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
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
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
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