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'Early Bird Ale' Fights Charlotte's Cankerworm Menace

Right now Charlotte is in the midst of worm warfare. With an enemy rappelling down from trees and leaves on thin silk strands of doom. "Cankerworms really are nature’s shock troops," says Charlotte City Arborist Tim Porter,"They really attack the trees in the spring. They eat everything. They’re climbing all over people."

Which, let's face it, is gross. And Porter says, "They poop on people." Which is even grosser. Even the worm’s name is pretty yucky.

Credit Duncan McFadyen / WFAE
Cankerworms descend on Charlotte

For years, nay decades, Charlotte has tried to rid itself of these creepy crawly monsters. Even dressing trees in black bands in hopes of ending the annual onslaught. Which made the trees look like they were mourning that patch of crabgrass you finally killed off in your yard.

But Porter says something more needed to be done.

And that is happening here, in a sprawling complex on North Davidson street.

"Welcome to Birdsong!" Chris Goulet beams as he ushers me into a little-known room on the side of the building. Goulet is managing partner of the brewery. For Birdsong, helping eradicate the cankerworm menace just made sense. "It’s a bird brewery," he says dryly. As for worms "they’re just our prey."

And a key ingredient in their new 'Early Bird Ale.' Goulet loves to source locally. And luckily, there are plenty of Charlotteans more than willing to help gather up the little worms. "You could call them foragers I guess but really we like to think of them as artisanal harvesters."

You might have seen them around uptown carrying their hand-woven baskets.

They bring the worms to the brewery, and that’s when the humane magic happens. "You don’t really want to boil a worm," explains Goulet, "They don’t like that. So we actually add them in the fermenter once the beer is just about to finish." Where they add flavor and get rid of a sometimes pesky ingredient. "They consume all the gluten so it’s gluten free and worm friendly."

Credit Tom Bullock / WFAE
The custom keg of the Brew Masons filled with Early Bird Ale. Each secretive member's order is identifiable only by color.

Worm friendly because no worms are harmed in this process. But Goulet says they do emerge from the tank a little drunk. "We let them sober up over a couple of days and then carefully wrap them up in biodegradable silk," and ship them off to a worm petting zoo in Kissimmee Florida.

As for the taste? Goulet says that varies depending on what the cankerworm was munching on before it was caught. "You get a little bit of oak. A little bit of dogwood in there, some Bradford Pear mixed in there, it’s pretty cool."

But to get that taste you’ll have to act fast.

Almost all of Birdsong’s 'Early Bird Ale' has already been snatched up by Charlotte’s secretive cicerone society the Brew Masons. "I don’t know if we really want to talk to those guys."

Early Bird Ale goes on sale today, April Fool’s Day.