South End Brewery Embraces the Unexpected and Unknown

September 17, 2017 9:05 am

Big ideas often come at strange times. In the case of Brad Shell, owner of popular South End spot Unknown Brewing, a Waffle House at three in the morning was the setting for his idea to start his own brewery. Shell wanted to go on some sort of adventure but everyone he was with had an extensive list of reasons why they couldn’t join.

“It was at that point he was kind of like ‘Screw rules, why don’t we just go out and venture into the unknown?’ ” Unknown Brewing’s Marketing Directory Scotty Kent says.

Shell was no newbie to brewing, having worked at Terrapin Beer Co., Sweetwater Brewery and Rogue Ales before that fateful night at Waffle House. After seeing a handful of breweries pop up in Charlotte, Shell saw South End as a prime spot to open a brewery due to its proximity to the Panthers stadium and Uptown.

Since opening in 2013, Unknown Brewing has been known for its out-there creations – brewing beer with everything from cream cheese to cotton candy – and its one-of-a-kind party themes, recently hosting a Myrtle Beach-themed festivity.

Following the brewery’s mantra “If you’re not living Over the Edge you’re taking up too much space”, the team at Unknown does its best to encourage Charlotteans to take up a venturing lifestyle, hosting regular events including yoga classes, bootcamps and a massive weekly bike ride along with themed parties and half birthday celebrations.

“We’ve done three hip hop shows since I’ve been here and worked with local acts and local artists,” Kent says. “It’s an excuse to get out and do stuff and get active.”

The sense of adventure not only applies to the events at Unknown but to the brewing itself.

“We certainly strive to make off-the-wall products,” says Chris Wertman, who has been the head brewer at Unknown since March. “We’ve also got a pretty extensive sour program.”

With each new batch of beer, Wertman and his team come up with a recipe using their own ideas or suggestions from staff and pilot it in a smaller system. If it passes the test from Shell, Wertman and other team members, it gets moved up to larger batches. Some beers are year-round taps like IPA Over the Edge or Pre-Game Session Ale, other brews include seasonal beers and batches of what Unknown calls “now or nevers.” Once the batch is out, it’s not coming back.

Since working at Unknown, Wertman has put his degree in Fermentation Science to the test, creating beers with unexpected ingredients including rising to the challenge of creating ten bacon beers for Unknown’s Bacon Beer Bash.

“That was not an easy thing to do,” Wertman says.

Unknown is also involved in the brewing community, collaborating with smaller breweries on special batches and working with the Charlotte breweries to give back to the community through its Brewer’s Charity Championships, a contest to see which Charlotte brewery could raise the most money for charity.

“The breweries in this city do a phenomenal job of giving back and being a part of the community so we just wanted to shed a little light on it,” Kent says.

Through giving back to the community, hosting workout classes and themed parties and being a go-to spot on Panther game days, Unknown is continuing to create opportunities to bring people together in South End.

“We want to be a location and a spot that anybody in Charlotte feels welcome,” Kent says. “If there’s anything that can bring people together, beer should be one of them.”

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