The vision for Blue Blaze Brewing Co. was simple: bring together each of the elements — good music, good company, great scenery, and, of course, ice-cold beer — that all of mankind can appreciate.
Tucked away in Charlotte’s West End, Blue Blaze Brewing is one of the town’s newest breweries, laying roots in one of the area’s oldest buildings, Savona Mill.
With the taproom located among several parks and looking out onto the Stewart Creek Greenway, founder Craig Nunn has created a unique brewery experience that brings together two of his lifelong passions: the outdoors and craft beer.
“When you’re looking out from our taproom, you’d have no idea you were in Charlotte,” he says.
Blue Blaze opened its doors in June 2016 and offers an array of taps; 13 to 18 of the brewery’s own creations on any given day, all of which are inspired after elements of the outdoors, and a few other specialty and local beers as well. While the brewery itself is relatively new, Nunn, is no stranger to the craft beer scene.
“I just happened to be one of those people”
Growing up, Nunn spent a lot of time exploring nature; a hobby that continued into his adulthood.
“I did a lot of backpacking as I grew older,” he explained. “I’ve completed around 700 miles of the Appalachian Trail, and when I lived in Montana I did another 600 to 700 miles of the Rockies.”
This love for outdoor recreation directly correlated with Nunn’s interest in craft beer as well.
“Craft beer in the 80’s and 90’s was essentially about community. People wanted to have a really, great, flavorful beer, but it was always set in the context of sharing an experience with others.” Nunn said. “There was a clear relation between craft beer drinkers and outdoorsmen — backpackers, skiers, hikers. That culture encompassed the original consumers of craft beer movement. I just happened to be one of those people.”
Nunn initially began as a home brewer, but as an entrepreneur at heart, opening his own brewery was something he had always considered.
The time between deciding to establish Blue Blaze and its actual opening took around three and a half years to come full circle; a year to write the business plan, nine months to lock down funding, six months to find a property, seven months for architectural design and permitting and six months for build out. In November, the company filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission to raise $1 million from investors.
However, developing the name for the project was one aspect that came relatively easy.
“On the Appalachian Trail, blue blazes are one of the most sought-after trail markings that are out there,” says Nunn. “They’re a place of rest and how backpackers get directed to a watering hole.”
It was the perfect fit.
“A steep learning curve ahead”
While Nunn brought to the table all the passion for craft beer needed to open a brewery, he was well aware this wasn’t a one-man job.
“While I was a home brewer for years, that is not nearly the same as commercial brewing,” explained Nunn. “I was smart enough to know there was steep learning curve ahead of me. I wanted to find someone with depth and experience in this area and someone who had a similar brewing philosophy as our own.”
Through a mutual friend, Nunn came in contact with Steve Turner. Turner brought nearly two decades of experience to the table as a member of the Master Brewers Association of Americas, a five-time Great American Beer Festival and World Beer Cup medal winner and a Colorado State University Fermentation Science and Technology instructor.
With Turner on board, all the elements needed to turn Nunn’s dream into a reality were in place. But diversifying Blue Blaze from the competition was a whole other challenge.
There were only 2,000 U.S. craft brewers just five years ago. Now, Blue Blaze is just one of 5,234 craft breweries, according to figures from the Brewers Association.
So how does Blue Blaze stand out among the others? A unique philosophy that brings together all sorts of beer lovers.
“A bridge brewery”
Blue Blaze was created in mind to be accessible to all beer drinkers, Nunn coining it a “bridge brewery.” In simplest terms, Blue Blaze is a place for both craft beer snobs and macro beer lovers alike.
“Currently, a good chunk of craft breweries are really only dialed into about 20 percent of the market; a.k.a the ‘converted 20 percent’ of consumers who would identify themselves as craft beer drinkers,” explains Nunn.
“Our goal has been two-fold: 1. Have beer that the adventurous side of the other 80 percent, the macro-beer drinkers, would enjoy. Have them come to our brewery and be introduced to craft beer in a relaxed environment. 2. For those converted craft beer drinkers, we want to be able to service them as well with more ‘everyday’ craft beers.”
Blue Blaze offers five flagship beers year round to satisfy its market.
These are the Blue Blaze Altbier, a spin on two classic German-style brews; the Amber Blaze Amber, the brewery’s take on the classic American amber beer; the Double Blaze Black IPA, a beer combining both a porter and IPA; the Black Blaze Milk Stout; and the Yellow Blazer Kolsch.
The unique brews Blue Blaze offers combined with the property’s unique location allows for an ideal drinking experience, just what Nunn and his team had in mind.
“This place is beautiful,” says frequent customer Lauren Smith of Charlotte. “If you like drinking beer in what feels like a well-decorated treehouse, come here.”
Nunn says in the taproom he’s attempted to recreate the original brewery experience itself, with the focus on good company and conversation while bringing in an element of nature and the outdoors, with wooden elements and plenty of windows — and leaving the high-definition televisions on the wayside.
“Bottom line,” Nunn says, “It doesn’t matter where you come from, what color skin you have, what walk of life you may be in, if you can create an experience around those things, it will resonate with everyone. And that’s exactly what we aim for here at Blue Blaze.”