Cabarrus Microbreweries: Untapped Potential
Mar 01, 2016 08:30AM ● Published by Jason Huddle
The boundaries might be a little blurred, but Charlotte “proper” has about 15 microbreweries, with five more on tap to open soon, and the list keeps growing. Now it’s Cabarrus County’s turn to invite itself to the party.
When people think of the NoDa community in Charlotte, words like eclectic, industrial, artsy and diverse come to mind. It’s also one of the hotspots for microbreweries. Here in Cabarrus, it appears that the Gibson Mill corridor is becoming such a hotspot.
Cabarrus Brewing Company – Opening This Month
Still in the throws of construction, Cabarrus Brewing Company (CBC) is building its home in the old finished goods warehouse at Gibson Mill. Announcing the business in June 2015, the 15,000-square-foot space was basically gutted and is now repurposing wood flooring, pallets and tin from the old mill site.
Steve Steinbacher is a founding partner in this venture. Joining him are Jason McKnight – a much-in-demand brewmaster – and partners, including Keith Griffin and Allan Krusell. “There was no question that we wanted to be in Cabarrus County. Concord was the most logical place and we wanted to be as close to downtown Concord as we could,” Steinbacher explains. “There was nothing readily available or economically feasible to be directly downtown and we didn’t want this to be a multi-million-dollar real estate venture with no money left over for the actual beer. Then we found Gibson Mill and it tied in directly with our wanting to pay homage to our textile history.”
Stainbacher went to the City of Concord’s Planning Department in the fall of 2014 to hopefully amend the zoning of the property to allow the manufacture and sale of beer on-site. Concord City Council approved it in the spring of 2015.
The end result will be a taproom with separate brewhouse, but the two spaces will intermingle. Patrons will be able to see the brewing equipment thorough clear glass windows as well as climb stairs to a mezzanine where they can watch the process from above. Soon to become reality is an expansive outdoor deck.
By day, Steinbacher is a principle at Criterion Healthcare, a medical real estate firm on Church Street. Having relocated to Concord in 1995, he’d always been a craft beer enthusiast. And living briefly in Seattle, he’d seen a lot of homebrewing…but not here. That said, career took precedence until the resurgence of craft brewing in 2006-’07.
“Our beers will be extremely high quality. The goal is not to fall into a niche of one style – German, Belgian, etc. – but rather to have a variety of offerings…and the cool environment in which to enjoy it. We don’t feel the need to produce one specific type of beer,” he says.
Steinbacher sees the popularity of craft beer tied to that of the slow food movement. No, that’s not a typo. Slow food is a term that focuses on ”from field to fork:” affordable local, fresh food produced in ways that protect the environment and animals while maintaining traditional cultures.
“It’s a desire from customers to know where their food (and beer) comes from and consume it close to where it is produced,” Steinbacher says, adding, “It’s the personal taste of Millennials (the generation born between 1981 and ‘94): the appeal of community, and their desire to interact and immerse themselves in the process.”
Steinbacher certainly doesn’t see Millennials as the only ones attracted to craft beers. “The customer demographic is as broad as we can attract,” he says. “We have the current craft beer enthusiasts; we would love to welcome others who are interested. Then there are some who like the atmosphere. We want to be family friendly and dog friendly as much as possible. We plan on volleyball nights, live music and more. We just want to have a cool place to hang out.”
Steinbacher sees CBC providing tours of the facility and brew tastings. Food, live music and sports viewing are also among the plans. “Our goal is to be the premier craft brewing experience and product in this region,” he says. “Our focus is here in our back yard and to be everything we can be here. We may expand into similar products, like cider, but we’re not worried about venturing into Raleigh or other parts of the state.”
He and his partners predict opening CBC the second or third weekend of this month, but that depends solely on the beer; they began brewing in mid-February. “We hope to open with six beers – all ales,” he says. “Cabarrus Cotton is the first; we’ll have a gold ale called Reed’s Gold; we’ll have an amber ale that we call Red Hill; and we are going to make another popular IPA called Rocky River IPA. Then we’ll have an English-style ale that we’re going to call Boll Weevil Brown and a dark beer called Mule Spinner Stout. That’s a classic textile term.”
