an interview with Ellen Gurley
E: So you’re at NoDa Brewing. Tell me a little about your family over at NoDa.
COURTNEY: Well, it started with a couple that I’ve known through another restaurant (Todd and Suzie Ford) and they kinda let me ‘come along for the ride’ while they opened a brewery. And that was about eight months ago and now we have doubled in size. We started with a small staff (crew), brewers, sales team, bartenders (including myself). And we all plan (and are involved in) events and promotions. We keep it very intimate.
E: Not only can NoDa boast a huge in-house clientel, but you (and Erika) are in charge of selling the beer to local restaurants so that their patrons can enjoy your beer out-of-house. And you guys are doing well at that. Tell me about community reception to the brand.
COURTNEY: Thank you and yes, we have been received really well especially here in our own neighbourhood, NoDa, and also a lot of major bar / restaurants in town (Mac’s, Bricks) have also welcomed us (bigger accounts with multiple, multiple taps). They have embraced us AND kept us on, sometimes three / four beers, at a time. Myself, I am moving out of full-bodied sales and into just the NoDa territory so I’ll be able to have a more community-based relationship (with the brand).
E: So, you have seen NoDa Brewing grow (a large amount) since the start. And there’s no sign of stopping, you’ve passed the ‘new business’ ‘POP’. That being said, with all of this growth and warm reception, where do you see yourselves in five years (NoDa) as a company?
COURTNEY: Like I said, we have doubled in size. We just had to buy more tanks a couple of weeks ago, so with that being said, we are going to need more staff (sales people, more delivery drivers, more bartenders). Five years from now, wow, I can’t even fathom. I can’t be honest where we’re going to be. We may expand our current location or think of breweries in maybe Asheville or Raleigh. Who knows?
E: Charlotte has become an up-and-coming beer city. How has all of this healthy competition in the area affected NoDa Brewing’s excitement / affected the “draw”? (My guess would be that all of this has affected y’all in a good way?)
COURTNEY: It has. A lot of people think that the breweries are in competition, but the truth is that we all have a really good relationship with each other (one example is Birdsong, we have ‘dinners’ together). This type of thing happens often. We are all good friends and do a lot of things together. A lot of the beer distributors can be seen together in our tap room.
E: So, essentially, any new brewery is welcomed. And each one just gets the community more excited about this ‘beer movement’?
COURTNEY: Yes. We are all creating jobs, we’ve put NoDa on the map and Charlotte is on the map for something other than just banking (which is really cool).
E: Is NoDa no longer the art district, but instead the beer district?
COURTNEY: A lot of breweries (and bars) are incorporating art (points from patio to Jack Beagle’s walls). So you’re going to see more art coming back to the neighbourhood.
E: Awesome! Let’s talk NoDa Brewing Beer Dinners. What’s that?
COURTNEY: The beer dinners are when one of our clients (a restaurant) wants to do a dinner and they want our brewer to ‘get together’ with the chef to do a food pairing. It always goes over really well. We usually sell between thirty and fifty tickets.
E: Pairing food and beer, this is sort of foreign to me. I know to pair wines with certain meats (white with fish, red with steak).
COURTNEY: Beer has quickly caught up with wine, especially when it comes to food pairing
E: Do you think beer will ‘take over’?
COURTNEY: Honestly, it may. Women are catching on. They make up a huge part of the craft beer following. An example is Queen City Beer Babes, of which I am a member.
E: Okay, pairing food and beer, can you gimme a quick “for Dummies”?
COURTNEY: Sure. You have to think about it like this, a porter is going to be a little heavier so a lot of times you want something that it’s going to compliment, to balance out the ‘saltiness’, so you have a little bit of salt and a little bit of sweet. We have a Coco Loco Porter, its not terribly heavy and it’s amazing with salty foods (you can put it with steak). 5Church Restaurant uses it to do a ‘Coco Loco Duck Mole’, which is one of their best-selling dishes, it’s very well-balanced. (‘Coco Loco’ is perfect for something a little gamey.) But you have to see what the beer notes; what the bitterness is, what the sweetness is and then you pair it with something that’s usually already on their menu or the chef will choose to get creative and use the beer in the dish.
E: What’s Culture Initiative?
COURTNEY: It’s a local art collective. It’s made up of artists, photographers, musicians, and sculptors. Joel (Andrew Tracey) curates the shows in galleries. We usually have two or three big parties per year, wherein we bring in bands and DJs, we invite locals to share their outlet. We try to make an effort to include a non-profit in our events (we’ve done a lot with ‘Project HALO’ and ‘Beards Because‘).
E: So, I’ve heard a little about your Cheshire Dinner Society, an underground dining club that you have formed. The idea is that the people who will be dining do not know where they are going, there is short notice on the announcement of the location and they have no idea what they’ll eat / drink. Then they have no idea where the next event will be or when. This is why you called it Cheshire, after the attributes of the feline in Alice’s Wonderland, who appeared, disappeared and reappears elsewhere. (Love that.) This type of club is gaining popularity in larger metropolitan areas (in restaurants, ‘closed restaurants’ i.e. people’s homes, or some off-beat locations), is Charlotte ready for this or was it a ‘long time coming‘?
COURTNEY: I know that Charlotte is ready. Up North and on the West Coast they’ve been doing this for ‘forever’; ‘pop-up restaurants’. We keep it nice and small, about 20 people, and depending on the venue (we did it in the basement of a restaurant), the creativity can go wild. We’ve done it on a rooftop, at a farm, at friend’s houses. We will do one in a field and I have some really fun locations picked out for the next few. Jamie Lynch is the chef that is involved solely on this project. We have a good time introducing people to other people that we know that they need to know (for business or social). We want people to dine in an environment that they’re not accustomed to, so we stage it with art and ambience and totally makeover the space that we’ve chosen complete with music.
E: So, basically a certain “exclusivity” is best for this type of forum of excitement and culinary romance?
COURTNEY: I don’t want it to be ‘splattered’ all over the internet. I think we have enough publicity and word-of-mouth for it’s purpose. As we begin to grow, Jamie Lynch and I will branch out to highlight some of the more ‘less known’ chefs in town, as we continue our effort to expose people to things that they’ve never seen before.
But we are going to grow slowly. We had a huge ’surge’ of new members after the first dinner was televised and I was interviewed on FOX News. The response has been huge. But we do want to keep it small. All the food is local. It’s an intimate, casual quaint group and that’s the best way for this type of thing to work. I don’t want it to ever get to where one end of the table cannot talk to the other end. That’s really important to me. But anyone who wants to be involved in this, can absolutely be, but you kind of have to ‘know someone’. I would never turn anyone away, let’s put it that way. It’s definitely going to grow, and we will ‘roll with the punches’ as it evolves.
E: Gotcha. Dietary needs?
COURTNEY: We are sensitive to dietary needs in Cheshire AND NoDa Brewery is also addressing this market need as we are developing a new Gluten-free beer, as we speak.
E: Your favourite saying “same same”, what does it mean?
COURTNEY: It’s like “everything is everything”. It means everything is related, connected. “It is what it is.” “One love.” That’s what it means.
E: Do you prefer sun or shade?
COURTNEY: I like a cool mix of both.
COURTNEY: I’m fair and red-headed, but I’m also Italian, so I tan, I don’t burn.
E: Jesus or Buddha?
E: Origami or tie-dye?
E: And is it uptown or downtown?
COURTNEY: It’s definitely downtown.