Caps ’n’ Taps
A different kind of brewing company serves up a sip of the past alongside current faves
By Billy Eye
“Everybody’s got to believe in something. I believe I’ll have another beer.” — W.C. Fields
I had the pleasure one afternoon of meeting with Jan Oden at the site of one of the most exciting resurrections of architectural relics since the Revolution Mill project.
Jan and her husband, Bill, are forging a brewery, beer garden and entertainment complex at the southern edge of the College Hill neighborhood, crafted out of a handsome two-story brick manufacturing plant flanked on both sides by four Craftsman-style bungalows built around the turn of the last century. The imposing rustic building at the center of this facility, most recently a metal finishing business, was erected in 1940 for the Good Luck Bottling Company.
Greensboro is known for many things. Dolley Madison’s stitches, Wrangler britches, Vaporub for itches, the South’s sassiest (that next word didn’t get past my editor). It may surprise you to know our fair city was also a soda pop fountainhead for the Southeast.
North Carolina’s very first Coca-Cola bottler began filling 5-cent bottles on South Elm in 1902. Soon after, Pepsi-Cola was brewing on nearby Lewis Street. By the 1940s, Nehi was bubbling up on Battleground, 7up over on Walker, Orange Crush on Westover Terrace, Canada Dry Ginger Ale on West Market, and Dr Pepper (“Drink a Bite to Eat at 10, 2, and 4 o’clock”) on Lee Street. At one time or another, we’ve been home to Chero-Cola, Lime-Cola, Gin-Gera (“It Gingers You Up”), Pal Ade, Nesbitt’s Orange, Mint Cola, Big Frosty, Necto, and Tru-Ade. Greensboro was selected for the world’s most modern Pepsi bottling plant in 1957 where no less a superstar than motion picture dominatrix Joan Crawford herself stilettoed into position on Spring Garden near Holden to cut the ribbon, flanked on either side by WWII ack-ack guns and the combined Army, Navy and Marine Corps Color Guards.
Lesser known but just as effervescent was Greensboro’s own Good Luck Bottling from the mid-1930s into the 1950s. Founded by William Lafayette Oden, more informally known as “Fate” (if you saw his portrait you might imagine why), Good Luck began operations on Davie Street with 3 Centa cola. With every other bottle of pop selling for a nickel, 3 Centa had a 40 percent price advantage. In 1940, Oden expanded his operations to include a spicy ginger ale originating out of Birmingham. It wasn’t happenstance that he chose to build his larger plant on Lee Street (now Gate City Boulevard) near Tate. “He did some research,” Jan says of her great-grandfather. “And found this spot had the best water possible, so he had a deep well dug.” The water was so pure, Oden was bottling spring water here with the slogan, “Feel better, live longer.”
Around the same time, that spicy ’Bama ginger ale was renamed Buffalo Rock. Was it because of our own Buffalo Creek? “That’s one of the things I’m trying to figure out,” Jan tells me. “Exactly what my great-grandfather’s involvement was.”
Jan is so dedicated to this exciting endeavor she relocated her family here from Wilmington in the fall of 2017. As we tour one of the charming houses serving as her makeshift office, filled with shabby chic antiquities, she tells me of her commitment to preserving these historic properties: “We want to keep everything close to the way they are built. The Avett Brothers’ ‘Salvation Song,’ that’s our theme song.”
For years serving as college student rentals, these four homes will be integrated into the overall complex, each remarkably intact, cozy and true to its roots. “We could have a restaurant in here with seating inside,” Jan remarks about her office. “While food could be served out of the back window to the beer garden.” When I visited, one of the homes had just been moved to the side, opening up the rear of the property for parking and an expansive open-air patio with a stage for local bands.
As someone residing in the area, known to tip a glass or 10, I for one can’t wait to see — and taste — the results when this ambitious undertaking is completed in late summer. The brewmaster for what will be christened Oden Brewing Company, Brian Carter, late of Natty Greene’s, will have 15 taps flowing. “There are a lot of places taking ‘creative’ way beyond where I think it needs to be,” he says. “We’ll have a good variety, so that there is something for the beer nerds who want that new crazy thing, but if somebody just wants a damn beer, they’ll have something to drink too. The whole first year will be figuring out what people are clamoring for.”
There’ll be more than brewskis on draft. The plan is to make kombucha in-house and, Brian promises, “Once we figure out how to carbonate the water, some craft sodas,” A spicy ginger ale, natch, along with other flavors. “Just like the beer rotation,” he says. “When that batch runs out, we’ll replace it with something else.”
This area was undisturbed for so long it remains encircled by towering oaks and leafy shrubs, an idyllic environment for a friendly neighborhood brewpub filling the gap between coffeehouses and corner bars. “There’s nothing else like it here,” Jan points out. “People want that walking distance spot, a place where the family can eat and hang out and bring the kids.”
Billy Eye is O.G. — Original Greensboro.