Queen City Brewers Festival steered its way eastbound and dropped in at Hops in Matthews, NC.  The bar, which has a Cheers-esque feel, was without an open seat on this bustling Thursday evening.  Head brewer John Bradford welcomed us and took a breather from his accelerated pace to fill us in on Hops’ operation.

Colorado and Virginia are the two other states with a Hops Brewery.  Are the beers unique to each location and if so, what are they and how are your recipes created?

The Charlotte location is the only Hops to feature our Pale Ale on a year-round basis, which is surprising since it’s one of our most award-winning beers.  We have about 25 different beers and those recipes are being refined year-over-year, which poses a challenge to us since we only have eight taps to rotate these beers throughout the year.

I actually created the Pale Ale recipe back in 2005.  It has changed over time with the popular hops running in short supply, but the malt has stayed the same though and it’s a favorite among our regulars.

Tell us about the brewery system you’re working with here.  

It’s a seven-barrel pub brewing system, steam fired and we have about 60 barrels of fermentation capacity.

How does your menu and beer offerings work together and do you have events that pair food & beer together?

We’ll offer seasonal pairings of beer and food.  For example when our Oktoberfest is in season, we’ll have German-style food on the menu to go with it; potato pancakes, bratwurst, chicken schnitzel, German coleslaw and German potato salad all go well, naturally, with our Hoptoberfest Seasonal Brew.

A trend we’re seeing pop up in a variety of places, even grocery stores and gas stations, is growler refills.  How does this work at Hops and is it popular among your customers?

Well, North Carolina law is that in order to get a growler refill it has to be from that particular establishment.  So you would buy the grower from us for $4 and then it’s $9 to fill it.  We get our fair share of growler refills day-to-day.  Now, would we open a drive-thru option to accommodate demand?  No, but I’m sure our bartenders would be for it because it can take a while to fill those things!

What are Hops’ goals for 2012, and what would you like your customers to say after they leave your Brew Pub?

To be honest, the beer is at a level now that is as good and probably better than it ever has been.  The thing we need to work on is the service we provide our customers because that is what is going to set us apart from the very competitive restaurant business.  As far as what I’d like our customers to say when they leave Hops, that’s real simple:  Great food, great beer.

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