Far from Rock Bottom

April 1999

By Kurt Epps

Legend has it that the colonists who peopled what is now Charlotte, NC drove the British out by throwing hornets' nests at them. Legend also has it that gold was first discovered in the US in Charlotte, not at Sutter's Mill, CA as so many history books tell us.

The PubScout is here to tell you that in some ways Charlotte has changed and in some ways -- thank goodness -- it has not.

No longer will the British visitor -- or any other, for that matter -- be met with a lobbed hornetsı nest. And if youıre a beer lover, you can still find gold in Charlotte.

Though Dilworth (Charlotteıs first brewpub) is no longer in business, there are many places a beer-nut can go to quaff craft beer. Glitzy Southend Brewery and Smokehouse still attracts the beautiful people, Carolina Panther wannabees and hangers-on, and still produces some exceptional brews. Not far up I-77 is Lake Norman Brewing Co. (don't miss the Duke's Plutonium Ale) and get ready for the birth of Davidson Depot in nearby Davidson, NC, partnered by none other than Tom Wiltshire, the former Dilworth Brewmaster.

But if you want to find real gold -- and other precious gems -- in Charlotte, do not miss the Rock Bottom Brewery on N. Tryon St. A subsidiary of Big River Breweries, based in Chattanooga, TN, this brewpub decorated with southwestern tones, photographs and art is managed by affable Paul Hoffman, a former employee of Walt Disney World, a fact which explains his nearly fanatical emphasis on customer satisfaction.

But the brews are the brainchildren of Big River Vice President Robert Gentry, and it was Gentryıs recipe for a brown ale called Sweet Magnolia Brown that brought real gold back to Charlotte in the form of a medal at Denver's GABF in 1998. Itıs not hard to see why it captured the gold, either. A full bouquet introduces a velvety mouthfeel, then both are joined by a malty nuttiness that just hints at sweet. The Mt. Hood hops provide an exceptional balance. The experience is capped by a satisfying, though wonderfully complex, finish.

Gentry also produced Rock Bottomıs exceptionally clean, full bodied and Hallertau-hopped Prospector Pilsner to draw attention to that gold discovery business, and a special red ale, Randolphıs Ride Red, dedicated to Charlottean Randolph Scott of silver screen fame. Like its namesake, this beautiful Red can ride with anybody. Stingin' Brits IPA, named for the aforementioned hornets' nest escapade, is a hoppy (Magnum) bold, in-your-face beer, that gets your palate's attention in a hurry and leaves a lasting impression -- kind of like a hornets' nest to your head would do.

Gentry also garnered a silver medal at the 1998 World Cup Beer championships in Rio de Janeiro for his Iron Horse Stout. Rich, smooth and roasty-toasty, this black stout with its distinct hints of Fuggles and its creamy head can feel comfortable among the best anywhere, including that one from Ireland.

Gentryıs beers are finely crafted, generally unfiltered and loaded with flavor, and his manager Hoffman is embarked on a plan to make sure the public knows about them. In addition to giving barrels away at charity functions (with a crafty invitation to drop in at Rock Bottom and sample more), Brewer Dave Sharpe frequently rotates the beers available on the hand pump. You get a a twenty-ounce pint for the same price as a sixteen, one of the best deals in town, especially if the Sweet Magnolia Brown happens to be in the barrel.

While the Pubscoutıs visits focus on the liquid fare, it's worth noting that the food selections accompanying Rock Bottom's fine brews are every bit as exceptional as their malty counterparts. That they are served by one of the friendliest and most efficient waitstaff (see photos) makes the experience even more memorable. During our visit there were scores of diners both inside and outside this 11,000 square foot oasis, and that did not include the not yet opened for business back courtyard, which can accommodate 120 more quaffers. No one in our party of ten rated the food below that number, and that included three young NJ wrestlers (11, 8 and 6) who are quite particular about what they ingest, especially in the dessert arena.

"We're a great restaurant with great beer," says Manager Hoffman with no trace of braggadocio. He states it as a matter of fact, and the PubScout heartily concurs.

The Rock Bottom Brewery is anything but.

Rock Bottom Brewery and Restaurant
401 N. Tryon St.
Charlotte, NC 28202

®Kurt E. Epps 1999 All Rights Reserved

pub scout logo

Kurt Epps