Last April, I wrote about why so many breweries and brewers were moving to the Queen City to practice their craft. Morganton’s Catawba Brewing opened in the Belmont neighborhood, Pittsburgh’s Fat Head Brewery was eyeing a spot in South End, and Artisanal Brewing Ventures (the Southern Tier and Victory Brewing joint venture) was looking for property somewhere in town.
Beyond brewing operations, Chris Tropeano from Russian River Brewing moved to Charlotte to become the head brewer for Resident Culture, and Brad Ledbetter chose Charlotte as his new home to open Thirsty Nomad Brewing.
The sentiment from Charlotte-based breweries, at the time, was quite welcoming. Now, nine months later, it appears that sentiment may have changed with the recent announcement of the Charlotte Independent Brewers Alliance.
CIBA was formed by a group of Charlotte-based breweries that have been meeting informally for years. In late 2017, according to a press release announcing the formation, the group decided to formalize their network into a dues-paying, not-for-profit organization.
“We’re more of a trade group that has been meeting together for years as we all started our breweries – borrowing equipment and buying ingredients together,” says Ryan Self, CIBA board member and director of sales of Olde Mecklenburg Brewery. “We’ve decided to formalize our group.”
“Our goal,” says Chris Goulet, CIBA board member and principal owner of Birdsong Brewing, “is to educate Charlotte-area craft beer drinkers about what’s brewed locally and what isn’t.”
The move comes a week after Birdsong Brewing itself sent out a press release that they are now distributing to the Greenville-Spartanburg market.
Activities CIBA plans to host include a yet-to-be-determined event during Charlotte Craft Beer Week, an educational series around beer style-basics and noticing off flavors in beer, and a local beer festival. Also, expect to see the association’s logo appear on packaging to help distinguish local breweries from out-of-town breweries.
To become a member of CIBA, according to Goulet, a brewery must brew a majority of their beer in Charlotte or one of the five surrounding counties (Gaston, Lincoln, Iredell, Cabarrus, and Union).
The press release goes on to explain that “large conglomerates and non-local brewers make strong efforts to mimic local. However, buying those products sends money away from the community and doesn’t support local jobs.”
Specifically, the press release mentions Anheuser-Busch InBev’s purchase of Wicked Weed Brewing as a catalyst for forming the group.
“InBev has a defined strategy of causing confusion,” says Goulet. “We want to try and combat that.”
Yet, Wicked Weed operates out of Asheville, not Charlotte. Thus, it seems as if the group was created to exclude breweries like the aforementioned Catawba Brewing and Artisanal Brewing Ventures – both of whose names don’t appear on CIBA’s membership roster because the majority of their beer isn’t brewed in Charlotte.
It’s a move that confuses excluded breweries.
“Our primary production facility – the term used by the new association – is indeed in Morganton,” says Billy Pyatt, co-owner of Catawba Brewing. “It’s only 79 miles away – so close that the CBS, FOX, and NBC affiliate channels on Morganton’s local cable systems are Charlotte’s WBTV, WJZY, and WCNC. We’ve been tied to the Charlotte market since 1999. Catawba has been to every Charlotte Oktoberfest and has continually worked with our customers to support charities that benefit Charlotte causes.
“Along the way, we’ve epitomized the ‘craft against the world’ mantra by willingly and freely assisting new and old Charlotte startup brewers and cideries with regulatory, finance, production, marketing, engineering, and product advice.”
Pyatt goes on to further explain that Catawba – along with brewing behemoths Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, and Oskar Blues – are all members of a similar organization in Asheville, where Catawba operates another satellite brewery.
“Before we signed our lease, I met with the owners at Sugar Creek and Olde Mecklenburg Brewery,” says John P. Coleman, CEO of Artisanal Brewing Ventures. “We talked about what we were doing. Everyone was welcoming. All the retailers have been welcoming.”
Coleman plans to meet with CIBA board members over the next week to understand what happened.
“The big sentiment is that we’re thrilled to be here,” says Coleman. “We want to be an active part of the craft community. We’ve always been a fan of the inclusive approach, and we want to continue to collaborate and grow.”
Pyatt agrees: “We don’t feel like outsiders and we won’t operate as such. We will stay true to our independence, commitment to the craft industry, and our continued support for the Charlotte region and its craft beer consumers.”
“The real story isn’t about who’s out, but who’s in,” says Ryan Self. “It’s about responding to customer requests. They want to know what’s brewed locally and what isn’t. That the jobs and profits from what they’re drinking stay in Charlotte.”
According to Goulet, the 23 current members of CIB account for a little over 600 jobs in the Charlotte region. Right now, Artisanal Brewing Ventures has 25 employees in Charlotte with a planned 130 by the time the brewery is in operation. Catawba has 20 employees at their Belmont facility along with three corporate leaders that have chosen Charlotte as their home.
To learn more about CIBA, visit their booth at this weekend’s Queen City Brewers Festival. They’ll be passing out literature and pouring beers from member breweries. Catawba Brewing will also be pouring beers at the festival.
Photo: Charlotte Observer file/CharlotteFive file, CIBA