Epicurean Charlotte

Food & Wine Magazine

CHRONICLING THE JOYS OF FOOD AND WINE IN THE CHARLOTTE METROPOLITAN REGION

Charlotte’s Best Beer Gardens

 

by Bryan Richards
images courtesy Craft Tasting Room and Growler Shop, NoDa Brewing, Olde Mecklenburg Brewery, VBGB Beer Hall and Garden
 

My wife and I landed in Munich after a flight that was more eventful than it should have been. All we wanted to do was check in to our hotel for a shower and a nap. However, as is the case with most transatlantic flights, our room wasn’t ready. More than a little defeated, we did as most tourists in Munich do: we found the nearest beer garden for a liter of fresh keller lager and a juicy bratwurst to right our wrongs.

The chestnut shaded community spaces became a staple in our daily itineraries. Each day, we’d wake and start exploring the Bavarian capital. Around lunch time, we’d break for an hour or two in the nearest beer garden, sampling their frothy beverages and gorging on wiener schnitzel or currywurst. We came home lamenting the fact that nothing similar existed in Charlotte. Of course, this was 10 years ago, when craft beer was a forethought. Today, beer gardens have popped up throughout the city, and following are some of our favorites.


The Authentic
No article on Charlotte beer gardens is worth its hops without including Olde Mecklenburg Brewery. Not only is OMB the brewery to kick-start Charlotte’s now exploding craft beer scene, they’re also the most authentic in terms of German beer gardens.

Shaded under a canopy of oak, pecan, and hickory trees is over two acres of beer garden heaven ripped out of a travel article on Munich. Shared picnic tables seat around 1,000 thirsty beer patrons, beer huts keep steins full of German-style lagers, and a stationary food truck serves up bratwursts, kielbasas, burgers, and Bavarian pretzels with beer cheese. Beyond the picnic tables, there’s plenty of green space for kids and dogs to play, rounding out the parklike atmosphere that completes the German beer garden experience.

On any given weekend afternoon, you’ll find customers playing friendly matches of cornhole, live music entertaining crowds, and beer fans sipping frosty mugs of refreshing Capt. Jack Pilsner. It’s the perfect spot to waste away an afternoon. If that afternoon happens to bleed into the evening, then cozy up to one of the fire pits.


The Neighborhood Favorite
Whereas as OMB’s beer garden is the largest on this list, Craft Tasting Room and Growler Shop is the smallest. Just 12 picnic tables complete the neighborhood beer shop’s quaint, gravel filled space. Don’t let the size scare you away, though. Like most German beer gardens, Craft Tasting Room is a neighborhood watering hole. On sunny afternoons, a wall of hops plants and overhead canopies shade neighborhood residents while they enjoy a pint of their favorite local brew. In the evenings, string lights create that picture-perfect atmosphere.

Craft Tasting Room offers 36 taps pouring craft beer. A good 80 percent of those taps are North Carolina breweries. Non-beer drinkers can enjoy a small selection of ciders or wine by the bottle. Craft Tasting Room pairs their beer menu with Instagram-worthy charcuterie plates and creative yet filling flatbreads.

Check out Craft Tasting Room on Friday nights for movies under the stars. Order a summer seasonal beer, fill up on a prosciutto flatbread with marinara, fresh mozzarella, and pickled chilies, and wax ecstatic about drive-in movie theaters of yesteryear.


The Gamer
Giant sized versions of Jenga, Connect Four, and chess are just a few of the games that make VBGB Beer Hall and Garden the patio for fun-loving gamers in Charlotte. There’s also cornhole and—if you’re feeling adventurous enough—over three million pounds of sand for beach volleyball excitement.

When you need a break from the fun, grab a seat at one of the many shared tables to catch up with friends or make new friends with your neighbors. Stay hydrated with one of 30 craft beers on draft. VBGB’s state-of-the-art tap system guarantees beer pours at that magic number of 32 degrees for the proper refreshment. The popular beer garden also has a full bar for those who prefer a margarita for their day-drinking.

Not only is VBGB’s one of the most thrilling beer gardens in Charlotte, it’s also a great spot to catch a beer and dinner before a show at the Charlotte Metro Credit Union Amphitheatre. Insider tip: while the Zweigle Brats always hit the spot, do yourself a favor and try the beer cheese nachos or char-grilled chicken wings with sweet and spicy Wango Tango sauce.


The Playground
If you could roll the best of the above into one, you’d have NoDa Brewing’s beer garden. What NoDa’s original brewery lacked in outdoor space, the brewery more than made up for in their new location off North Tryon Street. Located behind the brewery is a large beer garden neatly divided into areas with shared picnic tables and green space with games for kids of all ages. In the peak of summer, canopies are erected over the tables to ward off the blistering Carolina sunshine. My favorite spot is at night seated on one of the Adirondack chairs that circle the firepits.

The real selling point is the games. Beyond your requisite cornhole boards, NoDa’s beer garden boasts a bocce ball court, disc golf, and both hula hoops and jump ropes to keep the little ones from interfering with adult cornhole games. All that fun can work up a serious appetite, so Tin Kitchen has a permanent food truck onsite cooking a mix of Latin influenced modern pub fare.

Just like the beer garden offers something for everyone in terms of aversions, so does the brewery in terms of beer. While the brewery’s claim to fame is the Great American Beer Festival gold medal winning Hop, Drop ‘N Roll monster of an IPA, NoDa brews plenty of other beers to please everyone’s palate. Their 25 taps run the gamut of style and tastes.


The Epicurean
New to Charlotte’s summer beer scene is Rivermen Brewing in Belmont. The recently reopened location is more than just a brewery, pouring classic America beers like blondes, porters, and IPAs. The brewery also houses a farm-to-table restaurant that can rival anything in Charlotte. The menu changes regularly based on what’s locally available. Think dishes like pork jowl tacos, roasted rabbit tagliatelle, and wild mushroom ramen.

The beer garden is admittedly more of a patio off the back of the refurbished 1940s mill than a beer garden. However, it’s one of the hottest pieces of outdoor seating real estate in Belmont. The space seats 80 and enjoys shade from the hot Carolina sun from the towering building. Gather up the family, order a Foundation Black IPA to sip on and a 3 Little Pigs Flatbread (pork marmalade, pork brisket, and chicharones) to share, and enjoy an evening of al fresco dining.

With so many breweries and beer gardens in Charlotte, it’s a good time to be living in the Buzz City!