How Legion built a new beer empire in Charlotte

How Legion built a new beer empire in Charlotte
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Legion Brewing is owning the brewery-opening news lately.

They launched Trolley Barn Fermentory in South End to rave reviews in July, and they’re bringing the massive Legion Morehead to West Morehead Street in early October.

Why it matters: Legion started simply as the first brewery in Plaza Midwood, opening eight days before Christmas 2015 in an old sheet music store on Commonwealth Avenue with a couple dozen employees.

  • Now owner Phil Buchy and his team of about 300 are a thriving powerhouse that stands out in Charlotte’s crowded beer scene, with three locations and the fourth set to open in early October.
trolley barn atherton owner

This is Phil, proudly standing in his latest venture, Trolley Barn.

What’s happening: The Morehead location enters the scene only a couple of months after the Trolley Barn, and that came just three years after the SouthPark location opened in 2018, which was three years after the first one.

  • Some locations happen because an opportunity presented itself, Buchy says. “Honestly South Park was one of those, and Trolley Barn was one of those,” he says.
  • But Legion Morehead is an intentional project. At 22K square feet, it will be its largest location to date, and it will accommodate an additional 100k barrels needed to keep up with demand.

By the numbers: Across the current Legion locations, Buchy says he has an annual barrel capacity of 6,500 — that’s 1.6M pints of beer.

  • And about 80% of that production volume is allocated to their flagship beer, Juicy Jay.

[Related Axios story: Canned beers like Juicy Jay are keeping Charlotte’s beer scene afloat]

juicy jay cans

Legion’s Juicy Jay dominates shelf space at local grocery stores. Photo: Emma Way/Axios

    Buchy believes the production ratio is a result of not having the adequate brewing capacity for other beers — a problem Legion Morehead will solve.

    • Buchy says he and his team haven’t had the opportunity yet to brew enough of their other flavors, such as Penguin Pills, Supernova, or Next Chapter, to have them be a part of their portfolio.
    • “We’re just trying to feed our 800-pound gorilla that is Juicy Jay,” he says.

    Buchy, a former football player at the Air Force Academy, talks about success like a quarterback talks about winning a game: He gives all credit to his team, telling me, “they’re essentially family.”

    Zoom out: But there’s more to it than that, of course. Each location has been carefully designed with detail and special touches. Plaza Midwood, for instance, has railroad spikes for door handles (the train runs less than a mile away), and reclaimed wood from the old sheet music store.

    • The SouthPark spot added a full menu in a big and open space where lots of people can gather around lots of taps — not unlike former well-known SouthPark beer-drinking spots like TacoMac
    • The Trolley Barn is in an old warehouse that once served as the site where an old trolley was renovated.
    • And they’re billing West Morehead not just as a production facility but as the perfect pre-game spot for the Panthers.

    Fun facts: Buchy earned civil engineering degree from Virginia Tech and worked for years a project manager for Rogers Builders here in Charlotte, according to this 2015 Charlotte mag profile from Zack Albert.

    • You know the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art? Or UNC Charlotte’s football stadium? Phil managed the construction of those before opening the first Legion.

    The bottom line: While on the surface, it may look like Legion is expanding at a rapid pace, Buchy brings that measured approach of a project manager to each one, and says it comes down to the right opportunity at the right time.

    So will he open more than four?

    “If we do have more locations in the future, it will be because it’s just right and we think we can bring worth to wherever we go.”

    Legion Brewing Morehead

    Progress of the Biergarten at Legion Brewing Morehead.

    Thirsty for more beer? Here’s our complete list and map of Charlotte’s 30+ local breweries, plus the most popular beer at each.

    • And here are the 10 breweries that are still to come this year.

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    "It's good. I promise." - Emma   Emma Way