Charlotte's Heist Brewing and Organic Growth

Eno Sarris, May 19, 2014

About three miles away from uptown Charlotte, there's an emerging neighborhood of artists, musicians, and young people looking for decent rents near nightlife. NoDa, or North Davidson, has all the earmarks of the best sort of neighborhoods in cities across America: an industrial history (in this case, mills), proximity to a school (UNCC) as well as a downtown area (check), and low rents caused by an iffy reputation (in this case, earned in the early 1900s) that helps keeps the rents affordable.

Throw those ingredients into your boil, and you'll get your organic growth. And NoDa is falling right into step, up to a booming 40+ retail operation with condos and and apartments (many in former mills). With a recording studio on the way, a Neighborhood Theatre, live music, and galleries, there's more than a nod to the artistic abilities of the new residents.

And since there are already two breweries, multiple bars, and a beer shop in place, the competition is on for the after-work dollar.

Walk into Heist Brewing, and you immediately get a sense of this organic growth. Owner Kurt Hogan is quick to point out that the former mill building shines through. Take a look at the header image, and you'll see how the exposed brick of the old mill gives the brewpub a classy yet rooted feeling.

But the spirit of natural growth and sustainability didn't stop on the walls. Hogan told the story of their tables -- a local farmer's daughter asked them if they'd be interested in some leftover wood from their farm, and then he and Stefan Huebner, the resident mixologist, built the tables for their bar from the beautiful black walnut themselves. The chandelier? That's built from former smoke stacks from the brewery equipment, shot through with bullets bought by barter (a simple keg of beer).

Even the entire brewery line was, in essence, found material. Hogan flew out to Washington to meet a man that was selling his brewery equipment. He was delighted to spend the day with former Deschutes brewer Larry Sidor (now of Crux Fermentation Project) as he finalized the purchase.

Hogan has also reached into the local population for his brewmasters. The first attempt didn't work out so well, and Heist made the change to local home brewer Eric Mitchell. They added Josh Johnson from Monday Night Brewing in Atlanta, and the two are dedicated to innovative beers that combine aspects of Belgian and American brewing.

The results, to this palate, were mixed. The San Fran Disco pale ale was a bit too sweet, with not enough hops to balance it out. The Out to Pasture saison was very light, and could have maybe used more dankness or punch or pepper. Bad Moon Ryeson, a rye saison, was a tweak away from excellence. Cross Pollen Nation was the best in show, and as a Belgian-yest American stout with a roasted, dry coffee finish, it showed that the new brewers have some upside.

Though there have been bumps in the road and some feel the food (excellent flat breads with some innovation touches) is ahead of the beer -- and the owner Hogan is a Connecticut boy who grew up loving Red Hook -- there's evidence that Heist is doing the right things to grow organically along with the neighborhood. Set the place up with nods to surrounding area, put all the pieces in place, and refine your craft as the customers begin to trickle in. Since NoDa is one of the only neighborhoods of its kind in Charlotte, there's surely room for another honest effort and some improving beer.

Especially when it comes with killer bread and cool mixed drinks for the non-beer drinkers in your crowd.