I remember when I first heard a brewery was coming to our neighborhood. A couple — newer to the neighborhood like myself — relayed the news with excitement as we sat at the Villa Heights Community Organization (VHCO) meeting inside McCreesh Place. I smiled and looked around awkwardly, having no idea what a brewery was or why I should be excited about it. My only reference to beer was the Budweiser my parents drank, or the Sierra Nevada my college friends sprang for when they were feeling fancy. To me, beer came from the same place those little plastic frogs you push down on to make jump up come from. It was just a thing that always was, with no true place of origin. This was 2011.
Suzie and Todd Ford were regulars at our meetings, describing to us in detail how they planned to incorporate the community into their business; how they’d both quit their day jobs and cashed in their retirement to gamble on an IPA recipe all their home brew pals were crazy about. I didn’t know what an IPA was, but I bought in.
I started my time working for NoDa Brewing Company during my time as the president of VHCO, a happy and eager resident of what is now dubbed an “up-and-coming neighborhood”. It was during this time that we’d casually informed the Fords that their new NoDa Brewing was neither in Villa Heights nor NoDa, but was actually in Optimist Park, though we understood the draw of association with the newly rebranded arts district.
For two-and-a-half years, NoDa Brewing would become a sort of home for Liz Eagle, as I was formerly known. Starting as a part-time employee who helped cater to the rush of beer drinkers participating in the brewery’s quickly growing run club, I poised myself every Wednesday night for a room full of sweaty strangers. The runners would be all high on endorphins until they realized how busy we’d be with the overwhelming demand. They’d start huffing and puffing when we had to change out a keg of one of the six beers we had on draft.
Over the next two and half years, these sweaty strangers would become my friends, transforming my life with vast connections and friendships across the city. One friend helped me get into grad school, another would run with me at midnight when I got off work late on weekends. Others I still hug like long lost family members when I run into them in the neighborhood now, five years after leaving.
My time at NoDa Brewing saw me transition from a married woman to a single mother of two. It was within those walls that I would lose my breath at the thought of losing my marriage and gain the strength and dignity I needed through the coworkers who held me up. It was in that building that I ate far too much Tin Kitchen and Maki Taco. It was on that ramp-turned-patio that I would sit after work drinking more NoDaRyeZ’d than any one person should. I saw what the beer community meant and watched as NoDa Brewing became an integral part of the community, just as they vowed they would.
It was during my time at NoDa Brewing that Hop Drop n’ Roll went from being one of six beers served in pint glasses or growlers to a canned phenomenon that won a gold medal at the World Beer Cup, with scores of people lining up at noon on Saturdays to get their stab at taking home a four-pack (then limited to two-per-person).
To say NoDa Brewing changed my life would be an understatement. I owe much of who I am to the people I spent those years with. I, like many others, shuddered to watch the doors close, and have since awaited the day it would reopen to the public and share the magic we all knew lived inside.
There were promises of opening a facility focused on sours in the space, but those thoughts faded in the shadow of the new location, a North Tryon monolith, with an on-site food truck and beer garden, multiple bars and awning-covered picnic tables. I visited there when they first opened, sharing in the excitement of well-deserved growth, with comparisons of how different it was playing in the back of my mind.
The years went on and Charlotte went from housing four breweries to nearly 50. Some of the the NoDa regulars aged, moved on, let go of drinking, some have even passed away. The city grew, the market saturated, and still the North Davidson location of NoDa Brewing sat empty, save for the staff members who occasionally used the facility to brew.
And then, via subtle Facebook announcements and event posts, plus a small painting on the side of the old location, we were notified that “the OG location” would reopen, the promise of barrel-aged beverages and sours finally coming to fruition. When I left NoDa, I mourned it like a death, a grief process that still baffles me. Knowing the doors would be open again was almost more than I could handle.
I recently toured the newly designed space. The shelving in the back hallways is still the same, with artwork and event posters still hanging in the exact same spots. I can remember our darling brew dogs, Marley and Dakota, rushing the door with wagging tails when anyone entered the office space. The coolers that once housed our growlers have been converted to freezers, the labels for Woody and Wilcox, Ramble on Red and Monk’s Trunks still reminding of the way it once was. The convection oven that was used to toast coconut for Coco Loco still sits beside the same old scale.
In a lot of ways, it’s remained exactly the same, but in others it couldn’t be more different. It’s an almost completely different bar staff. Gone is the bright orange and green on the walls, in its place a soothing blue covered with a golden mural where the hand-drawn chalkboard signs once hung. The four-top tables have been replaced with a few lounge areas separated by barrels, with one long high top table carved in the shape of North Carolina.
The flagship beers — Hop Drop and Jam Session — are drowned out by the brewery’s new spiked seltzer Brizo, which features a slew of funky flavors; Monstro; saisons; and a reboot of the OG Kolsch. Familiar faces filter in and out, while many who have only moved to Charlotte since the OG closed came to get a glimpse of a ghost of Charlotte’s brewing past.
And now, I return as Liz Logan. Somewhere in the years since OG NoDa’s closing I finally shed my old name and reclaiming my identity, much as NoDa has with its new/old venture. I return with my new partner, whom I’d served years ago when he brought his sister by one Saturday afternoon for a tasting. All 16 taps are filled with beers that have been aging and growing over these last few years, as we have been. NoDa presents a fresh face of slow, deliberate beverages in an atmosphere that mirrors their brewing process to the community they’ve always loved.
I can only hope that this re-open allows within its walls to grant people the community accessibility that it did for me, and that the neighborhood welcomes them back, like an old friend, with open arms.