Last Saturday, Brad Shell grabbed a jackhammer and literally broke ground at 1327 S. Mint St., in the building that will soon house the Unknown Brewing Company, which he hopes to open in September.
It was a hot day, but Shell has seen hotter.
“I was stacking cases off a bottling line when I was 21 years old and it was 110 degrees inside the brewery, a case coming off every 2.5 seconds,” Shell recalled of his time at Atlanta’s SweetWater Brewing Company.
“But I loved every minute of it, and I vowed to myself that I would own my own brewery by the time I turned 30.”
Over the next 9 years, Shell worked for Terrapin Beer Co. in Georgia, Rogue Ales in Oregon and, most recently, at Fish Brewery in Washington State.
Last May, when he turned 30, he already had left Washington for Charlotte, the city in which he planned to fulfill his dream. He considers the city an emerging market for brewers and drinkers.
He soon fell in love with the 25,000-square-foot building on Mint Street that was previously home to the South End Fieldhouse. With 30-foot ceilings, two water mains and a propane line already installed, the building was well-suited for a brewery. But the real appeal was the location, just three blocks south of Bank of America Stadium.
There was one problem: The building was zoned “urban industrial,” and Charlotte breweries could only exist in “light industrial” or “general/heavy industrial” districts.
John Marrino, founder of the Olde Mecklenburg Brewery, also wanted to move to an urban industrial building. Breweries in planning, such as Free Range Brewing, Sycamore Brewing and Dukbone Brewing, were looking for homes, too.
Charlotte’s planning department helped spearhead a microbrewery text amendment that now allows breweries in additional districts.
“The city helped acknowledge that this was a great time for the breweries,” Shell said. “They put in many hours to find a real solution that helps our local breweries.”
Three of the taproom’s 12 taps will be devoted to his core beers, a hefeweizen, a pale ale and an IPA.
He also plans to have a lower-alcohol beer on tap during football season, such as a pilsner or a session ale. One-offs and seasonals will make up the remaining taps.
Shell will include guest taps from his fellow Charlotte breweries when the taproom opens.
Since he could not yet brew or sell beer, Shell purchased local beers for his groundbreaking event last week.
Before taking hold of the jackhammer, he asked that everyone pour their beers into a hole in the concrete.
“Now your beer is the foundation of what we do,” Shell said.
Daniel Hartis is the author of “Charlotte Beer: A History of Brewing in the Queen City,” and the editor of the website www.charlottebeer.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter, @charlottebeer.
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