Crafting the Brewery Scene — How Belmont became a destination for local craft beer
If you’ve spent any time in the Charlotte area, you know all about the breweries. There are 69 breweries in the greater Charlotte area — back in 2011, there were only 60 in the entire state — and there’s no plan to slow down anytime soon. Names like Olde Mecklenburg Brewery, NoDa Brewing, Triple C, Sycamore, and Birdsong Brewing are household names to those who love beer.
If you’re a beer lover, and you’ve done your homework, you’re watching the Gaston County beer scene like a hawk. The breweries in Gaston County aren’t as well known as their Charlotte counterparts, but they’re just as high-quality.
Crafting Gaston's Brewery Scene
The trend began in a counterintuitive fashion: from the very middle of the county. Despite the trend of growth along Gaston County’s border with Mecklenburg County, it was Dallas that won the race for the first craft brewery. Ole Dallas Brewery, launched by two homebrewers who were high school classmates, became Gaston County’s first craft brewery in early 2017.
It wasn’t long before Gastonia followed suit. Cavendish Brewing Company opened its doors later on in 2017. The cherry-red brewery on the fringes of downtown Gastonia now has over 20 of its own beers on tap, a rotating selection of “guest taps,” and a compliment of food and events to take part in. Cavendish is also a member of the Charlotte Independent Brewers Alliance, a non-profit organization dedicated to showcasing beer in the Charlotte area. Browse the list to find a “who’s who” of area breweries, with Cavendish serving as a de-facto Gaston County spokesman.
Bringing Beer to Belmont
The epicenter of Gaston County’s beer scene has traveled up I-85 to the city of Belmont: Belmont’s has been experiencing a resurgence after early mill interest, and the establishment of Belmont Abbey College donned the first wave of growth. Thanks to big leaps in population, new residents have sparked a revolution in economic development, downtown density, and quality of life upgrades.
“Belmont is a very educated and sophisticated market,” noted Jess Faucette, the owner of the homebrewing supply store, Alternative Beverage, and co-owner of the new Belmont Brewhouse in Belmont’s River Arts District.
Faucette has the unique pleasure of perspective while watching the Belmont brewing scene skyrocket. He began his foray into the beverage business in 1973, opening the original Alternative Beverage in a converted gas station in Charlotte. That same year, a gas shortage wreaked havoc across the United States, and Charlotte was no exception. Lines full of desperate drivers looking for gas would regularly stretch for miles. For a converted gas station, it’s an absolute nightmare; for Alternative Beverage, it couldn’t have been more perfect. Faucette took full advantage by marketing his new business. Thanks to his efforts and the timing of the gas shortage, Alternative Beverage rose to the status of a top beer store in North Carolina.
After he started receiving calls about home brewing equipment, Faucette entered the homebrewing business in 1977. He now had the equipment for his own brewing purposes; the only problem was he didn’t know how to do it himself. Faucette recruited Mike Eaker, a brewer, and an English expatriate, to show him the ropes. Eaker taught him the basics before the two of them worked on their own brewing experiments. They added ingredients like aroma hops and cracked specialty malts to tweak the traditional formula. The variations helped Alternative Beverage sell home brewing kits while planting the seeds for Faucette’s influence.
A half a century later, Faucette has left an indelible mark on Charlotte-area brewing. Names such as Todd Ford of NoDa Brewing, Alex Shoenthal of Lower Left Brewing Company, Alexa Long who was formerly at Legion Brewing Company, and Bart Roberts of Southern Strain Brewing Company are among the dozens who’ve studied under Faucette. But despite his multiple decades of mentorship and practice in the homebrewing field, what he’s launched in Belmont may be his most exciting venture yet.
In 2007, Faucette moved Alternative Beverage to its current warehouse facility off of Belmont’s River Drive. The building is shared by Muddy River Distillery, a popular craft rum distiller. Muddy River Distillery used to occupy space towards the middle of the building but has since moved to the front where Alternative Beverage is located. After the move, brewing equipment was left behind creating a golden opportunity for anyone who wanted to use it. Rivermen Brewing Company took it first, then York Chester Brewing Company moved in. When York Chester ran into financial issues, they were forced to sell the equipment in 2019. Yet again, Faucette was presented with the perfect opportunity.
Getting the Breweries Going
He bought the equipment with plans to open his own brewery. After he secured the incorporation and filed for a license in 2020, everything was set for another big windfall. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. This time, the crisis Faucette was up against was bad for all businesses. “Everything got shut down except for the wind, so there went our working capital,” he said. Equipment issues were another hurdle to clear, forcing him to regroup another time. But finally, in March of 2021, Faucette and his business partners, Bethea Baker and Dennis Talley opened Belmont Brewhouse — originally known as Belmont Brewing Company.
Belmont Brewhouse is a nano brewery that combines traditional brewing with experimental creations. In addition to their original recipes, Belmont Brewhouse will use brewing kits from Alternative Beverage and recipes submitted by local homebrewers to create new beers. Some of the highlighted creations so far include “Hazel’s Gone Nuts,” a hazelnut amber ale, a pale ale IPA named “Mountain Liberty,” a “Nutty Blonde” that’s an amber ale, and Southern blonde hybrid, and an Oktoberfest creation that’s coming out in October. Faucette said this is just the beginning of what’s to come.
“We have the capabilities to design well over 200 recipes,” he said, “We have the capabilities of making some of the best beers in the world, and we’ll do that.”
While Faucette gets his own brewery off the ground, he pointed to several locations in Belmont that are worthy of checking out. That includes the expansive beer selection at Jekyll and Hyde Taphouse, as well as Primal Brewery, Sammy’s Neighborhood Pub, The Lodge Tap and Tavern, Glenway Premium Pub, The String Bean, and The Bearded Buffalo—formerly know as Friends Sports Bar—as beer spots full of sophistication. “These are all really good places that you can get and experience some really fun beers,” he said.
Gaston County Expansions
Ray Steimel is the COO and co-founder of Primal Brewery. Primal got started in Huntersville but expanded to Belmont in May of 2020. Steimel said that a Belmont expansion was too good to pass up. “Belmont was an easy choice for us,” he said, “The Belmont community was a perfect fit with great people and an awesome vibe. We looked at many other places, and Belmont outshined them all.”
Steimel noted that despite some “pretty bleak moments” brought on by the pandemic, the staff and customers have helped them stay open. The same sentiment was shared by Charles Edling, the head brewer at District 8 Beer Company in nearby Cramerton. “We became a brewery in March and that is a challenge every day,” he said, “My friends I’ve made are what keep us going normally. They want to drink somewhere, so supporting your friend is a natural conclusion.”
The future is bright for Gaston County brewing. Up the road from Belmont in Mount Holly, Olde Mecklenburg Brewery is planning a third location in the growing town. A Scandinavian-style Traust Brewing Company has recently opened and Firehawk Brewpub is close behind.
As for Faucette, he’s still mentoring homebrewers through monthly meetups called the Belmont Brew Crew. At those meetups, everything about fermentation for beer-making will be discussed. It’s a group by a homebrewer for aspiring homebrewers to learn the craft. Looking back on his years of mentorship and brewing experience, Faucette is happy that he’s been able to help. “I can't tell you how proud I am that we've had a good influence on the brewing community.”