When it comes to hometown pride, it’s tough to top the zeal of fifth generation Concordian, Ford Craven. It was a certainty that when he and co-founders Bart Roberts and Jake Allen started talking seriously about opening a brewery that it had to be done in Concord, and nowhere else. Craven knew that despite breweries already establishing themselves in Concord, it wasn’t enough and more so, it wasn’t in a downtown location.
The trio is set to welcome guests from Craven’s native Concord, of course, and the fans he, Bart (formerly lead brewer at NoDa Brewing’s OG location) and fellow North Carolinian Jake have built throughout the greater Charlotte craft beer community over the years. Their grand opening celebration commences Friday, Sep. 6 through Sunday the 8th, located at 165 Brumley Avenue NE, Suite 3001, Concord, NC 28025.
The Southern Strain Brewing founders put down their brooms and pulled up a seat to chat Concord, brewing, teamwork and rock n’ roll in our latest Q&A session.
Concord pride is central to your mission as “Cultivators of Craft”. Tell us about an impressionable memory or experience growing up in Cabarrus County that made it impossible for you to consider opening a brewery anywhere but Concord.
Ford: I’m a fifth generation Concordian. This is where all my nostalgia lives and comes from, but I’d have to say it was my time away from Concord – the years I spent in Boone and Denver, CO – that drew me back to my roots. Having worked in my family’s real estate business here in Concord for many years, I obviously know the landscape well. I felt it was critical to choose a location for the brewery that best represented Concord, and that meant shifting away from the suburban sprawl and back to downtown.
Downtown was a must for Southern Strain’s brewery location. Image courtesy of Southern Strain Brewing.
Craven, pictured left alongside wife Crystal and ACEing Autism Founder, Richard Spurling, also has deep roots as a QCBF volunteer and ambassador. Photo by Tom Henderson Photography.
Ford, you have championed craft beer as a homebrewer, podcaster, judge and all around magnetic ambassador of independent beer. With deep perspective for what makes a brewery authentic and successful what is one area you will focus your energies to make Southern Strain meet your standards?
Ford: My official title is Sales & Marketing Director, Bart is Head Brewer and Jake is CFO to round out the trifecta. So, I’m the point man to get people in the door; get the word out and communicate how we’re different – that our focus is entirely on quality. I know a lot of breweries share that message, but it is something we’re wholeheartedly true to. In my entire professional career, I’ve never had as much confidence in anything I’ve sold, marketed or represented as I do in Bart’s abilities as a world-class brewer; our brewery’s neighborhood location in downtown Concord and how genuine our team is from its partners to family to like-minded investors.
Southern Strain founders Bart Roberts, Ford Craven and Jake Allen. Photo by Southern Strain Brewing.
Bart, how will you balance your passion for making beers with complex flavor profiles and brewing methods when your regulars may demand more traditional, approachable beers?
Bart: Our first priority as a brewery in downtown Concord is to supply the neighborhood with approachable and consistent beers that the regular Joe can enjoy on a regular basis. It should be known to the general public that even though a beer style may be extremely approachable and easy drinking, it doesn’t mean it was a simple or easy brew. We’ll be performing some technical steps to even our most simple beers like cereal mashing and decoction, which can easily extend a brew session by a few hours. The time and attention to detail that crisp lagers require during fermentation, for example, definitely overshadow what goes into a beer that just has a ton of ingredients thrown in the kettle or fermenter.
The size of our production area is also perfect for letting us get creative with barrel-aging and mixed fermentation projects. We have already
purchased a couple of specific tanks for this purpose and will be utilizing them from the start for some fun techniques like open fermentation, fruiting, mixed fermentation like brett & lactobacillus, and kettle-souring. These projects will help make us a destination for those that don’t live in the neighborhood, and also give our neighborhood friends some really fun beers to get excited about.
Roberts, pictured at QCBF 2013 as part of the NoDa Brewing team, brings an accomplished brewing resume to Southern Strain. Photo by Tom Henderson Photography.
Jake, you’ve been described as a “Jack of all trades” having worn many hats from the back office to the front lines of taproom readiness as SSBC readies for its grand opening. One dynamic you’ve embraced from the outset is to partner with a proven culinary group that will provide customers another reason to visit: outstanding food. How do you see this synergy reaching its full potential?
We couldn’t ask for a better group of chefs; the group at Hot Box Next Level is self-motivated and craftsmen in their own right. The trio pays close attention to detail in every step of the cooking process beginning with a solid foundation and building with deliberate flavor and care. This process is not too dissimilar from how Bart formulates a beer recipe; if you take care of the water, yeast, grain and hops then they’ll take care of the brew. There’s already been talk of great beer and food pairings that fit right into the vibe of the taproom. The taproom itself has a very easygoing feel that will comfortably accommodate groups of all sizes for their drinking, eating and socializing’s delight. We are excited to bring this passion to Concord and can’t wait for our official grand opening.
Dynamic CFO, Jake Allen, right, helps prepare table bases for Southern Strain’s taproom opening. Photo by Southern Strain.
Bonus question: The Avett Brothers call The Strain and they want you to brew a beer that will become their “Official 2020 tour beer.” From the back of the tour bus to the front of the stage, which Southern Strain beer style is ready to rock?
Ford: The 2020 Avett Brothers Tour is going to be the most anticipated tour the brothers have embarked upon. In fact, the brothers are going to bring back their original bands and band members they launched their respective careers with. So, in tribute to their 2020 tour, we’re going to make a special IPA called Nemo, a double IPA named Margo and a Triple IPA we’ll fittingly dub The Avett Brothers [laughs].
Concord’s own, The Avett Brothers, would have a specialty IPA lineup in their honor should this dream sequence ever become a reality. Photo by Dolphus Rameus.