A version of this story originally appeared in Lake Norman Magazine.
It should be no surprise that in an area with fast-moving cars, its people move quickly as well. In June 2015, a Concord City Council ordinance amendment opened the frontier for breweries. Just 16 months later, Concord’s third brewery: Twenty-Six Acres. Born of and run by Cabarrus natives — Joel Padgett (operations manager), Eric Troutman (brewer) and Wes Ports (business partner) — it opened to the public on Oct. 15, 2016.
“That (ordinance amendment) was crucial for breweries in Concord,” says Troutman. “After it was announced, it was bang-bang-bang; they all just started popping up. We knew it was coming. They had talked about it at the homebrew meetings for months.”
The larger Charlotte region’s craft brewery boom has spawned dozens of breweries, first in the heart of industrial Charlotte, followed by an eruption up I-77 on the east side of Lake Norman. Up I-85, High Branch Brewing opened in Concord in Gibson Mill in November 2015; Cabarrus Brewing opened a literal stone’s-throw away (also in the expansive Gibson Mill) in March 2016.
“Twenty-Six Acres” refers to the fact that Concord was established on 26 acres of land. The site was determined in 1795 by N.C. House Speaker Stephen Cabarrus after local German and Scots-Irish settlers could not agree on a location.
Twenty-Six Acres is 8,700-square-feet and just off Derita Road, sitting strategically on the Cabarrus-Mecklenburg border in the middle of the increasingly busy area north of Charlotte, between I-77 and I-85. There are no other breweries in this area, which seems prime for such a destination given the proximity of Concord Mills, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Concord Regional Airport, multiple NASCAR research facilities, and densely populated Highland Creek and Skybrook neighborhoods, among others with plenty of potential patrons residing, or at least commuting, conveniently past Twenty-Six Acres.
“We liked all the drive-by traffic. And it’s about 25 minutes everywhere you go; Concord, Huntersville, Davidson—25 minutes,” says Padgett, himself a resident of Highland Creek.
Starting a brewery proved no easy task, especially with extra layers of red tape for alcohol. It was even more difficult in an era before breweries were such a resounding success as they have been in recent years. But Padgett, a software engineer who built and recently sold his own company, waited for just the right moment to catch the right wave.
“I’ve probably wanted to do it for 15 years,” Padgett says. “The capital was almost impossible to raise. The banks laughed. About a decade and a half ago, I gave it a couple of goes at talking to people, what does it take to do it, doing a little bit of research here and there. We didn’t have the means — I have young kids — to put in the time, then to leave another job and (open a brewery). People at that time weren’t doing that as much. That phased out when (breweries) became a viable business. Banks gladly loan you money now. The brewing industry had become a known profit maker. There’s empirical data, whereas before, you were throwing darts, and it would be slow money.”
In addition to investors, Padgett needed a good product and a brewer to make that product. He joined the Cabarrus Homebrewers Society (CABREW), and that’s where he met Eric.
“So much of this beer environment that happened in Concord happened through CABREW,” says Padgett. “We hung out some, went to Asheville and did a weekend of breweries, really just tried to see if we liked the same things about beer, did we get along.”
Troutman adds, “We had a grand time, hit 14 breweries.”
Padgett had homebrewed primarily with friends for 20 years but wanted to focus on operations and find a more advanced brewer. Troutman had been brewing for only nine years but was receiving rave reviews and even national awards.
“Everyone tells you, ‘Your beer is great, you should start a brewery,’” says Troutman. “But then people I didn’t even know were having my beer and saying, ‘Have you ever thought about starting a brewery?’ So I thought about it.”
As popular as craft beer has become, Troutman and Padgett recognized craft beer has flavors that are bold and new for many consumers. They needed to produce a beer that would be both high quality and approachable, so they performed extensive research. They bought a two-barrel system from a defunct brewery in St. Louis and set it up in Padgett’s garage; the setup is even visible on Google Street View.
“I made four or five IPAs, and we had a blind tasting panel. We even snuck in a double IPA and a Goose Island Brewing IPA. We invited investors and close friends,” Troutman says.
“We had people that don’t like beer, don’t like IPAs,” Padgett adds. “That was crucial.”
Still, they covered the spectrum, Troutman says. “And it was good to have the people that predominantly drink IPAs that said, ‘Well this one didn’t have enough dry hop, the hops weren’t sticking out on the nose,’ or, ‘It wasn’t bitter enough.’”
They also spoke to other brewers, including TJ Creighton at High Branch and Matt Glidden at Ass Clown Brewing Company in Cornelius, which is the region’s oldest brewery outside of Charlotte.
After navigating common brewery frustrations in time, money, and logistics with zoning, construction, hop contracts, and obtaining the imperative Federal Tax and Trade Bureau and local ABC licenses, Twenty-Six Acres is now open with more than a dozen diverse beers on tap.
Distribution is in the near future. “We’ve had a lot of requests from Concord and Charlotte,” says Troutman.
But for now, they are focusing on making their beer consistently on the 15-barrel system and on the taproom, Padgett says. “It was a high priority to make a comfortable place for people to come in. We wanted it to be kid friendly, dog friendly, family friendly, craft beer friendly. We truly want our neighbors coming.”
That shouldn’t be difficult. Twenty-Six Acres hosts multiple food trucks for Concord’s Food Truck Friday. There’s usually a food truck on site. Food is often the No. 1 inquiry of new patrons, and like many new breweries, they have embraced the mutually beneficial relationship.
They’re also looking to add event space and a rotating special release (a la NoDable Releases) on the “Tater Tap,” derived from Troutman’s nickname.
Other Concord breweries are in the pipeline. Red Hill Public House just opened as Concord’s fourth brewery after years of serving as a gathering spot, including for CABREW meetings. Momentum and success are only building. Nonetheless, Troutman is in awe.
“It is an extremely humbling feeling to sit here in this brewhouse, look out, and there be 300 people in here, and they’re drinking the beer that I brewed, and they’re liking it, and they’re paying for it.”
Twenty-Six Acres Brewing: 7285 West Winds Blvd NW, Concord.
Photo by Justin Driscoll