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Sep 18, 2014

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Johnson Beer

April, 1999

By Bobby Bush

Last year was a pivotal period for Johnson Beer Company. Using funds derived from an IPO stock sale, the company purchased an old dairy building, perfect for brewing, on Central Avenue, not far from downtown Charlotte. Relocating a brewery, from a leased building in the historic South End district where they’d been since opening in April 1995, to the “new” facility was no easy task. But Tim and Susan Johnson and staff persevered. And one year later, they’re happily brewing, but still not completely settled in.

Upstairs at Johnson Beer, above store rooms and offices, is a large party room which stays pretty busy these days. In addition to hosting the company’s annual stockholders meeting in March, the room is rented out to various groups. Recent upstairs programs include a comedian troupe’s escapades and Chickspeare, a hilarious all female Shakespearean production. Of course, Johnson’s tasty brews are on tap for these varied functions.

Downstairs, the Company Store offers Johnson logo clothing, a variety of beer (some as low as $10/case) and a smiling face from Johnson’s amiable staff. On this particular visit, Susan ran the store, providing plastic cups of Amber and seasonals Winterfest and Springfest from the taps upstairs while we talked. As the phone rang repeatedly and customers came in search of kegs and cases, we spoke of upcoming festivals and mutual brewing acquaintances. She almost reluctantly told us of a recent blind tasting sponsored by Carolina Brew Masters, the local homebrewing club. Against un-labeled competition as tough as Rogue, Guinness, Samuel Smith and Brooklyn breweries, Johnson Oatmeal Stout impressively took first place. Redhook’s Double Black, an expresso injected brew, garnered the runner-up spot.

Johnson Beer has a brand new neighbor. Homebrew Adventures, a homebrew and wine-making supply shop, was recently purchased by several members of Carolina Brew Masters. They leased space within the Johnson building and moved from the south side of town in March. Already at home, the shelves are stocked with a full line of brewing equipment and ingredients. They’re nice people who brew for fun and are always ready to help with brewing problems. Check out their website at www.homebrewadventures.com.

While in the neighborhood we cruised over to Tryon Street, in the South End section, to visit with Scott Saffer, proprietor of The Brewing Experience. Expecting to find just a few people brewing away at this brew-on-premises establishment, we were surprised to see the small store front packed with people. The occasion? The first and only North Carolina BOP’s first anniversary; just Scott and 75 or so friends, family and loyal customers enjoying a half dozen different beers and bowls of filling gumbo, kept hot in one of six steam-fired brewing kettles. A band had been playing outside earlier, but cold, dreary weather forced the party indoors, sans music. That did nothing to dampen the merriment.

When The Brewing Experience is operating without celebration, Tuesday through Saturday, a homebrewer wanna-be, or anyone who doesn’t want the bother and clean-up associated with homebrewing, signs up for a hands-on brewing experience (hence the name). After a style is selected (beer styles range from Honeydew Wheat to Mr. Ed’s Oatmeal Stout with 25 or so in-between), Scott and crew supply instructions, ingredients and equipment to brew 12.5 gallons of beer. Two weeks later, the product of this exhilarating effort is bottled, ready for personal consumption. A batch, which yields about 130 @ 12 oz. bottles, runs from $105 to $135. Labels and bottles (cleaned, recycled bottles work well) can be purchased as well.

While partying with the exuberant crowd, we sampled many distinctive brews. Most enjoyable were a strong, roasty Imperial Stout; a heady, full-bodied German Bock; and a tartly hopped American Brown Ale. These recipes obviously don’t scrimp on flavor.

The Brewing Experience also brews beer for kegs sales to several Charlotte-area restaurants and bars. And, in conjunction with Carolina Brew Masters, the homebrewing club’s contest winning recipes are brewed at The Brewing Experience each month. These award winners are available on tap at Rheinland Haus, the German restaurant where the Brew Masters hold their meetings.

[Note: The Brewing Experience closed in 2000].

This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.

© Bobby Bush

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