A Look at Divine Barrel Brewing & Charlotte’s Newest Breweries
We’re standing in a lofty, gutted warehouse on the corner of Anderson and North Davidson, a vast space filled with clusters of dirtpiles, the clang and shuffle of construction, and hot June air. It’s easier to imagine the space as it was—most recently a roller derby rink, heralded by the telltale chips of purple paint on the cement floor—than what it will be—Charlotte’s newest brewery. But with a glance at Ben Dolphens’ grin, a whiff of his freshly poured beer, and one savored sip, the whole concept comes into focus.
Dolphens is all brewer, from his aesthetic—bearded and baseball-cap clad, with thick framed glasses—to his demeanor—casual and friendly. But what really defines him as a brewer is the way he talks about beer. Some folks in the industry have rehearsed speeches, others are jaded. Dolphens talks about beer with a sort of earnest, frantic genuineness.
That’s what’s driving the brewery he’s opening with partners Scott Davis and Gavin Toth. With the name Divine Barrel Brewing, the concept has already engendered a few inaccuracies, one of which is that all their beers will be barrel-aged.
“We’ll have a big focus on that and our goal is to grow the barrel and foeder programs over time, but it takes a while for beers that are either fermented or aged in wood to be ready,” explains Dolphens. “You’re dealing with fickle wild yeast and bacteria that you can’t really control.”
Divine Barrel will brew in stainless steel tanks for their “clean” beers and their barrel program will include a climatized barrel room with capacity for 80 to 100 barrels, plus two 30-barrel oak foeders. “We’re by no means the first in Charlotte to be doing [barrel-aging], but I think we’re one of the first to have as big of a focus on it,” notes Dolphens.
The other big focus? The people. “Our goal is to go back to the neighborhood brewery model,” Dolphens explains. “We want people to come here and enjoy themselves.” With 3,000 square feet of taproom and 1,400 square feet of patio space, it’s hard to see someone not enjoying themselves here—especially since they’ll have a say in what they’re drinking.
“We’re gonna let our drinkers tell us what they want,” says Dolphens. “We know what we’re going to be doing and the general direction we want to go in, but they’re the ones who are going to be in here enjoying our beers, so we think it’s fair to let them help us steer the ship.”
It’s an idea that’s already being popularized at breweries nationwide, where flagships are being abandoned in favor of new offerings. “There’s something really cool about that too,” says Dolphens. “It keeps the brewers on their toes. Everyone’s experimenting, you get new sorts of styles that emerge or new things become popular. It’s a fun time to be in the beer business.”
When asked if he thinks that beer business is a bubble bound to burst, Dolphens shakes his head, brings up stats about pre-Prohibition breweries, cities like San Diego and Portland where beer has buoyed a burgeoning tourism industry, the value in competition. And just as his words transformed the space around us from ramshackle warehouse to bustling brewery, so do they turn a saturated market into a boundless opportunity.