Researching Cabarrus history to determine the names that go on their labels is important to CBC. “We really want to make sure this is going to be an asset the community is very proud of. We want this to be an opportunity to not only showcase craft beer, but also the rich history of Cabarrus County.”
High Branch Brewing Company – Established November 2015
Also located on the Gibson Mill site – in suite 148 – High Branch Brewing Company is the first brewery/taproom to open in Cabarrus County, and it operates on a smaller, more intimate scale…for now.
T.J. and Maureen Creighton met and wed in New Hampshire before moving to Concord with their two daughters in 2014. T.J had always wanted to own his own business and had been homebrewing for some seven years before taking on this venture.
High Branch has a taproom that encompasses about 800 square feet, while the brewhouse occupies 600 square feet. “We are quite small and people comment on that; they seem to like it,” T.J. Creighton says. “We never look to be a six-pack production brewery. We just want to create an experience for people, a sense of community or a place to come and chat over a great beer. This space is exactly what we were looking for…brick, high ceilings, big windows and an early 1900s vibe.
“We are already feeling the constraints and are looking to expand our space,” he adds. “We were excited with the growth of the city and the proximity of our space to downtown. It really is what we dreamed of. The people have been so receptive to us and our business, and the support we have gotten has been remarkable. We have met a lot of great people and
could not imagine a different scenario.”
As brewmaster, Creighton himself is reminiscent of a mad scientist (mad in a good way). He looks at
yeast and fermentation like few of us do. “I have an interest in the science behind it, the fact that the beer is technically alive when you drink it, which is crazy,” he says. “The yeasts in the beer are still there if the beer is not filtered. It is our opinion that the process of fermentation has the greatest effect on the final product. Of course the ingredients play a significant role, but the fermentation profile of Belgian yeasts, especially, takes the beer to the next level.”
And he’s found himself drawn to producing those Belgian-inspired ales, as well as American ales. Saisons – or farmhouse ales – are a favorite. Saisons were historically brewed by Belgian farmers in their barns each winter and were meant to last through the summer months. The use of spices can create a brew that’s fruity, maybe a little tart, with just a bit of sweetness.
“The farmers would use ingredients grown on their farm to create a beer with a low ABV (alcohol by volume). We want to use local ingredients for our Saisons as we grow, and create a beer that can be described as North Carolina made,” Creighton shares. “This beer is heavily influenced by the yeast and fermentation. As they did historically, we hope to ferment in wood and re-pitch our yeast cultures to create a house flavor.”
High Branch currently brews a Saison called Norway Hill. “In traditional style, Norway Hill is fermented in oak with a mixed culture of traditional Saison yeast, along with Brettanomyces (a wild yeast referred to as Brett) and Lactobacillus (a helpful bacteria), creating a unique dry finish with light, funky tartness,” highbranchbrewing.com says.
They also use their Norway Hill to create their Local Influence Series. Aging the Norway Hill for, sometimes, months on locally grown fruit reduces the sour and bitter tastes, and creates a different end product.
“Keeping in mind that homebrewing was technically illegal prior to 1978, the idea of experimenting with flavors in beer in the United States is relatively new,” Creighton explains. “It is our opinion that a lot of the flavors and styles we now buy originated as homebrewing experiments. Pale ales and IPAs are changing and consumers’ tastes are gravitating toward high-end ingredients. We think that the idea of a locally produced product is also interesting to people. Breweries are creating places to hang out and instill a sense of community. We feel strongly that every neighborhood or town needs a local brewery.”
Since the brewhouse is visible from the taproom, the Creightons enjoy talking to patrons about their brewing decisions. “We look to eventually offer food regularly on Saturdays, whether it is catered or a food truck,” Creighton adds. “We have interesting events about once a month or so, ranging from live music, to food pairings or an art event, which we are currently planning. In addition, we offer our space for private events if requested.
