Traveling around to research an upcoming book on Southern craft distilling, I came across a few – but very few – brewery/distillery combinations, places like Mother Earth in Kinston and Corsair’s “brewstillery” in Nashville. Now Charlotte is on track to get one of its own.
Unknown Brewing Co., which just started a major renovation, announced plans today to add a micro-distillery to the brewery, calling it The Wood & Grain Project.
Owner Brad Shell says the plan is to keep it very small, with only a case or two of each style.
“We want to put our creative minds into the distilling side as much as we do in the beer. The concept is easy. Wood + Grain. We will be using some of the best grains in batches of rums, gins, and bourbons – with a twist. The twist is our plan to use rare barrels and aromatic woods to age our spirits. We will mostly be distilling small batches, one-offs, and collaborations.”
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Shell says it made sense to him: He used to be a general manager for Rogue, which became both a distillery and brewery early on. But while the processes of brewing and distilling are very similar, the rules are another story. In North Carolina, you have to completely separate lines and equipment and have them in separate rooms. Shell spent almost 18 months lining up the permits to do it.
“Physically, it’s easy,” he says. “Legally, it’s not.”
He plans to start as soon as the renovations are finished early in 2018, and then he’ll start making liquors and putting them in different barrels and exposing them to different woods.
“It’s the Wood & Grain Project,” he says. “Everything needs to touch wood.”
Barrel-rested gin should be available in three to six months. Rums will follow, including some he wants to age in Spanish port and stout barrels. Expect to wait at least three years for bourbons.
“I’m a staunch believer in aging bourbon,” he says. “I’m a pretty big bourbon head, so I think even three years is a little young.”
Unknown, which has always been innovative in brewing, moved toward branching out last year with a nonalcoholic ginger ale for cocktails (I had it recently in one of DiSean Burn’s concoctions at Soul Food Sessions), and it’s planning to release a tonic next year.
The renovations are expected to be completed in 2018, adding a rooftop bar and a private events space, a wrap-around bar and roll-up windows to the outdoor space.
Unknown, the closest brewery to Bank of American Stadium at 1327 S. Mint St., opened in 2013.