Meet The Brewers Night At VBGB Brings Out Charlotte’s Best Craft Beer
As I arrived at the NC Music Factory for the Meet The Brewers event the CRVA threw last week, I paused in the parking lot and admired the view of the Uptown skyline. It was about seventy-five degrees that night, with no humidity and an easy breeze in the air. Twilight was fading the sky from blue to black and a thin band of bright, peach colored light reflected off the low windows of the skyline as the sun set behind the sand volleyball courts surrounding the patio at VBGB.
Situated near the railroad tracks on the northwest edge of the 277 beltway, the NC Music Factory brings together nightclubs, entertainment venues, festivals, bars, and restaurants in an open air atmosphere nestled in a crook of Uptown. I’d come out a couple times before. Once when a couple friends were fighting for a Fight Lab Promotions card at the Silver Hammer Studios and another time when I was covering the Charlotte BBQ and Blues for Restaurant Traffic. My friend lost her first MMA fighter and we retreated to VBGB for consolation beers. If I recall correctly it was the first place I’d seen quinoa on the menu, and I ordered it with a brat and one of the many craft beers on tap at VBGB.
The Charlotte craft beer scene jumpstarted back in 2009 when OMB began pushing their flagship Copper alt bier onto the market. Back when I last visited VBGB, Copper might have been the only local beer on draft that night. I admit I prefer some of OMB’s other beers like the Dunkle or Mecktoberfest to the Copper, but they really set a precedent for quality and capacity among Charlotte’s subsequent craft breweries. Going from one craft brewery in 2009 to NoDa Brewing’s Hop, Drop, N’ Roll winning the gold medal at the 2014 World Beer Cup in just five years is very noteworthy. By the end of 2014, there may be 11-13 craft breweries in the Charlotte Metro area. I was excited to try some new local beers at the event and get the opportunity to come back to VBGB and enjoy the food and taking pictures of the restaurant.
According to Internet lore, the VBGB in VBGB Beer Hall and Garden stands for Very Big German Beer butÂ this place isn’t your Opa’s biergarten. The places feel like it was built for fun and more inspired by CBGB rather than the Hoffbrauhaus. The interior hall consists of picnic tables in front of a large bar that forms a double U shape. There is a spacious landing in the middle that draws people toward the bar. Owner Tom Taddeo once said the layout reminded him of the famous Woolworth’s he used to visit as a kid in New York City. They are serious about beer at VBGB. The taps rotate and the two dozen or so draft beer choices are listed above the bar in chalk on black tiles lit that stand out in the low light. A frost-covered bar rail, called a Chill-rite, lines the entire span of the bar. Between the beer hall and volleyball courts outside is a large veranda with an impressive amount of seating. Outdoor entertainment options abound with over-sized Connect Four and Jenga and chess games, Corn Hole boards, and a stage for live music so guest can enjoy nice weather outside with friends and family. The good vibe is unavoidable and the layout and concept help keep the drinks and kitchen flowing.
Back inside, tiny light bulbs glow along the wall in a back corner of the beer hall and spell out the word “EAT.” A large menu board beside an order window lists the dining choices, and a cashier waits to take your order with the grill and kitchen galley at their back. You walk up to order when you’re hungry and go back to your seat with the number the cashier gives you at the register.
Since I hadn’t been to VBGB for years, I asked the girl behind the counter what I should order. She told me to order the Bad Dog- she was getting one when her shift ended in a couple minutes.
I finished off the Lenny Boy Burn Down Brown I started the night with and ordered the Hop Drop N’ Roll to accompany my Bad Dog. Only the most potent of beers could help me tame such a wild dish.
Behold The Bad Dog! It consists of a bacon wrapped Zweigle’s Red Hot stuffed with pepper jack, topped with Sriracha mayo, fried jalapeĂ±os, and more Sriracha. The bacon wrap was crisp but not sloppy or greasy. And the reasonable amount of pepper jack added a creaminess to the Red Hot without turning the bun into a gooey mess. My favorite part were the fried jalapenos which could probably stand on their own as an appetizer. The slow burn hurt so good. The heat and spiciness didn’t bring me to my knees which surprised me because all the ingredients came across as gonzo.
I finished the Bad Dog and wanted more. The Yelp reviews about VBGB I read earlier that day, along with the enticing smell of the giant pretzels that kept coming out of the kitchen, had me back at the counter ordering one of the gourmet pretzels served with beer cheese. The pretzel came out with a brown crust glistening and when I cracked the bread open a wisp of steam drifted out. Â When the bartender came back around I order Unknown’s Silver Back Stout. The beer hit like a gorilla and the big pieces of bread and savory cheese paired well with a strong, dark stout.
Charlotte might be two hundred and thirty years old but this city manages to come off as young and polished. VBGB does a great job catering to the inviting, youthful spirit you find throughout the city. It is good to see in a city this old there is still the space available to encourage bars and restaurants like VBGB, Ten Park Lanes, or for that matter Thomas Street Tavern, that create such a high level of on-demand entertainment for their patrons. You see it on peoples’ faces. They light up and gleam like the fiery silhouettes of a sunset on the Uptown skyline when they are tossing around bean bags or laid back listening to the band and watching the crowd shift around. All is good in the world in those moments when you’re able to sit back and soak up the good vibes with friends and family.
Have you been to VBGB? What other spots are great choices for kicking back and enjoying the Carolina weather.