“We will offer bottle releases of specialized beer and we look to expand into barrel-aged beers. We would like to eventually open a second retail and brewing location before becoming a production-oriented business. We want to keep the small business feel and offer the best experience possible,” he says. “What better business to be in than brewing? There is a sense of community like no other industry. We have many friends in this industry now and we hope they all succeed.”
Twenty-Six Acres Brewing Company – Opening Summer 2016
Twenty-Six Acres Brewing Company was co-founded by Joel Padgett, Wes Ports and Eric Troutman. They’ve signed a lease for space in the West Winds Business Park, near Concord Regional Airport.
Avid homebrewers, the partners also took a page from local history and named their new venture after the original 26-acre tract of land that formed Concord.
As co-founder, COO and operations manager, Padgett is a Concord native. He’s been interested in the business of beer since high school. “As a senior at Concord High School back in 1990, we were tasked to write a research paper about what we thought our lives would be like as adults,” he says. “There was no Internet then, but I happened to have a full set of encyclopedias in my room and I actually wrote that I would be an owner of a microbrewery. There was little to no knowledge of microbreweries in our area back then, so I really had to explain what a microbrewery was. I’m sure I wrote it mainly to make my buddies laugh, but there was some seriousness to it for me as well.”
A trip to Asheville, NC, in the 1990s clinched the idea for Padgett and he’s made it a point to visit breweries during his travels elsewhere.
“Originally, I wanted to open a brewery to make great beer and enjoy it with my friends. But now, I also want to give something back to the industry that has brought me so much joy. My favorite thing to see in a brewery is an emphasis on community. I most enjoy taprooms that are designed to bring their patrons together and encourage people to take a break from their jobs and stresses, and to, instead, enjoy the company of other people.”
Wes Ports is Twenty-Six Acres’ co-founder, CFO and general accounting manager. A Michigan native, he worked in the finance and banking industries for more than 28 years. Like Padgett, he enjoys checking out other breweries and became a true craft beer fan through Padgett.
Eric Troutman is co-founder and brewmaster for Twenty-Six Acres. From Harrisburg, he has worked for Carolinas HealthCare System as a web application engineer for 18 years.
“Over the past few years I have been looking for a way to craft my own path versus following someone else,” he says. “One thing I am very passionate about is brewing beer that people enjoy drinking. I like the processes of deciding how a beer should taste and working on that particular recipe until it’s right. I also enjoy the community aspect of the craft brewing culture. There are few industries that you can walk into and speak to the team that designed and made the product you just purchased.”
Padgett says that he started scouting locations for their brewery more than a year ago. He originally hoped for a building near historic Downtown Concord but eventually worked with Cliff Blanquicet of Locus Real Estate.
“Finding a spot that speaks to you is important for most businesses, but it is of utmost importance for breweries. The spot has to not only be suitable for your purposes, but it also has to fit in with your vision. From the moment I saw the location, I could see the brewery in it,” he shares. “We also like that it spreads the Concord/Cabarrus brewery boundary out a little bit. I love the Gibson Mill spots that High Branch and Cabarrus Brewing are in. Repurposing is a big part of what makes the brewing industry so special, and those guys are nailing it. Hopefully, in the near future, Concord breweries will stretch from downtown to Speedway Boulevard.”
Twenty-Six acres will occupy about 8,000 square feet and will split the space as taproom and brewhouse. “We have two large bay doors, another 800 square feet of office and event space, plans for a mezzanine overlooking the brewhouse and hope to have some outdoor seating put in by the time we open,” Padgett says. “We will start with food trucks and local restaurants, but we also have an area set aside for future food services, should we decide to add them.”
The brewery is making beer with a two-barrel pilot system that will expand to an already-purchased 15-barrel system. The partners are starting with ales – stouts, pales, IPAs, wheats, etc. – but have plans for lagers, Belgians and possibly sours. Their journey thus far has been an enjoyable and enthusiastic one, thanks to their investors and the passion they all feel for the creativity of craft beer.
Article written by: Kim Cassell
Photos by: Michael A. Anderson Photography