Ford Craven is used to giving people reasons to move to Concord. Now, he’s giving them another one.
Craven, a realtor and Concord native, is one of the founders of Southern Strain Brewing Co., which opens its doors to the public this weekend at 165 Brumley St. in downtown Concord.
“It’s a beautiful small town,” Craven said of Concord, which his family has called home for five generations. “It’s classic, it’s historic and it was once a thriving mill town. All that infrastructure is still there, or at least a lot of it is. It’s got everything.”
Craven isn’t the only one who thinks so. Over the last few years, Craven has seen more young people moving into the city. He calls it the “return of the townie” — a movement of people who want to enjoy all of the amenities of downtown living.
One such amenity, now, will be having a brewery for a neighbor. And brewers, too. Craven has lived in Concord, but his co-owners Bart Roberts and Jake Allen recently moved to the city, as well.
All three are somewhat townies of their own. Living a mile from the brewery allows them to ride their bikes to work. If they need to grab signs or stickers, or meet with a vendor or contractor, they don’t have to venture too far out. Their location is one way the brewery will distinguish itself in Concord, which also a variety of breweries outside of the downtown area: Cabarrus Brewing Co., Commoners Brewing Co., High Branch Brewing Co., Red Hill Brewing Co. and Twenty-Six Acres Brewing Co.
The crew at Southern Strain Brewing Co. hasn’t had to look far for ingredients. Brewer Bart Roberts — who spent six years with NoDa Brewing Co. before joining the Southern Strain team — brews with local ingredients whenever possible. The brewery’s Mello Mornin’ milk stout is brewed with beans from Concord’s Mello Roasters, and the brewery uses grain from North Carolina malthouses in its beers.
“It’s gotten to a point where you can make outstanding beer without having to go very far,” Craven said. “We definitely feel that needs to be promoted. You’re drinking a beer from here, and our partners are right around here probably drinking a beer here with you.”
In addition to sourcing ingredients locally, Southern Strain plans to highlight the town’s history through its beers. The Cherry Lemon sour ale, for instance, draws inspiration from the Cherry Lemon Sun Drop soda that was made just a few blocks away from the brewery before that facility closed.
“Everyone around here just calls it Cherry Lemon,” Craven said. “We can’t get the exact recipe, but we did through a little bit of research back into it a little bit. A lot of orange, a lot of cherry and a lot of lemon zest. It came out exceptionally well. A lot of people have said they’re not big sour drinkers, but they love this.”
The brewery will never brew with local ingredients just to say they’re local, however. When the group first started discussing the brewery’s principles, it came up with three guiding values.
“Fermentation, community, respect,” Craven said. “In that order. That’s how we’ll conduct business.”
The beer is the most important thing, and yet it’s one that Craven doesn’t have to worry about with Roberts on board. Roberts accomplished quite a bit during his time at NoDa Brewing Co., including starting up that brewery’s sour program in the “O.G.” facility.
Craven is no stranger to the beer world, either. He started the Cabarrus Homebrewers Society (CABREW) and is one of the hosts of the “Cheers Charlotte” podcast. He has been around beer long enough to see what works and what doesn’t.
That second ideal the brewery chose — community — is on full display in the taproom. Craven and crew renovated the mill building with a focus on bringing the town and any visitors together. Recognizing that everyone “drinks differently,” they’ve provided a variety of seating that includes the bar, booths, a couch and even a church pew.
“Even though it’s one big open room, we tried to make it comfortable no matter who you are,” Craven said.
Allen, the brewery’s chief financial officer, made all of the brewery’s tables with reclaimed lumber. Other materials were repurposed whenever possible; even the dynamic, blue-lit glass behind the bar was taken from the mill building and fabricated by a local artist.
“The natural wood, the exposed brick, there’s so much character in the floors,” Craven said. “We’re reclaiming this great mill building, and we wanted people to see that.”
A mural of Louis Pasteur, who published groundbreaking works on fermentation, brings a more modern touch to one of the brewery’s walls. Hot Box Next Level Kitchen will provide food before eventually moving into the brewery’s kitchen space once it is complete.
The grand opening commences with a ribbon cutting by the Cabarrus Chamber of Commerce at 11:30 a.m. Friday. The brewery will open its doors at noon every day during the grand-opening weekend, with live music, food, and door prizes.
Normal operating hours will be 4-10 p.m. Wednesday through Thursday, 3-11 p.m. Friday, noon-11 p.m. Saturday and noon-9 p.m. Sunday.
This article first appeared in the Charlotte Observer.
165 Brumley St., Concord