Full disclosure: I’m dating NoDa Brewing Co. Head Brewer/Co-Owner Chad Henderson. But don’t be fooled – my relationship with Chad isn’t what makes me biased toward NoDa. What makes me biased toward NoDa is that they make damn good beer. In fact, my love for NoDa pre-dates my love for its brewer; and one could argue that I started dating him just for the beer. (I plead the fifth.)
NODA BREWING INTRODUCED ME TO CRAFT BEER.
I have fond memories of my early 20s. Sitting around some table in some bar in some part of Charlotte, North Carolina close to UNCC’s campus, drinking some light beer – Michelob Light or Coors Light or Bud Light … or Bud Light Lime if I wanted something “with flavor.”
And so, my friends and I would drink our $1.50 day-of-the-week specials and laugh at the beer snobs (which I’ve since learned is an offensive term) who spent $5 on “craft beer” like Blue Moon or Shock Top. It’s important to note that this nondescript scenario took place sometime around 2009, maybe 2010 – before it became more or less common knowledge that Blue Moon Brewing Co. is a fictitious brand created by MillerCoors and that Shock Top is manufactured by Anheuser-Busch InBev. In other words, not in fact, craft beer.
“What exactly is craft beer?” you might ask. The Brewers Association, a 501(c)(6) not-for-profit trade association aimed at promoting and protecting American craft brewers, defines an American craft brewery as small, independent, and traditional. Small meaning an annual production of 6 million barrels or fewer; independent meaning no more than 25% of the brewery is controlled by a non-craft entity (such as MillerCoors or Anheuser-Busch InBev); and traditional meaning a majority of its total beverage alcohol volume in beers whose flavor derives from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation. Huh? That last bit basically means brewing historic styles with unique twists while using traditional ingredients like malted barley.
NoDa came along to save me from myself in 2011. One of the oldest and largest breweries in the city of Charlotte, many fell in love with NoDa at first sip, and the rest of the country wasn’t far behind. The proof? NoDa is one of the Charlotte area’s winningest breweries. Hop Drop ‘N Roll, the “beer that started it all,” earned the Gold Award at the 2014 World Beer Cup; two years before that, Coco Loco won a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) in the Robust Porter category; and in 2016, my personal favorite NoDa beer, NoDajito, beat out 113 other entries for a gold medal in the GABF’s Herb and Spice Beer category.
The moment I tried NoDajito, my taste buds were forever changed. NoDajito is a mojito-inspired Witbier that uses a delicate balance of lime and spearmint to create, in my opinion, the perfect summertime beer. To say that NoDajito puts my old Bud Light Lime to shame is a sentence so underwhelming that it doesn’t do the beer justice to write it down or say it out loud. The two beers don’t belong in the same thought, and I feel I’m doing NoDajito a disservice by even trying to explain it, so I’ll just stop. Suffice it to say, once I tried craft beer from NoDa, there was no turning back.
NODA BREWING SHOWED ME THE WONDROUS WORLD THAT IS THE GABF.
Don’t hate me, but I was lucky enough last year to go to the GABF. And yes, I was there in the room when NoDa won the gold medal for NoDajito.
If you’re not familiar with the GABF, it’s the United States’ premier beer festival and competition. “Each year, GABF represents the largest collection of U.S. beer ever served, in a public tasting event plus a private competition. GABF brings together the brewers and diverse beers that make the U.S. the world’s greatest brewing nation.” And boy, do they mean large. In 2016, there were approximately 60,000 attendees (the festival sold out in one hour and seven minutes during the public ticket sale); more than 3,800 beers served in the festival hall; and 780 breweries.
When I went last year, I volunteered with NoDa and helped pour at the festival’s Meet the Brewer section, which is where (you guessed it) attendees get to meet and talk to the brewer of participating breweries.
Hearing people gush over how much they love NoDa beer, and how much they love the people at the brewery for making it, was eye-opening on an entirely new level. I knew that I held a special place in my heart for this brewery, but to hear it from people who live in Boston, in San Diego, in Houston – people who only get to try it at festivals – showed me a deeper appreciation for craft beer within the craft beer community than I previously could have grasped.
NODA BREWING TAUGHT ME THAT A TAPROOM IS A TASTING EXPERIENCE, NOT A BAR.
It’s easy, at least in Charlotte, to confuse brewery taprooms with full-service bars, since quite a few of the area breweries offer additional beverage options alongside their beer selections. But traditionally, a taproom is an onsite tasting room at a production facility where customers can sample the products, as well as purchase growlers, cans, bottles, and/or merchandise. A taproom also allows the customer a close association with the production process, which is one of the things that makes craft beer resonate with beer enthusiasts.
In my experiences traveling to beer hubs like Asheville, Portland, and Denver, it seems Charlotte is fairly unique in that so many taprooms offer wine, cider, soda, etc. With the exception of brew pubs, which are brewery-plus-restaurant combinations, the vast majority of the taprooms I’ve visited follow the traditional “our taproom is a place for you to try our beer” business model. So while I certainly appreciate a taproom that offers wine if I happen to be in the mood, I no longer go to a brewery expecting it.
My favorite part about visiting NoDa’s taproom is that they typically have more than 25 beers on tap (and for the record, they usually do have a guest cider on tap as well as a guest non-alcoholic kombucha), which makes for great flight selections. For $8, you can put together your own customized four-beer flight board. And while you’re sipping, you can head outside and play cornhole or bocce ball or throw around a few disc golf discs. You can also go on a free brewery tour most days of the week, then go choose four more beers to try in your next flight! I know I’m starting to now sound like a fan girl, so I’ll wrap it up.
All in all, NoDa Brewing changed my perspective on beer. And if you haven’t had a chance yet, I’d strongly suggest that you make some time to check it out.
*Photo Credit: Instagram