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Lake Norman Southend

August, 2002

By Bobby Bush

Win one, lose one. The Lake Norman section of Cornelius, NC, a booming suburb of Charlotte and neighbor to university town Davidson, gained a brewpub in April and lost one in June.

With published reports of poor service and mediocre food, Lake Norman Brewing Company had been struggling for over a year. Unknowingly, we stopped in just three days before closing and found their beers, the brewpub’s only shining star, to be extremely bad, infected and made worse by lines that had not been clean for six weeks. Manager Joe Baltos, who became the brewer when the company dismissed head brewer Dana Fischer over a year ago, admitted that they’d let their beer quality slip. Yeast that was too many generations old was blamed, but the impending shutdown probably played a bigger role. At one time, Lake Norman made some pretty decent beer. We’ll probably never see Duke’s Plutonium Ale, Ale Yeah Amber and Wildcat Brown again. Opened December 23, 1999. Deceased June 20, 2000.

But all is not lost. Open since April, just a mile or so further down Old Jetton Road under the shade of a 100-year old oak tree, resides the new Southend Brewery & Smokehouse. Part of the growing Charlotte brewpub group that also has Southend facilities in Raleigh, Charleston, SC, Jacksonville, FL and, of course, Charlotte, this new brewpub is the first the group has built from the ground up. And it’s a beaut.

Situated on a corner lot, near the entrance of another innocuous shopping slash office complex, the brick structure sports lots of glass. Galvanized steel air conditioning duct work and ceiling, colored concrete floor; Southend has an urban industrial presence and decidedly upscale clientele. The small brewery, manned by Greg Kolander and Paul Schwierk who travel from the Charlotte location to brew, is front-and-center with a brewery-in-a-glass-box effect.

Though some of their beers have been renamed for local appeal, the brewpub will brew the regular fare of Southend beers. Carolina Blonde, Carolina Light Blonde, Ironman Wheat and O’Ryan’s Oatmeal Stout comprise the core labels, which will be augmented by various locally named seasonals beers throughout the year. We sampled several, including a malty-meets-citrus Blue Sky Bock, warmly hopped Dam Pale and Big Oak Brown, a slightly sweet English brown. Somehow we missed tasting Copperhead Red. The smooth mouthfeel and slightly harsh roasted malt taste of the aforementioned O’Ryan’s Oatmeal Stout was our Best of Show selection. Just wish they’d drop the chilled glasses. Think of all the energy they’d save.

The brewpub has a large bar area, even larger dining room and a brick-floor patio beneath the old oak tree. This Southend is equipped for dancing and features live and d.j. entertainment on weekends. From sandwiches to wood oven pizzas to delicious smoked meats, business lunches and pleasant dinners are a Southend staple. This one’s no different. Southend has a winner in Lake Norman. See www.southendbrewery.com.

There is more to beer in Charlotte than Southend. Part of the Chattanooga-based, recently merged and renamed Gordon Biersch chain, Rock Bottom Restaurant Brewery is a bustling hot-spot in downtown Charlotte. Along with a great meal of salads, chicken fajitas, grilled fish and more, assistant brewer Dave Gonzalez provided our liquid sustenance for the evening. Although Southern Flyer Light Lager was a bit thin for my particular taste buds, it was extremely flavorful for a tricycle beer. Right on style, Prospector’s Pilsner had a crisp hops finish. Copper-colored Randolph’s Ride Red Ale was malty without sweetness, while the seasonal English Mild had potential as a session beer. Its up-front hops taste, though moderate, was very satisfying. Stingin’ Brits IPA, also available on cask, was hoppy start-to-finish. Hops taste and bitterness were more subtle in the warm cask version. Sweet Magnolia Brown Ale, a ‘98 GABF winner for the chain, is smooth, sweet and nice but no challenge, in my opinion, to the teasingly sweet, dark dark chocolate, perfectly balanced Iron Horse Stout. Hmmm.

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

© Bobby Bush

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