Local beer has become a hot topic lately. With four breweries, several enthusiast groups and an active local beer community, many speculate that craft beer will lend Charlotte, N.C. a hand in establishing a solid identity. And now a new craft beer group at UNC Charlotte seeks to spread the niche to the student demographic, which will help promote the city as a craft beer region.
But first we have to look at the problem that craft beer could potentially solve for Charlotte.
Five months separate the city from the national spotlight when the Democratic National Convention comes to town, and there is a struggle about what we have to say for ourselves.
Although the Queen City is rich in culture pinpointing characteristics that are uniquely Charlotte is tricky.
Perhaps it’s because the city changes so rapidly or maybe because people are waking up from years of apathy, but now more than ever we are racing to become something – recognizable.
In this scramble for distinction where do we turn to?
Our national sports franchises? The Panthers finished last season 6-10 and the Bobcats lost their 11th consecutive game last week.
What about our status as the second American banking capital after New York City? That’s as exciting as cement.
Instead we look to the core of what Charlotteans care about. We see it in grassroots movements like Bring Back The Buzz and local niches like craft beer.
And in Charlotte we sure love our beer. Take a look at last month. Rich and Bennett’s 12th Annual St. Patrick’s Day Pub Crawl, deemed the world’s largest bar crawl, attracted thousands to Uptown.
There was also the third annual Charlotte Craft Beer Week, which celebrated craft beer from all over the world.
But who else loves beer just as much as the usual 21 and up adults?
Last year UNC Charlotte ranked number 19 on Newsweek & The Daily Beast’s list of top 25 party schools. The results were based on drug and alcohol violations – a subjective criterion – but it proves that students are drinking nonetheless.
It goes without saying that the most exotic beer that students regularly purchase nowadays is Bud Light Platinum.
That is precisely what Brian Mister, a senior marketing major at UNC Charlotte and bartender at NoDa Brewing Company, is trying to change. He founded Niner the Elder at the university in 2011 with the intent to educate members about craft beer culture, as well as advocate for safe drinking.
“Drinking means tasting a well-crafted local product that neighbors have slaved over to make a living on that doesn’t need to be drank ice cold to hide the flavor of what an actual beer tastes like,” said Mister.
He believes that students traditionally purchase BMC (Budweiser, Miller, Coors) because of the price.
A case of one of these popular makes costs around $15 for a case of 24 cans. In comparison a six-pack of craft beer usually costs around $10.
“Give these students one taste of a well-balanced ale from any of the amazing North Carolina breweries and their palette will be forever changed and never again will they want one of these watered down diet beers,” said Mister.
So far Elder the Niner has attracted attention through involvement with the university community.
Thanks to a North Carolina law that allows 2-ounce pours, Mister and members are able to raise awareness of the Charlotte brew scene as well as promote local businesses through craft beer sampling at university events.
In February Niner the Elder set up a sampling during the UNC Charlotte homecoming tailgate.
Unfortunately the event did not go as planned.
“The students that showed up I believe were already drunk and there to get more alcohol or some burgers,” said Mister. “[We] want to show students that drinking does not mean getting drunk.”
In the future he wants to see some changes made at the school.
“It’s sad to say but I think there were many underage drinkers at the homecoming with not much security to check on things,” he said. “I don’t want to be that student to call it out but if we are going to advance a college with a football program, we need to respect the law and not trash a place if they are going to allow this type of drinking.”
But direct involvement with the university is not the only way to engage students with craft beer.
Last month Mister was allowed the opportunity to create his own beer at NoDa Brewing Company and tapped it for one night at the Flying Saucer, a popular bar and craft beer haven in University City.
“The head brewer, Chad Henderson, is a freak when it comes to brewing. Henderson knows way to much about beer and the brewing process,” said Mister. “I told him that I wanted to create a beer for my student organization and he ran with it.”
The brew, named 49er Session in the spirit of the Charlotte 49ers, was made with a 4.9 percent ABV and contains four grain and nine hop varieties.
Mister’s ale took off at the Flying Saucer. With standard 2-ounce samples, the 10 gallons of 49er Session bottomed out in four hours.
“I’m pretty proud that the beer went by that fast, although we were handing it out for free,” said Mister.
The one-time brew was received with positive responses.
A commenter on Untapped, a beer-focused social network, simply sums up 49er Session as a “damn fine ale!”
“Just tried a sample… WOW I’m impressed,” writes another on Niner the Elder’s Facebook page.
With all of the craft beer buzz around town, UNC Charlotte has the opportunity to grab on to the interest as well. After all the research university shares numerous striking similarities with the city of Charlotte.
Both are quickly expanding, have struggling flagship sports and, most interestingly, are searching for an identity.
UNC Charlotte is fundamentally a microcosm of Charlotte.
But is craft beer really catching on with any of the 25,000 students at the biggest university in the area? Mister believes so and sees signs that students are starting to get it.
“I say this because of the amount of college-age students I see in NoDa along with other breweries around the town,” he said.
Another reason that craft beer has the potential to catch on is that it doesn’t lose its appeal with any group of people. Mister explains that it has no exact face to it, especially on college campuses.
“I love being surprised by people and their personal choices and craft beer does exactly that”, said Mister. “The little bit of diversity my student organization has shown on campus truly amazes me and I am so happy for it.”
In any case Mister wants to see craft beer take off and firmly believes that it could become a characteristic of the city and school, if not at least the state.
“North Carolina, more specifically Asheville, has become the craft beer destination with Sierra Nevada and now New Belgium moving to the area,” he said. “Charlotte is a mere two hours away and constantly adding new craft beer bars, breweries and bottle shops making it an easy stop for travelers looking for great beer.”
As for the future of Niner the Elder, the club will be passed on to current members. Mister intends to stay involved with the group despite graduating and will remain working at NoDa Brewing Company while continuing to push the local craft beer industry.