September 25, 2013 Edibles » Cover Story

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The Brewer and the Beard 

Exploring the unwritten rule of hair and hops

Somewhere, perhaps on Moses' stone tablets, a rule was written that those blessed with a knack for brewing must mask their face in a cloak of hair. (Not sure how this rule applies to female brewers ... but we digress.) Beards and brewing have gone hand-in-hand for — probably — centuries, and we were curious to see how a brewer's style of beard might influence the beer he makes. We visited four local breweries — Triple C, Birdsong, Olde Mecklenburg Brewery and NoDa Brewing — to chat up their brewmasters, analyze facial hair and, of course, drink some beer.

Olde Mecklenburg Brewery

When OMB opened in 2009, owner John Marrino had a hankering for some German-style beer. Now, four years later, OMB is slated to become the largest craft brewer in North Carolina when it opens next year, in a new 25,000-square-foot warehouse. This brewery's ambiance takes you back to an old German beer hall, and the cold ones pay reverence to Deutschland brewmasters.

  • Paula Hall

The Brewer: Sam Fonda Jr., 27

The Beard: You may expect this German-influenced brewery to be full of brewers sporting trapezoidal beards complimented by the astounding connector mustache. Well, there aren't any Karl Marx look-alikes here dispersing all those pints of Hornet's Nest Hefeweizen, but there are some surprisingly well-groomed brewers. Upon first meeting Fonda, I was shocked to see that most of his facial features were clearly visible. Though his beard left no spot on his chin unhaired, the bushy German brewer stereotype in my head was crushed in a millisecond.

The Brew: What you get is what you see. Fonda's face wasn't hidden in hair, and the beer at Olde Meck isn't hiding behind a façade of crazy flavors either. OMB upholds Reinheitsgebot, the German beer purity laws, which makes its selection as authentic as any bier you would find at a brauhaus in Berlin. Order a pint of Mecktoberfest, Copper (the German-style altbier) or the winter Dunkel, and you can taste tradition.

The Beardology: "There's an old, ancient saying that you can never trust a brewer that doesn't have any facial hair," Fonda says, "or is skinny."

Birdsong Brewing Company

It's in NoDa that you'll find yourself an eclectic treat; no, not Amelie's French Bakery, fat-ass. Instead, venture into Birdsong Brewing. One step inside the 900-square-foot space, with its aluminum-siding walls, and you'll feel as though you've discovered a funky garage sale where, instead of used home goods, Birdsong offers some of the most interesting flavors of beer on tap.

  • Mert Jones

The Brewer: Conor Robinson, 25

The Beard: One glance at Robinson and you get the impression he was raised by Ivy League hippies. Robinson's beard, albeit a little wild, is a mix of Richard Dreyfuss in The Goodbye Girl and a blond Che Guevara. Lightly sprinkled with golden fur, it looks as if he keeps all the world's knowledge in it. So, naturally, I unloaded my arsenal of beer questions on him. Let it be known, people don't call him the Brew Major for nothing.

The Brew: Birdsong offers eccentric beer concoctions, like Eat a Peach pale ale, the beloved jalapeño pale ale and even a mixture of the two if you're adventurous enough (by request only). Just reading a list of the brewery's selections will send you into flavor euphoria. After drinking the West Coast-style IPA, Higher Ground, I instantly mellowed out. Seriously, it was like opening my eyes to the part of the movie What Dreams May Come when Robin Williams' character arrives in heaven.

The Beardology: "It's kind of like a counterculture ... because we can, we'll grow a beard," Robinson says.

NoDa Brewing Company

Named for the arts district it resides in, NoDa Brewing Company fits right in with its innovative brews and modern decór. Walking into the revamped textile mill-turned-taproom is like being transported to a contemporary watering hole in Southern Cali that doubles as an art gallery; here, though, everyone has a twangy Southern accent. We all go through an experimental phase — thankfully, NoDa Brewing just hasn't left that phase yet.

  • Jon Silla

The Brewer: Matt Virgil, 25

The Beard: Like a true innovator, Virgil has the mad-scientist look going — only without the mad part. His beard is one part Stonewall Jackson and two parts Marco Polo: It's long, dark and thick. Picture him stroking the ends of his 3-inch beard whilst plotting the new concoctions he'll brew for us.

The Brew: These masterful mixtures, like Gordgeous pumpkin ale and award-winning CoCo Loco porter, will make you want to create your own hypothesis about drinking an entire growler as fast as you can. Every Tuesday, NoDa's Nodable Series offers a new small-batch brew — especially appealing for folks who like to keep their taste buds guessing. From pineapple-infused and mojito-inspired ales to northwestern white IPAs, NoDa has mastered the scientific method to its madness.

The Beardology: Virgil says, "You aren't required to be clean-shaven, so why do it?"

Triple C Brewing Company

The hops don't fall far from the vine at Triple C. (Actually, they really don't fall far from the vines on site before they're prepped for beautiful limited-supply beermaking. Triple C's homegrown, freshly brewed batch is coming soon.) Close to the heart of Charlotte, with a dog- and people-friendly taproom, this brewery is located in a warehousing district in South End. The atmosphere is inviting and everything about this place tempts me to go there after work. Every day.

  • Paula Hall

The Brewer: Scott Kimball, 28

The Beard: Kimball, the head brewer and part-owner at Triple C, currently wears his beard short, compared to the several inches he sports during winter months. His beard appeared at first scruffy and unkempt, but after careful inspection, I discovered it was thoughtfully maintained. During our conversation, I realized its presence gives this brewer a friendly and familiar appearance — like your favorite uncle. It was an encouraging beard, suggesting Kimball quenches his hop thirst from the earth and could teach how me drink from it, too.

The Brew: Triple C's selections are usually named after something familiar to Charlotteans, like Light Rail Pale Ale or Greenway IPA. Then you have beers with names that spell it out, like 3C IPA, named after the three show-stopping hops Citra, Centennial and Chinook, or the Baby Maker DIPA, which is a double India pale ale. (Yes, double and I shouldn't have to tell you what's going to happen when you drink too many of those.) Like Kimball's beard, the Triple C brews are familiar — you can easily guess the fragrant notes in any glass of Triple C's unfiltered delicacy.

The Beardology: "It's not like I don't like shaving," Kimball says. "I just like having a beard."

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