“We call this the Vinnie nail,” says Chris Tropeano, before pulling the nail from the oak barrel and allowing a saison to flow forth.
He’s referring to Vinnie Cilurzo, the founder of Russian River Brewing Co. and one of the few personalities in the beer industry known to many by his first name. Tropeano worked for Cilurzo as a brewer for a couple of years at the brewery’s pub in Santa Rosa, Calif.
“It was a real immersion in all things brewing and running a brewery, which was really helpful,” says Tropeano.
It was that experience — and specifically Tropeano’s affection for hoppy styles and sour beers — that led Slates Snider and Phillip McLamb to tap him as the head brewer for Resident Culture Brewing and Blending. The brewery will open at 2101 Central Ave. in Plaza Midwood later this year.
But today, Tropeano is pulling nails in an undisclosed location, where the trio is keeping barrels and blueprints for the building, which has been owned by McLamb’s family since 1982. They were approached about selling the building to developers recently, but declined.
“With all the apartments going up in the neighborhood and around Charlotte, we thought a brewery would be a good amenity for the neighborhood,” says McLamb.
In the shadow of all that development will be a 4,000-square-foot beer garden with green space that’s hard to come by in Plaza Midwood, said McLamb. Inside, the brewery will feature a tasting room, a 15-barrel brewhouse and a barrel room.
But the pièce de résistance will be the brewery’s coolship, an open-air vessel commonly used to cool unfermented beer down prior to its fermentation by exposing it to the open air. Coolships can be found at breweries in Belgium and a handful of wild ale producers stateside, but this will be Charlotte’s first.
These vessels are often used for spontaneous fermentation, wherein the beer is fermented by wild yeast in the air and sometimes inoculated with bacteria as well. Resident Culture will take that approach occasionally, but they also will rely on mixed cultures to ferment the beer out in the open.
While construction moves forward inside, Tropeano has taken the opportunity to do some work outside. He gathered a variety of things from around the property — including fruit, flowers, soil and tree bark — and sent them to Wild Pitch Yeast, a lab at the University of Indiana. The lab workers isolated wild yeasts from these samples, which they plated and sent back to Resident Culture.
All told, the brewery currently has 30 different strains of wild yeasts. They’ll use many of these in tandem with some commercial yeasts to bring a distinctive local flavor to their beers.
“It’s all part of the idea of having that resident culture, which is what the name is in reference to,” said Tropeano. “That local yeast culture that’s unique to our neighborhood.”
The goal is to have at least one saison on tap at all times that was fermented with a local, mixed culture. In addition to these farmhouse styles and various sours, Resident Culture plans to also offer a variety of hoppy beers as well as some lagers.
For Tropeano, Resident Culture will allow him to put his own spin on the styles he brewed at Russian River Brewing Co. For Snider and McLamb, who grew up in the same Charlotte neighborhood, it offers a chance to do something altogether different from their careers in real estate and finance.
“This is such a better industry,” said Snider, who helped start the Rocky Mount Brewmill in Rocky Mount. “Everyone kind of works together. I could never imagine going back now.”
Resident Culture is currently hiring for its taproom, set to open this summer. If interested, send your résumé to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos: Eric Gaddy, Daniel Hartis
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