by Lee Noles
INDIAN TRAIL – On a typical Wednesday evening at Sweet Union Brewing, guests are either gathered at the bar or sitting in one of the many wooden tables and chairs sprawled across the sitting area.
Casually, a group of people come walking in with yoga mats and loose fitting workout clothes. They quickly go to the left side of the brewery, directly near the bar, and begin going through a variety of yoga poses and stretches.
Now, yoga and beer are two things you normally don’t see go together. But at Sweet Union, it’s those types of unique combinations that head brewer and general manager Travis Caudle was hoping to establish when he opened the brewery with his father, Tom, a little more than nine months ago.
“We are always looking for catchy and creative new ways to bring people in,” Caudle said. “ … And yoga is just one of them.”
The outside-the-box thinking pretty much parallels Caudle’s journey from getting into the brewery business to picking and decorating the building to even naming the beers that he has to offer.
Intending to be a history professor, Caudle graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2009 before finishing graduate school at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. The economy was still recovering from the recession when Caudle, who was born and raised in Union County, realized people were not looking to hire college professors.
It was then he went back to a family trait. Caudle’s father had been making homemade wine for years, and Caudle himself had gotten into brewing his own beer when he was in his early twenties. He first started by selling supplies to home brewers for almost five years before finally making the decision to open Sweet Union.
“It certainly was a leap of faith,” Caudle said. “You have to have faith every day and hope this is what people are looking for.”
When Caudle started looking for a place to become Sweet Union, he originally went the route that a lot of people go when opening a brewery. Caudle was trying to find the perfect older building with character that would be found in the middle of a city or town. After some careful consideration he once again went against the norm and chose to open his brewery in what used to be a Blockbuster in a strip mall that sits directly behind a Biscuitville and a Cookout off U.S. 74.
“It was the space,” Caudle said. “We have large ceilings. … But it’s also where the people are. There’s a lot of people on this side of 74, and there is a lot of people on the other side of 74. It’s different, but it works.”
The decorum also doesn’t fit into any style. On the left side of the building sits two dartboards that are right beside shelves where boards games are placed for people to play. The 25-year old radio, which Caudle bought at a Goodwill store, is right behind the bar he built from locally harvested cedar that he also stained. On the right side of the brewery is a collection of stringed lights that hang over a series of tables, which are directly in front of couches, a perfect place for sitting and being with friends. To the left of the entrance is an old-style bicycle, which Caudle said didn’t really have an interesting story except he just wanted to hang it on the walls of the brewery.
“We are still learning our identity and creating it,” Caudle said. “It’s eclectic … It’s psychedelic meets light and industrial farming. I don’t know how to describe it. We are what we are.”
The beers themselves are as diversified as the decorative brewery. Astro Pterodactyl is an IPA which Caudle said he got the inspiration for from a song. Sharp Tooth comes from the main antagonist in the children’s movie “A Land Before Time.” Blondina was named after a great aunt of Caudle’s.
Even though there have been some beers that have become favorites, Caudle said he constantly changes up the selection by using the five barrels which he has in the back of the brewery. The system can be hooked together so that it can make either 200 gallons of the same beer, or make 100 gallons each of different types of beer.
“You got to keep it fresh,” said Caudle of changing the choices for the customers. “There is no limit to style or style of variation. … My point view is if beer can be flexible, then why force it into one beer and sell just one beer.”
Expansion into more of a big business is something that Caudle doesn’t appear to be interested in when it comes to his brewery. What does get his attention is trying to turn Sweet Union into more of an event space, which will include a restaurant with a music area for entertainment as well as an outdoor and indoor space for recreational purposes.
“It’s just the next logical step,” Caudle said.
What has meant a lot to Caudle is the location of the brewery. Having been a resident of Union County for nearly his entire life, Caudle takes great pride in knowing he opened a brewery in the same place he grew up. He even chose the name of the brewery from a nickname which was given to the county. It’s also the place where he wants to see Sweet Union to continue to grow.
“I grew up in a home where everyone in there grew up here,” Caudle said. “And if we are going to be here, then we are going to represent here.”