The Beer There: Olde Mecklenburg (Charlotte, NC)
Periodically--too infrequently, if you want my opinion--a friend of the blog will feel inspired to send me beer from their distant location. When breweries send me beer, I make no promises to review or ever even comment on them (though I will drink them; I'm not a halfwit), but when a person spends hard-earned cash to purchase and send beer from a brewery, my hard and fast rule is: always review them.
Today we have three beers sent from Daniel Warner, who lives in the far Carolinas (I use the plural because while I believe he lives in South, he regularly drifts to North). Daniel and I have developed an e-bromance over our shared love of German and Czech beers, and one of his go-to breweries is Charlotte's Olde Mecklenburg. They make not a single IPA or cucumber sour; in fact, the only beer not drawn from the German oeuvre is a Baltic porter--which is not much of a heresy as those things go. This is interesting if not quite unheard of--our own Occidental and Heater Allen follow the same prescription. What is unusual is their success with this model:
"OMB started to build a dedicated following that’s never really stopped growing. Today, in a new, larger space that features a spectacular eight-acre German-style Biergarten, a state-of-the-art 60-barrel Brewery (largest locally owned craft brewhouse in the state), and a dine-in Brauhaus."
That says ... something about North Carolina, though I'm not sure what. Even Urban Chestnut has conceded hoppy ales to their customers, and St Louis is about as lager-friendly as you're going to find. And to add further intrigue to this mystery, their flagship beer is an altbier. What in the blue hell? North Carolinians, I do not get you.
All right, enough with the anthropology--let's move on to the beer.
The flagship, I hate to say, would not be mistaken for a Düsseldorf alt. It looks like one: its a gorgeous beer, with a deep copper and perfect clarity that seems to make it almost glow from the inside. But in flavor profile, it's distinctly American, with a slightly syrupy caramel note offset by rather sharp hopping. In Düsseldorf, the alts are characterized by a downy softness and even in the hoppy Uerige, the bitterness is rounded and lacking bite. The real key to a altbier is a minerality that I believe comes from hardened water; Daniel obscurely believes this to be a function of the yeast (feel free to debate that in comments); whatever, it ain't here. It's a nice beer, but a bit too bimodal for me--thick caramel offset by sharp hops, rather than a harmony between the two.
Capt Jack Pilsner
This is an interesting and unusual pilsner. It has a surprisingly sweet malt note up front, and this is balanced by pretty assertive hopping. I don't recognize the malt, which is more candylike and less grainy than is common. It is perfectly clear again--I'm beginning to get a sense of the house preference here--and pale as January sunlight. Olde Mecklenburg gives zero info about their beer, so I'm left to guess at the last element--a touch of diacetyl. I would guess this is an intentional homage to Plzeň, and it is both nicely integrated and subtle. But that's only a guess. Definitely a cool little beer and unusual, which is what you want with a style that can seem generic if handled badly.
Hornet's Nest (hefeweizen)
One should always save the best for last--and this was my fave of the three. I forgot to rouse the yeast and it had of course settled, so I got just a haziness rather than dense cloudiness. (User error.) I was also surprised at the low level of effervescence, which is far lower than the Bavarian examples. These are quibbles, however--it's a wonderful beer. Very spicy and almost absent banana, which is my preference. I speculated that they don't use the Weihenstephan yeast, which produces banana like a Panamanian jungle, but Daniel replied that he believes they ferment very cold, which would suppress ester production (the banana comes from isoamyl acetate. The spice is, additionally, intriguing in its complexity. There's definitely clove there, but black pepper and something that reminds me of apple tannin. It has the soft, fluffy mouthfeel you want and expect. It is, over all, a wonderful beer and my fave of the lot.
Based on photos, the place looks like a spectacular, very German, beer hall and it will be my first stop if I ever make it to Charlotte.