What life could bring on day drinking wrapped around a semi organized craft beer tour of South End Charlotte NC. Is it the calm that permeates during a sunny afternoon booze versus the electric desperation of hazy midnight vodka?
The thing is, people have discovered these craft breweries. The secret’s out. Two deep at the bar with the sun shining holds more promise than two deep in shadows tightly packed between well dressed people. The music, also better. You’re trading a sole (soul?) vibrating beat for two bearded guys playing 90’s hits with acoustic guitars. True, you have to fend off the dogs, but there’s a certain warmth, a camaraderie between all of these people that have to rush home after work to let the dogs out.
I can’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon.
Our story begins at The Common Market. Equal part convenience store, deli, bar and hipster hangout. Rustic picnic tables sit in the enclosed patio, and if lucky, live music on the stage in the corner. Over sandwiches, beer, wine, and pimento cheese, we cemented our bond for the rest of the day. Conversation was fluid and easy. Exciting to see how early middle age people, with varying degrees of knowledge about one another can quickly get to know each other. Some of us knew each other for years, others, hours.
With some food in our stomaches, we left Common Market and split fat round cookies wrapped in plastic for the short walk to Unknown Brewery and remarked of the rapid and alarming growth that is changing the landscape of urban Charlotte and South End. Interestingly, Mint street, three blocks west of Tryon, hasn’t experienced the rapid development of other areas to the south and east and was somewhat deserted as we walked north the couple of remaining blocks to Unknown. A historic hardware stores was still open, with 50’s style street signage; maybe a reminder of what South End might once have been, blooming cherry blossom trees and all.
I have lived in South End for almost two years, a transplant from the Midwest, and already frightened by not only the new residents, but the increasing numbers from the suburbs that invade the narrow streets, and frustratingly making it harder to secure a reservation at my favorite restaurant. Progress can bring progress, but also regression.
Unknown Brewing was refreshingly uncrowded, but frustratingly out of some beers. Learned from the bartender; wait, is that the proper title for the guy behind the bar that pours beer for me? Seems a little over titled. Anyway, the brewery has upgraded since the last impromptu beer crawl. Unknown traded the chalk board outlining today’s beer list for a projection of today’s beer list by a ceiling mounted projector.
Innovative. I rated this new addition four hops for Flair.
It’s probably a good time to discuss the rating system for the expedition. The idea was to rate each of the breweries on a one to five ‘hop’ scale based upon five different criteria cleverly spelling out the word CRAFT:
The rating system may be a little too much for simple day drinking, but my fellow expeditioners seemed to like it and it proved to be a useful tool in reinvigorating the group when the conversation waned.
Unrelated to the projection of the menu, I learned from the bartender that craft brew week was being held the following weekend in South End making me deduce that Unknown may be holding out some of their beers in anticipation for the large beer crowd next week. Two hop deduction for Collection.
Moving outside, we found a picnic bench in the grass, and the nice staff setup cornhole boards. With the sound of corn bags bouncing off of the boards, I listened to my buddy’s latest adventure in India providing dental care to an extremely poor orphanage. He sets the bar pretty high, this guy, both he and his wife. I admire both of them for their integrity, spirituality, and genuine caring. These two have been a great influence and comfort in our transition to Charlotte; not to mention, they’re a ton of fun.
The corn hole tournament wrapped up with a couple of landslide wins and it was time to move on.
There are a number of means to move around South End, other than driving. Walking, biking (personal or city owned pay as you go), Uber. One of the cheapest and easiest is the light rail. Our next brewery, Triple C, was only two stops south, so we hopped on the train for the short trip to Triple C.
Triple C could be three times bigger and, although not even a close comparison to a German beer hall in regards to decor, there exists the communal spirit you feel in an authentic hall. The outside patio is dotted with picnic tables that sit on the north fenced in area. Beer drinkers that don’t sit, casually stand in groups. Extremely informal. And the dogs. Hold on tight to your pint glasses. Constant flurry of leashes, tails, barking and cute people remarking how cute the cute people’s dogs are.
