There’s not much to see yet at 165 Brumley St. in Concord; formerly a Cannon textile mill, it’s presently a gutted shell. A century’s worth of grime and flaked paint has been soda-blasted off, leaving exposed wood floors and beautiful brick.
Once a trio of Concord residents finishes with this space, it’ll be transformed into Southern Strain Brewing Company, and they have big plans in mind.
The story began at Western Carolina University, where Bart Roberts and Jake Allen had a simple dream of starting their own brewery. Roberts started homebrewing at 19, and became obsessed with recipe creation. Allen took a different route through finance, learning the ins and outs of accounting while tinkering with his own homebrew recipes.
Eventually, Roberts found himself brewing at NoDa Brewing Company, where he’s been ever since. Says Roberts, “I pretty much have done every position at NoDa, from handling deliveries to starting a quality program, to doing all the NoDaBle pilot releases for the last two and a half years.”
He’s also handled their barrel-aging and sour program; his first bottled release, Boba Brett, came out in March.
Separately, Ford Craven was also homebrewing. He founded CABREW, the Cabarras Homebrewers Society, in 2011; Roberts was an initial member. He also joined a local craft beer podcast, Cheers Charlotte, in 2013. Eventually, Roberts and Allen sought to include Craven in their plans to open a brewery; the lease was signed this past April.
Roberts is slated to become the head brewer, with both Allen and Craven serving as assistant brewers. Says Craven, “There’s a reason Bart is the head brewer, and we’re here to back him up.”
Progress is underway: the glycol chiller is already on the roof, and the grain mill and boiler will be delivered this week. A five-barrel brewhouse and 10-barrel fermenters will similarly be delivered by month’s end. Plans are to run 22 glycol drops for plenty of expansion ability.
This will be Concord’s sixth brewery, joining other outfits Cabarrus Brewing, Commoners Brewing, High Branch Brewing, Red Hill Brewery and Twenty-Six Acres Brewing. Considering Concord recently passed Asheville in population to become North Carolina’s 11th largest city, and Asheville has dozens of breweries in its city limits, there’s plenty of room for the scene to grow.
Considering their ties to Concord (Craven is fourth-generation, and all three live downtown), expect plenty of native features, including a two-sided train bench from the original Concord train depot. Allen has been working on some reclaimed tongue-in-groove flooring he’s converting to tabletops, which will be stained with beer and polyed over it.
What’ll be pouring? “We’re a neighborhood pub, so we’ll be very approachable,” says Roberts.
Expect a little bit of everything: Craven is a self-described hop-head, with Allen preferring browns and stouts, and Roberts looking forward to having a lot of lagers available. Expect some stainless-aged sours down the line as well.
Craven is especially excited to serve beer to his Concord neighbors. “I’ve lived here my whole life,” he said, “and I can tell you not much has changed in Concord. Things come and go, but now things are coming and staying. We’re at the burgeoning time where Concord is being received by a whole new generation of people.”
But what of the Southern Strain name?
“We are in the South, this is a southern independent brewery,” says Craven. “We’ll be getting a lot of our ingredients and resources from local farmers, so long as we don’t have to compromise quality. We will buy as much from local farmers as we possibly can. We wanted to incorporate the southerness of it. The Strain is a reference to yeast strains, hop strains, malt strains, all the way down.”
“And it’s alliterative,” he finishes with a laugh.
We all met in the middle of a rainstorm. Water flowed through missing panes of glass in the large warehouse windows, creating small lakes on the concrete of the brewhouse floor. Outside, lightning consistently illuminated the future patio area and private event space. They’re eyeing a before-Thanksgiving opening; much is left to do, but they’ll find a way.
“You’re a survivor if you’re part of the South,” mused Craven. “It’s not always easy; it’s a strain on your life, on your family, on everything, but somehow you persevere and you push through.”