Cantina 1511 and five years of fine dining kitchen experience in Manhattan) and GM Chris “CA” DeCamp break down the beer, food and service operations at Brewers at 4001 Yancey in our latest Q&A.
With one year of operation under your belt, which beer style (brand name aside) is collectively the clear-cut leader among your customers, and how have you used these consumer preferences to develop beers under the CLT Brew’d label?
Head Brewer, David Harries: We sell a fair amount of low ABV beers like 8 Days a Week and our Helles Lager, which, not surprisingly, is trending upward this time of year. Then, of course, it’s those three letters, IPA, that it seems just about everyone is a fan of. Low ABV and IPAs are the two big categories of beer that we’re seeing the biggest volume response. The fun part is then working within those categories and giving our customers our own twist on them. For instance, we started with our base blonde ale and turned that into a highly approachable coffee blonde; our cranberry gose, released earlier this year, was a big hit for those who like a lighter, tart flavored beer and then experimenting with IPAs since beer fans are always looking for the next new IPA. At the moment we have a Bellini White IPA under the CLT Brew’d label, a couple variations of Brut IPAs and then rounded out with a roasty porter and a creamy milk stout for some variety.
How could a CLT Brew’d recipe that has seen rock steady demand from the Charlotte market become an offering produced at one of your regional facilities and available across the Southern Tier-Victory distribution footprint?
David Harries: That’s something that crosses our minds a lot. We’re fortunate to have a wide range of brewing capabilities within our family of breweries – from an itty-bitty half-barrel up to a 200-barrel system. So we can really key in on a beer that people want and respond accordingly from a production standpoint. Here, our focus is brewing beers that are cool and fun. They might not be barnstormers that hit our 30-plus state distribution footprint, but if our guests and taproom staff are telling us we need a milk stout or porter on our taps, that’s great, because it adds variety giving us a well-rounded beer menu.
Could we see one of our beers go from the farm league to the Majors? Sure! [laughs]. It would start out as a popular seasonal and from there our New York and Pennsylvania breweries might build it into their production schedules. The same could be said for a popular beer born in Pennsylvania or New York – that’s part of the fun when our collective group of brewers gets together and riffs on beer styles or trends we think will resonate with our guests.
You’re regularly packing guests from the bar to your lounges and out onto the patios. How have you maintained your consistently high guest count in a market with established, new and soon-to-open local brewery options?
Corporate Executive Chef, Drew Ward: Obviously, we have great beer [laughs]. On the food side, I’m trying to keep up with the quality of the beer. I think the typical brewery approach has been, “hey, we better have something to eat,” where here, we really want there to be a focus on the food. This is a place you can come to eat and get great beer or you can come here to drink and get great food. Now, without the hospitality up front, it doesn’t matter what’s going on in the kitchen.
General Manager, CA DeCamp: The coolest part from my perspective is how the combined creativity on the brewing side and Drew’s creativity in the kitchen is bringing guests back even if they’ve just visited the previous week. Being a craft beer destination on its own brings a certain segment of the population out, but we’re also getting a ton of people who have never been introduced to the craft beer scene, at all. Having the luxury of offering 40 different beers means there’s something for just about everyone who walks through the door, which makes it fun from the service side. Our servers really become ambassadors of craft beer, how it pairs with chef’s food and making the experience as memorable as possible.
Your culinary team just earned a Charlotte Magazine BOB Award for ‘Best Brewery Food’. Congrats! Tell us about your approach to brewery fare and how your menu will evolve in year two.
Drew: In year one we changed the menu three times so it’s not like the food offerings are getting stale by any means [laughs]. We’ve found the core items we’re going to keep, but we’re changing things up seasonally, and if something’s just not working, we’ll adjust. In year two I think we’ll find out how far we can push it when it comes to what works in a brewery and what doesn’t. It’s definitely a balance – we weren’t expecting our vegetarian grain bowl to be a mainstay on the menu and it’s our second most popular item, and our tuna poke bowl is third most popular overall. Not exactly what you’d expect, but it’s pretty neat, plus, I get to cook with such a wide variety of great beer so it keeps my job fun.
Bonus Question: it’s clear you guys are at the top of your game having proved yourselves as accomplished brewery and culinary pros before landing at Brewers at 4001. Tell us a memory of the most challenging day you’ve had on the job – in the brewhouse, kitchen, event space, etc.
CA DeCamp: As a GM, I’ve had my fair share of challenging days over the years, from equipment failures during some of our busiest days that are building and maintenance related; floods to power outages, even having patio furniture flying off the 15th story of a building and crashing down onto the roof of a patio full of guests during a windy day. But the hardest challenge has to be getting mentally prepared every morning for not knowing what the day is going to throw at you. You have to have plans ready for things that you can’t even imagining happening because in our business, they are probably going to happen all at once and at the least opportune time!
Chef Drew: I was part of the opening team at a restaurant in Manhattan. We were in our second week and that night was to be our first private event. We had prepared most of the event’s food and service had just started when I heard the loudest hissing noise. The Ansel system, which is fire suppression, went off and was spraying this crazy green liquid over everything. Cooks were covered, food was covered, and all the cooking surfaces were covered in green. The gas was automatically cut off as well. We moved the event to a sister restaurant and had one hour to clean and prep new food. We executed a limited menu with the cooks we had on hand the rest of the night. That is the only time I have ever seen Ansel spray and hope to never see it again.
David Harries: Not sure about the most challenging, but the front runner for the messiest day has to be an afternoon in 2013 spent in the large cellar. We’re talking 660-bbl tanks; 20,000 gallons of beer per fermenter. I just finished filtering a tank of Southern Tier 2XIPA, a very hoppy beer, and had a hard time getting all the hop solids to come out of the drain pipe. Rinsing the tank, back flushing with water, using the 15 PSI of head pressure the tank was under – nothing cleared the hop jam. I removed all the head pressure from the tank and unbolted the bottom flange of the cone from the fermenter and was almost instantaneously covered head to toe with a very stubborn slurry of hops and yeast. At least it smelled great!