You might be thinking this is awful. But it isn’t. This is like day drinking at a music festival, with no big stage and no big music. This is like day drinking at your family reunion at your local city park. Hungry? Food truck, another staple of South End, sets just outside the chain link enclosed patio.
We’re also lucky. My other buddy basically pays Triple C’s electricity bill. He knows all of the bar staff, and even more importantly, they know him intimately. Beers come fast and often. And thats good cause the beers are very tasty.
The brewery has been opened for a year or so and has crafted some fine beers.
Our expedition is gaining some steam. We’re probably five beers deep now over the span of a two or three hours and we start conversation pairing off in two’s and three’s. I just met a couple five hours ago, but feel like I’ve know them for years. Another beer, and now we start switching conversation partners like a square dance. We finished the beer and now is the perfect time to move to our third and final brewery of the day.
We’re headed North, on the path light rail path, for the short walk to The Sycamore brewery, the newest of the South End breweries on the expedition, and chosen wisely for the proximity to the condo. The group is feeling nice and rosy; our pacing adequate for the low glow buzz.
About a hundred yards from the brewery, we start to get a little nervous. As the field opens up and the brewery approaches, we see a large crowd of craft beer drinkers on the green grass just east on the back side of The Sycamore. The crowd is a spill over of the large patio that sits on the north side of the brewery. There’s hundred’s of them.
The group makes their way through the patio to the bar. It’s five deep and I think in the confusion to find the bar, we’ve lost some members of our party. Looks better at the far end, less crowded. A young fellow with exquisite coifed hair next to me looks to have a plan. I attempt some small talk, bar room banter, maybe he has a secret map to the bar. With a twinkle in his eye, he leaves me behind and shimmies to the front of the bar.
Ten minutes later, with pitchers in hand, the rest of us force our way through the crowd back outside to the somewhat less crowded patio. Sycamore’s patio is like Triple C’s, only bigger and able to hold a lot more beer drinkers. We stand on rocks among wooden picnic tables and drink our beers. The crowd? Noticeably skewing younger, and the females in our group are becoming slightly uncomfortable. Where did all these young people come from? We’ve stumbled on to Lullapoolsa in South End. These people, unaware, laughing, milling about, craft beer in hand, waiting for the band to start. We’re still far away from the witching hour, the sun still a few hours from setting; yet, me thinks it’s time to move on. The expedition agrees and, after slamming what remains of the pitchers of beer, we slime our way out the front gate.
Right now, we are feeling good; plenty of beers down and the kegger party behind us, we move to our final destination, the South End condo.
The condo. A rest stop for streaming music and heavy pours. The eight of us congregate around the kitchen bar, eating chips, dip, slider sandwiches, thankful to be indoors and controlling the music.
It’s time to tally the scores. And the winner of the first annual South End Craft Beer Expedition is Triple C Brewery, at least I think it is. Frankly, in the mist of sun, laughter, and pints of beer, we misplaced serious scoring.
No matter. Hey look, someone’s dancing.
I have a theory. The theory of the two “Y’s”. In every social drinking event, you will face two decision points. The first “Y”, typically appears a couple of hours in, a couple of drinks in. Sufficiently, the edges have worn off, and the choice to a) keep this thing going with your friends, one or two more would really taste good, and my best stories are still in front of me; or, b) sorrowfully say your goodbyes and find a nice place that serves pasta.
Choose the former and you will find yourself standing in a darker room, in a circle with your friends debating if The Joshua Tree is really better than Achtung Baby, interspersed between laughter filled anecdotes like our buddy Sal getting black balled from the juke box 12:30 am one night in Cleveland. As you travel down the first “Y”, unfortunately (fortunately?) the liquid disappears more quickly from your glass and everyone is talking just a little louder. You’re peaking.
And of course, someone decides whatever comes next has got to be better than this. The second “Y”. It’s rare you don’t plow right through and blow past it. And it’s also rare the night will not end with someone crying.
However, getting to that cry, magic sometimes happens.
Friends forming a circle in the living room, singing and dancing. For another hour, we’ve left all the heavy stuff at the door, and we’re light and fluffly. We act on anything interesting, quick to laugh and entertain each other. We’re delirious.
It was a good day.