“Crap. I’m getting ready to graduate with a degree in physiology,” said NoDa Brewing Company’s Brewmaster Chad Henderson, just before finishing his exercise physiology degree at Appalachian State University. He’d become infatuated with homebrewing toward the end of his college career and couldn’t think about doing much else. He didn’t have the resources to go to brewing school, though, so he worked in medical equipment sales by day and homebrewed religiously by night.
When he finally did pursue professional brewing, it turned out that his physiology degree worked well for the craft brewer—especially one who expanded from a 15-barrel brewhouse to a 60-barrel brewhouse, and from one location to two, in five short years.
“My science background has helped me understand processes that I practice every day at NoDa,” Henderson says. “Physiology is based on how a bunch of small parts work together. That has helped me actualize the anatomy of the brewhouse.”
Henderson was the opening brewer at NoDa when it opened in 2011 on North Davidson Street (the inspiration for the brewery’s name) in Charlotte, North Carolina. He still remembers when his homebrewing buddies Todd and Suzie Ford asked if he wanted to go into business together. “I screamed ‘yes’ really loudly in a restaurant,” Henderson says. “There was some profanity involved.”
Many of the beers from Henderson’s homebrewing days became flagship recipes at NoDa, including the World Beer Cup−winning Hop, Drop ‘n Roll. It’s a bold IPA that’s hopped before, during, and after the boil with late boil additions of Citra and Amarillo. Another once-garage recipe is NoDa’s Gordeous Pumpkin Ale that’s brewed with fresh pumpkin, brown sugar, allspice, cardamom, cloves, and shaved ginger root. “In our homebrew days, we mashed that beer using a pumpkin as a mash tun,” says Henderson, “but obviously, I can’t find a 12,000-pound pumpkin to do it again.”
Both the North David location and the new North Tyron location brew a huge variety of beers. “A full rainbow of everything,” Henderson says. “We have something that every person will freak out about.”
Despite massive growth, Henderson and crew stay true to their homebrew roots. “All our recipes stem from our old homebrew concepts,” he says. “We are still here to get excited about the beer.”
That excitement comes in many forms, including a weekly specialty brew for the NoDable Series, for which Chad gets on video to explain each new beer to the brewery’s loyal YouTube followers. The NoDable Series selections have ranged from Premium Roast Coffee Stout and Oktoberfest to fruited beers such as Strawberry Blonde and Kinda Peachy (a Berliner weisse), to Piña Rojo, a Belgian Red Ale fermented on pineapples.
“You never know what to expect,” Henderson says. “All the NoDable beers are just as equally inspired. They stem from homebrew concepts; in fact, we used to do them on a rigged-up homebrew system. The NoDable Series has evolved, and now a lot of them are done on a 15-barrel system so the market beyond our taproom can taste them.”
NoDa is also excited about its new “New England–style IPA,” Good Will Hoppings. “It’s a super-hoppy, super-fun, clean IPA with no haze. It has an indescribable juicy sensation and a raw citrus characteristic that’s like orange juice, but not quite as sharp as you’d get from a West Coast IPA.”
Good Will Hoppings raises conversations about East vs. West Coast IPAs and everything in between. “This beer is more bitter than a typical New England–style, with a 60-minute bittering addition to solidify something on the back end. It goes against West Coast standards of dropped- out and clean yeast, low mash, gypsum, etc.”
This variety of IPA often gets a bad rap for being hazy, and in Henderson’s opinion, rightly so. “New England-style IPA has its own validity that contributes to haze, but haze is not the goal. I don’t expect it to look like a cloud,” he says. “Good Will Hoppings has no filtering and no centrifuge or biofining whatsoever; we follow high adjunct additions and high calcium chloride additions, we boil warmer, we dry hop during fermentation and post clean up.”
Henderson appreciates the process of making Good Will Hoppings unfiltered but not hazy. “I’m big on balanced beers,” he says. “I’m really proud when I make a bitter beer that is still approachable, or when I make a light beer with a lot of body, or a high-gravity beer that doesn’t taste like 10 percent ABV.”
The next process NoDa will take on is barrel-souring. “We’ve done some experiments with barrels in the past, and also some kettle sours, but never before have we had the capacity to mature sour beer. The newer 32,000-square-foot production facility on Tyron Street with a 60-barrel brewhouse frees up the capacity in the original NoDa space for making sours,” Henderson says.
For Henderson, what’s most exciting about the beer industry is its constant change. “The industry always seems to evolve‚” he says, whether it’s new styles such as New England–style IPA emerging or new trends such as barrel-aged sour beer. He’s always working to become more consistent or efficient on the brew stand, and he appreciates that craft breweries such as NoDa are constantly striving for improvement. “There’s never a ‘normal’ day around here.”
Advice for Homebrewers
If you’re homebrewing and want to improve the quality of your beer, Henderson advises, you should start with your fermentation practices. “Nail down your fermentation process,” he says. Make starters for yeast and use oxygen in the wort to ensure stronger fermentation, he suggests. “Also, I recommend doing things such as simple VDK testing (basically heat sampling) to help eliminate diacetyl and such.”
PHOTOS: COURTESY NODA BREWING