Team: Charlotte Knights
Affiliate: Chicago White Sox (AAA)
Ballpark Basics: An outdated (and out of town) ballpark that is celebrating its final season.
Many times we have had to drive a short distance outside of a city to find a brewery to pair with ballpark. While many ballparks have migrated back downtown, many breweries have been forced to build just outside of downtown due to zoning laws. It was just the opposite with our trip to Charlotte. While the team takes the name Charlotte the team actually plays in Fort Mill, SC. (Yes, you read that correctly. The team does not even play in North Carolina, let alone Charlotte). Fort Mill is 18 miles south of Charlotte and according to the Knights website “just two miles across the NC/SC state line.” Not an ideal situation, but one that after more than two decades of play is quickly coming to an end. For next year the Charlotte Knights will pack their bags and move uptown to open BB&T Park in their namesake city.
Until then however, there remains Knights Stadium. Originally designed with the ability to expand to 40,000 seats to attract Major League Baseball to the Charlotte area, the Fort Mill location opened in 1990, but the design makes the park seem much older than a 23 year old stadium. In fact, many things about design of this ballpark scream eighties. From the expansive parking lot right off the interstate for easy access you walk up to minimalist structure of cinder block. Jutting out from the façade of the cinder block is a row of windows with blue panes. Once inside you enter the main concourse. While the ceiling is low giving it a cramped feel the concourse does open up to the lower grandstand and the field is visible while walking along. There are two grass berms down each foul line for additional seating. In the left field corner you will find The Party Deck, a multi-level deck with picnic tables that can be rented for corporate or family outings. There is a smaller deck down the right field line as well. Here is where you will also find the Children’s Play Zone with a merry-go-round, inflatable games and a climbing wall.
Heading up to our seats in the upper deck we climb a cramped stairwell to a much smaller concourse. This wouldn’t be a problem on a typical night but for larger crowds the cramped quarters are definitely noticeable. The suites are located here with a walkway to the upper deck seating between each suite. The seats up here actually give you a great view of the game and a decent breeze which we were thankful for on this humid evening. On the second level you can also find The Budweiser Brewhouse, right behind home plate. Here is a full service bar and restaurant with a great view of the action. The air conditioning also made this a popular place to be on our visit. Another interesting aspect of the upper level is the lack of restrooms. There is only one set up restrooms for this entire level. To help with overflow they added port-a-potties at the end of each side of the concourse (no we’re not kidding).
We were there for a 4th of July game and apparently the after-game fireworks show is one of the best in the entire Charlotte metro area. The game was a sellout and there were even people who paid the $5 just to get a parking spot to watch the after-game show. After leaving the game there were still people lined up along the roads leading into the parking lots as well.
One good thing about Knights Stadium is its choices for craft beer. Not only is there the OMB Beer Garden, a special section on the third base side dedicated to the local brewery but there are other options as well including Thomas Creek, Highland, New Belgium, Red Hook and Widmer Brothers.
The Knights have been trying to get out of Knights Stadium for quite some time and their wish is about to finally come through. The ballpark never really seemed to grab the attention of the local area. You can see how naming a team after a neighboring city in a different state can cause some animosity with both cities. It is also just long enough of a drive from Charlotte that you won’t get many of the casual fans. Hopefully with the new ballpark in uptown Charlotte, the Queen City can finally become a baseball town.
NoDa Brewing Company
Brew Basics: Follow the trail of locals to find this hidden gem.
As with many upstart breweries of our day, NoDa is nestled in an industrial section of Charlotte, known to locals as North Davidson, or NoDa. Poured concrete aside, NoDa has done a great job making their slab feel homey. You’re greeted by an outside porch, complete with umbrellas and a dog bed, cool one-legged benches that are attached to what used to be a loading ramp, a BBQ grill rarin’ to go, and music. Up the ramp and through the garage bay doors leads you to an open room with rectangle windows, a wooden roof, hanging fans and lights, and most likely – a bar full of people. Hipsters, bikers, frat brothers, couples and tourists alike all seem to find something to like at NoDa. There are beer books and local art for your perusing, and a chill atmosphere where the Southern friendliness (sometimes seen outside of the south as Southerners who just “to talk to anyone”) is on full display. They also have a lot going on outside of BBQs and bands, on display that day were flyers for their Brewers Ball, and a BYO Craft Night – a creative and unusual concept for a place that relies on beer sales to stay in business.
They had several on tap, and flights (samples) seemed to be the most popular item ordered, even with those who seemed to be regulars. This was absolutely fine with us, and we sampled several. Over all there was a lot of variety, with something that should please most any type of beer drinker. No matter which we chose, we found that each selection was full flavored and complex. On a more individual basis, here’s what we thought:
Ghost Hop White IPA (5.9 ABV / 70 IBU) - Hazy but bright yellow color with lightly visible carbonation. Aroma of fruit, like green grapes. The German yeast strains hit your tongue first imparting their banana like flavor and then the Ghost Hop finishes wheaty. This white IPA style is an interesting mix of a Belgian wit (sweet upfont) and IPA hop end and is more complex than your typical warm weather porch drinker.
10 Blocks South (5.5 ABV/ 56 IBU) – 10 Blocks South is an extra pale ale that is light brown in color with orange tinges. The nose contains a a bit of caramel malts, but doesn’t have a ton of aroma so at first you might not be sure what you’re getting into. And like the aroma, smooth and subtle at first it develops almost a nutty character and the hops become more pronounced by the end. Overall a consistent beer, despite this slight hop build.
Ramble on Red (5.2 ABV/28 IBU) – While this beer pours just a shade more coppery than the 10 Blocks, the aroma is much more pronounced, and very sugary. This is deceptive because the flavor is actually much more bitter than the aroma lets on that culminates with a dry, woody finish. All of the NoDa beers have been just lightly carbonated, but this is the tingliest so far.
Coco Loco Chocolate Porter (6.3 ABV/43 IBU) - Just read the name of this one again. Go ahead, I’ll wait. A chocolate brown beer that smells exactly as something like this should; of roasted coffee and chocolate malts. The palate starts lightly but builds to a robust malty finish.
Monks Trunks (5.6 ABV/20 IBU) – Listed as a Belgian style Pale Ale, this beer was definitely more Belgian than pale ale. Although it might not be quite as fruity as a straight Belgian, this one had plenty of banana and not a hint of bitterness. It was still quite full bodied and gave you just a hint of a hop bite at the end of your sip. It poured a hazy golden-brown and although hard to describe it tastes better than it sounds, and is worth trying.
Nodaryez’d (8.65 ABV/94 IBU) – A light bouquet whose color was orangey-brown and again just a bit hazy. Nodarye’z is a rye imperial IPA, and one we were prepared not to like. In the sip, the first taste that hits you is a strong sour rye that quickly becomes a complex hoppy taste. Highest carbonation of any of the NoDa beers we experienced, that was fully bodied and surprisingly good.
2229 North Davidson Street
Charlotte, North Carolina 28205