Restaurant News & Reviews

New head brewer has ‘fun’ and ‘experimental’ beers in store for NoDa’s Protagonist

Protagonist Beer Co.

Protagonist Beer Co., which will open Protagonist Clubhouse in NoDa this spring, has named Jeremy Claeys as its head brewer.

As one of the “first-generation employees” at Wicked Weed Brewing in Asheville, Claeys relished the opportunity to take on a range of roles across the brewery’s various facilities. And while he knew he was joining a fast-growing company when he came aboard in 2015, he didn’t anticipate the brewery selling to Anheuser-Busch InBev in 2017.

“I ended up working in a corporate environment inadvertently,” Claeys says. “It just kind of happened. It’s never someplace that I wanted to be, but stepping back into a smaller scene is really exciting for me, and I’m really happy to be here.”

Jeremy Claeys.jpg
Protagonist Beer Co.’s new head brewer Jeremy Claeys. Protagonist Beer Co.

In looking for a head brewer role, he met Ryan McKillen, Ryan Owens and Mike Salzarulo — the trio behind Protagonist Beer Co.

“Once I met the guys and we formed a relationship, we talked about some of the projects that we were planning on working on, and just getting to know personalities,” Claeys recalls. “That’s when I knew that I wanted to be a part of this team.”

The upstart brewery has plans to open a small space called Protagonist Clubhouse in Fat City Lofts (at the corner of North Davidson and East 35th streets) this spring before building a larger brewery in Optimist Park next year. Protagonist Clubhouse will feature a two-barrel nanobrewery, which will allow Claeys and the team to work through a variety of different styles. He did plenty of that at Wicked Weed, where he most recently served as the R&D brewer across all of that brewery’s facilities. In collaboration with other teams, he developed new brands and tweaked existing offerings.

So what will you find pouring from the 24 taps at Protagonist Clubhouse this spring? For that, you’ll need to stay tuned.

“We’re trying to develop exactly what we’re going to do out of that space, but we’re going to keep it fun, we’re going to keep it experimental,” Claeys says.

While Protagonist will brew a wide variety of styles, Claeys is partial to historical styles as well as lower-ABV beers that “people can have more than a couple of and feel okay about it.” The small brewhouse will allow the space to serve as an incubator of sorts, determining not only what they brew there but also what is produced at the larger facility next year. At the same time, Claeys is also looking at a lot of style-specific equipment — like lagering tanks — and planning to dial in certain beers.

“For me, I’m a big believer that for you to do something really well, you have to do it often,” he says. “We’re going to produce a wide range of styles, but we are going to hone into some.”

That’s just the start. Claeys plans to work with Chris Westgard, the brewery’s newly appointed beverage and education director, on a variety of educational events.

“We really want to work on education programs, getting people in, and getting them engaged,” Claeys says. “Explaining beer styles, but also letting them experience them themselves. We’re really interested in doing a lot of beer education out of that space.”

Claeys got his start in the industry at Grayton Beer Co. in Santa Rosa Beach, Fla., where he washed kegs and cleaned floors before working his way up to cellarman and brewer. After a couple years there, he left the brewery in search of formal training. He found it in the World Brewing Academy’s master brewer program, taking classes at the Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago and then brewing at Doemens Academy in Munich, Germany.

He’s experienced many different beer scenes, but maintains there’s something special here in Charlotte. Though he’s only been in town a couple months, he has come away impressed by the tight-knit community of both brewers and drinkers.

“There are a lot of good people here producing amazing beer,” Claeys says. “I’m just kind of excited to be a part of this culture. I’m really positive about what’s already here. I feel like it’s going to challenge me to a certain degree, because I’m already entering a great scene — but I’m excited to be a part of it.”

Event of the Week

Double Can Release at The Unknown Brewing Co.

The Unknown Brewing Co. will release two beers at noon this Saturday, Jan. 19. Dirty Commie Heathen is an annual release, but this is the first time the 10.5 percent Russian imperial stout—which is brewed with vanilla and sundried cherries and aged on bourbon-soaked oak staves—has been packaged in cans. The brewery will also release Trafalgar, an “English Brett Sour” that has aged for two years. Four-packs of 16-ounce cans will be $13.99 for both beers.