It all started with a copy of The Wall Street Journal and a love of good beer. Before founding Charlotte’s Olde Mecklenburg Brewery in 2007, owner John Marrino worked 16 years for a water treatment equipment manufacturer based in Germany, where he lived for four years. Marrino moved to Charlotte in 2002 when the company built a new factory in the city, but he eventually decided to leave in search of another profession.
Marrino found his new passion while on a cross-country RV trip with his family. One day he was reading an article about a man rebuilding a beer brand in Massachusetts. Soon after, he started thinking about how Charlotte didn’t have a true brewery, and also remembered the great German-style beer he enjoyed while living overseas. When he returned to the Queen City, he began putting the pieces in place, and OMB officially opened its doors to the public in 2009. Today you can find beers from the city’s largest brewery in almost every Charlotte restaurant and bar, along with most grocery stores.
“It’s been exciting to see,” Marrino says. “When you have an idea, there’s just so much uncertainty with it. You really don’t know how it’s going to turn out down the road, but this has been satisfying to see and seems to be having a good effect on the city. It has led to more interest and more acceptance by the local community for craft beer.”
The pioneer of Charlotte’s recent craft explosion brews two year-round beers and six seasonals (Mecktoberfest, a fall seasonal, won a silver medal at the 2012 Great American Beer Festival). The most popular is Copper, an altbier (or German-style brown ale) that goes down smooth and crisp, while Captain Jack Pilsner, a name which nods to a prominent figure in Charlotte’s Revolutionary War history, is another local favorite.
And while the beer is tasty, OMB also offers a relaxing atmosphere in its Brauhaus restaurant and taproom. Free brewery tours, complete with a full menu in case you get hungry, are held on weekends, and when the weather is warm, which is a lot of the time in Charlotte, visitors enjoy sitting outside in the biergarten.
Expansion plans in sight, the brewery purchased a 25,000-square-foot warehouse close to its current location on Southside Drive, and with expected relocation in early 2014, Marrino says the new space will allow OMB to brew nearly five times more than its current output and increase its year-round beers from two to four or five.
From a simple idea to now a booming business, Marrino says the journey and experience have been gratifying. “We proved that a small local brewery can accomplish two things: deliver good beer to restaurants and stores and do so on a weekly basis,” Marrino says. “And I always say, there are some people who never may have had a good beer in their life, but once they do, they’ll know it. And we make beers everyone can enjoy.”