THE 2020 CHARLOTTE Berr BRACKET
Charlotte Magazine|August 2020
Thirty-two beers. Twenty-one breweries. Thousands weigh in
ANDY SMITH

ABOUT THE methodology

It began as a short exchange in a Slack thread: People miss sports during this pandemic. Can we create a friendly-yetcompetitive tournament-style bracket out of something else?

The recent Stay-at-Home order had placed “uh, beer” at the top of the shortlist of our common pastimes. And the timing was right: We hadn’t ranked Charlotte brews since 2017, a lifetime in “local beer years.” So, in the absence of a 2020 March Madness, we appointed ourselves members of a “selection committee”—hey, it’s our magazine—and scanned the Želd.

THE METHODOLOGY:

The four “regions” couldn’t be geographic, as breweries aren’t equally distributed throughout Charlotte. Instead, we opted for types: India Pale Ales, Darks, Lights, and Sours.

For this first edition, our 32 would be selected only from breweries native to Charlotte and within city limits. To keep it diverse, a single brewery couldn’t have more than two products in the bracket and no more than one per type.

SEEDING: Strictly speaking, there’s no formal power ranking system for Charlotte beers based on strength of schedule or the learned assessment of Jay Bilas (an attorney with the Charlotte law firm of Moore & Van Allen in addition to his ESPN analyst gig). We considered other factors for matchups, like breweries’ opening dates and BeerAdvocate and Untappd grades.

MEET THE champion

Legion Brewing Company’s Juicy Jay is the new king of Charlotte beers

IPAS

LEGION BREWING COMPANY

JUICY JAY

LEGION BREWING offered a drop of hope during the early, uncertain days of spring. On April 2, an announcement hit social media: Juicy Jay cans are here. It seemed serendipitous that the beloved IPA, which has made best-of lists since Legion’s ‚rst location opened in Plaza Midwood in 2015, hit grocery stores as taprooms closed. The real story was one of the quick decisions and sleepless nights.

Legion Brewing Company co-owner Phil Buchy says the company had always planned to sell Juicy Jay and other beers in cans. “We were always so busy just trying to keep up with our dra’ sales that we never had the capacity to sell cans,” he says by phone in June. “We were selling every drop we could make.”

That reality came to a halt in March when COVID-19 forced a statewide Stay-at-Home order. Legion’s sales dropped to zero overnight, from its own taprooms to the 400 Charlotte-area restaurants that sell its beer.

But grocery stores remained open. Legion already had the branding ‚nalized, retail connections in place, and Juicy Jay in the tanks. In just a week and a half, they pulled o the rest: cans, labels, coordination, ‚lling, packaging, and distribution of thousands of Juicy Jays to stores across the region. Buchy’s team ‚nally had time to can their beers. The brewery’s survival depended on it.

“The moment was absolutely life-changing for us,” Buchy says. “It was a great surprise to us just how popular our cans have been and how embraced our packaging has been.”

As of June, Legion Brewing sells more Juicy Jay in cans in a day than they had sold on tap in a week. Legion has added other beers to the canning list: dry Irish stout Sláinte, hibiscus pale ale Mind Ya ’Biscuits, the lager Penguin Pils, American wheat ale Flicker Daze, the Berliner Weisse Carolina Sparkle Party, and, most recently, the East Coast IPA Next Chapter.

As restaurants and taprooms reopen, head brewer Scott Griffn and his crew are making “as much beer as we possibly can,” he says. They’ll need the expanded production facility they plan to open early next year on Morehead Street on the west side. It’ll be Legion’s third site, the company has opened a taproom in SouthPark in 2018. Legion plans to open a brewery and restaurant at Atherton’s Trolley Barn in South End around the same time.

In 2015, Griffn was an assistant to Alexa Long, Legion’s former head brewer and the creator of Juicy Jay. At the time, Legion produced 1,000 barrels a year. In 2019, it made 7,000. “She did an incredible job with that recipe,” Griffn says. He’s had to tweak it over the years as production expanded and new hops became available, but the essence remains an easy drinker with a tropical tinge and a “distinct, dry finish.

Juicy Jay’s name reflects the familial, in-jokey culture that grows inside small breweries. Juicy J is a founding member of the Memphis hip-hop group Three 6 Mafia, which the Legion crew was listening to “a lot during those days,” Griffn says. Legion’sagship IPA might not have kept the name if its owners had realized the connection and glanced at his lyrics. “But by the time Phil found out,” Griffn says with a laugh, “we were kind of married to it.” The happy, hoppy marriage endures.

THE OTHER THREE IN THE final four

The dark, sour, and light that rose to the top of their “regions”

DARKS

NODA BREWING COMPANY

COCO LOCO

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