Here I was, thinking I would have this perfectly scheduled I Tried It about checking out Blue Blaze Brewing before their grand opening scheduled for Saturday, June 25th, and they went and opened early. I guess when you’re as awesome as they are, it really is a disservice to the community to not open early and share your beer goodness with the world. Fear not, the grand opening celebration is happening this Saturday, June 25th, from 12:00 pm to 10:00 pm, at their taproom at 528 South Turner Avenue in Charlotte.
To back up a bit, I was already smitten with Charlotte’s West End before finding out that was where Blue Blaze was going to be. Having moved back to Charlotte from Chicago, one of the things I miss most about Chicago is seeing older buildings (I’m a bit of a historical architecture nerd) and neighborhoods with character. Like most of you who live in Charlotte or have visited, Charlotte as a city seems to abhor anything historic or with some character (i.e. older than 1990). Newer things are plowed over to build even newer things, usually condos. So when I visited the Mecklenburg County Bar on Zebulon Avenue, less than a mile from Blue Blaze, I was enamored with the area. It looked a lot like the neighborhoods in Chicago – the houses weren’t all vinyl-sided clones that were built in what seemed like a day; rather, they were older and each had its own identity. The entire area is equal parts urban and lush greenery. It truly is a unique and gorgeous spot in Charlotte and will hopefully not be turned into condos anytime soon. I even texted my husband as I was leaving to tell him that if we were ever going to open a brewery, I had found the perfect spot.
I wasn’t the only one who had that feeling. Owners Craig Nunn and Sven Giersmann thought it was a pretty great location, too. I had the privilege of going to one of Blue Blaze’s soft openings a couple weeks ago. For a soft opening, the place was packed. We drove to the brewery, but there were a ton of people who arrived by bicycle since the Stewart Creek Greenway is right outside the brewery. Walking up to the brewery, we could smell the wood from the newly-built rocking chair-adorned front patio. In addition to the rocking chairs overlooking the trees and the Greenway, there were several picnic tables outside as well.
Inside, the space is beautiful – huge open windows looking out to the nearby woods, lots of reclaimed and natural wood, and pictures of scenic North Carolina wilderness on the walls. There is a good-sized area upstairs away from the taproom floor, but still open to the brewery so anyone who sits up there is still a part of the taproom activity. Judging from what I’ve seen on social media as of late, it’s also the prime spot to take pictures of the taproom. One feature for which I always look in a bar or a brewery is whether there are hooks under the bar and other seating areas for purses. I don’t usually carry a purse, preferring to shove as much as I can in my pockets and being thankful my husband wears cargo shorts a lot to handle my overflow, but hooks for purses are such a minor touch a bar or brewery can do to show me that they value having me as a customer that they considered what I would find convenient. I was delighted to see that Blue Blaze not only had a spot for purses and backpacks, but that they were carabiners, which fits in perfectly with their brewery vision. It also showed me that, before even tasting one of their beers, I was in a brewery owned and operated by very deliberate, thoughtful, and creative people.
Speaking of the beer, I was so taken by the brewery’s location, inside and out, that it’s taken me five paragraphs to even get to the beer - which is not to say that the beer isn’t remarkable all on its own. While the brewery will have five flagship beers (the five pillars, as they call them), they were pouring four of their beers the day I was there, with the milk stout getting ready to be tapped at any time. In case you were wondering, the brewery and its beers get their name from the “blazes” on the Appalachian Trail, which are different colored paint stripes to indicate waypoints and points of interest. Blue blazes indicate side trails that lead to water, relaxation, and camaraderie. Each one of their flagship beers is a different “blaze” – Blue Blaze Altbier; Amber Blaze Amber; Double Blaze Black IPA; Black Blaze Milk Stout; and Yellow Blazer Kolsch.
It happened to be almost one million degrees the day I was there (closer to ninety-three degrees, but still so hot), so the Kolsch was incredibly refreshing and spot on, style-wise. With American craft, you sometimes don’t realize you’re getting an “interpretation” of a style rather than a classic version of a style, but Yellow Blazer Kolsch was exactly what I was expecting. The Altbier was also spot on – it was well-balanced and smooth, with just the right amount of bitterness and maltiness. Although I’ve outgrown fawning over IPAs, the PCT American Style IPA was very good, with a nice dry finish and a hoppy, but not overly hoppy, nose and flavor. No one is going to reinvent the IPA wheel, so I appreciate brewmaster Steve Turner’s focus again on brewing a clean, classic example of an American IPA. The Double Blaze Black IPA was a pleasant surprise. Again, a lot of times you get an “interpretation” of a style and Black IPAs (also known as Cascadian IPAs) are prone to being all over the map in terms of flavor profiles since it is such a newly-recognized style. However, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Double Blaze Black IPA show up as a BJCP commercial example as it is everything a Black IPA should be: dark in color, but with a hop-forward balance that finishes delightfully dry. After you try all of Blue Blaze’s flagship beers, you will see why brewmaster Steve Turner is a five-time Great American Beer Festival and World Beer Cup medal winner.
Of late, I’ve found myself being much more impressed when a brewery makes an excellent example of a classic style than I am with how many hops or Brett a brewery crams into a mediocre base beer before pouring it into a bourbon barrel in an attempt to capitalize on all the beer trends without needing much brewing skill. A truly well-thought out, carefully executed classic beer style shows the skill and deliberation of a brewer, which is what I discovered at Blue Blaze. Add the scenic location and the openness of the taproom that makes you feel like you’re camping, and you’ve got an amazing (ablazing?) experience. Make sure to blaze your own trail to Blue Blaze’s grand opening this weekend!