Eat + Drink

Raise a Glass: Sorting Out Charlotte’s Brewery Scene

Charlotte’s brewery scene has exploded in recent years. At last count there were at least 17 breweries, each with its own character. The thriving market for beer drinkers has brought with it plenty of perks beyond just craft beer, which is pretty enticing on its own.

To get an idea of where to find these breweries, think of Charlotte as a clock. The majority of breweries are lined up at 7 o’clock, along South Boulevard, South Tryon Street and Camden Road in the South End. A growing number are between 1 o’clock and 2 o’clock, in NoDa, Charlotte’s artsiest neighborhood. One brewery is in Plaza Midwood, at 3 o’clock, and another is in the Historic West End, at 10 o’clock.

Here’s a rundown of our favorite Charlotte breweries.

Free Range Brewing

Head to the hip NoDa arts district to find Free Range Brewing. The space has become an integral part of the community, drawing patrons for reasons beyond craft beer, like swing dance lessons, Yoga classes, bluegrass music and “Dads and Bags,” a meet-up for dads and their children.

Free Range beers incorporate ingredients from Charlotte-area farms. The brewers start with grains, many of which are grown in the region, and source local produce like blackberries, figs, sweet potatoes and pecans. They even forage for dandelion flowers, honeysuckle, chokeberries and more. All in all, Free Range Brewing works with about a dozen local farms.

Lenny Boy Brewing Co.

charlotte breweries
Be adventurous and order the kombucha. (Photo: Courtesy of Lenny Boy)

Lenny Boy stands out from its brewery neighbors in the South End because of what it brews besides beer. Lenny Boy is Charlotte’s most popular creator of kombucha, a fermented tea drink that is touted for its health benefits. It also brews gluten-reduced beer and gluten-free wild ale in addition to traditional ales and lagers.

Olde Mecklenburg Brewery

Located in the South End, Olde Mecklenburg is the granddaddy of Charlotte breweries. When it opened in 2009 it was Charlotte’s first local brewery. Today it’s the biggest, with an eight-acre biergarten, a 60-barrel brewery and a dine-in brauhaus. It gives popular brewery tours and hosts seasonal artist markets.

Blue Blaze Brewing Co.

charlotte breweries
Blue Blaze bring the community together at events like bike rides and Appalachian Trail hikers’ groups. (Photo: Courtesy of Blue Blaze Brewing Co.)

Blue Blaze is noteworthy for two reasons. First, it’s the first brewery in the Historic West End. The second reason is the brewery’s connection with the outdoors and healthy living.

The brewery is named after the “blue blaze” symbol on the Appalachian Trail, which leads hikers off-trail to something interesting, like a spring or overlook. Fittingly, the brewery presents events like bike rides, Appalachian Trail hikers’ groups, a pop-up farmers market and outdoor-themed film screenings.

Blue Blaze features five “flagship” beers, ranging from a classic German golden ale to the Double Blaze Black IPA, which combines porter and IPA. In addition, you’ll find seasonal brews and even some beers from other local craft breweries.

The Unknown Brewing Co.

charlotte breweries
Get to know the Unknown. (Photo: Courtesy of Unknown Brewing Co.)

Based in the South End, Unknown Brewing Co. hosts an impressive number of community events. These include weekly movie nights in the summer, productions by local theater companies and art shows. Beers are sometimes experimental, especially for special occasions, like the Bacon Bash, which featured 10 different bacon-infused beers.

Heist Brewery

Also in NoDa, Heist is known for its food almost as much as for its beer. In addition to featuring lunch and dinner menus that go far beyond “bar food,” Heist also puts on a fantastic Sunday brunch. Besides the breakfast staples you’d expect, the menu includes a “Krispy Kreme Doughnut Tree.”

Heist has received some recognition beyond the Queen City; in 2016 it won the bronze award at the World Beer Cup for Brockwell, an English mild ale.

Thirsty Nomad Brewing Co.

charlotte breweries
Drink your brew, then learn how to make it at Thirsty Nomad. (Photo: Courtesy of Thirsty Nomad Brewing Co.)

Thirsty Nomad, like many other breweries, is in the South End, but it’s separated from the rest of them by a major thoroughfare, I-77. It sits to the west of the interstate while the other South End breweries are to the east.

Another way that Thirsty Nomad differs? It publishes all of its beer recipes, more than 150, on its website. So if you’re a home brewer and you like what you taste at Thirsty Nomad, you can try to recreate it at home.

Birdsong Brewing Co.

charlotte breweries
Bands and beer collide at Birdsong. (Photo: Birdsong Brewing Co.)

Birdsong, in NoDa, has a special connection with the local music community. Besides presenting live music several nights a week, it also regularly collaborates with local bands to create special brews based on their style of music. For example, the Easy Rider, inspired by the fun, high-energy band Amigo, incorporated the juice and zest from tart blood oranges as well as El Dorado, Mosaic and Amarillo hops.

NoDa Brewing Company

On the northern edge of NoDa, this brewery takes its events up a notch, hosting Charlotte Symphony performances, a jazz festival and crafts nights. But its beer is serious business, too. In 2014 it won a gold award in the World Beer Cup for its Hop, Drop ‘n Roll IPA.