The Unknown Brewing Co.
In 2011, when owner and head brewer Brad Shell first started scouting Charlotte, N.C. as a location to open The Unknown Brewing Co., the Queen City had four breweries (this was up from one brewery in 2009). Today, Charlotte boasts over a dozen breweries in the metro area, with new brewery openings announced monthly. While it may be easy to get lost in such an expanding environment, there’s nothing “unknown” about Unknown.
Unknown entered the Charlotte market with a rather bold declaration that they aimed to deliver world-class beers from the very start. As their website states, “Our job is to stand out. We are the open road with no destination. We are your first kiss or your last time jumping out of an airplane, or whatever your wildest adventure is. We are The Unknown.”
While those are audacious statements to make, Brad did have the resume to back them up. Prior to opening Unknown, he spent ten years brewing for flagship craft breweries like Terrapin Beer Co., Sweetwater Brewery and Rogue Ales. Yet, he still chose to branch out from such regional and national powerhouses to start his own brewery.
According to Brad, “Working for breweries for me was like drafting a very fast car. It will teach you the best lines and help avoid some of the really bad crashes in the race. But at some point, you have to run your own race. I couldn’t wait to pull out into some clean air and see what the hell was under my hood, figuratively speaking.”
Charlotte was the ideal choice for him because of its central location for distribution. He also said that, “It has a great vibe with people moving here from around the country who have an insatiable appetite for great beer. I’m proud to be one of the many breweries that is putting Charlotte on the map.”
The Beers of the Unknown
Under the shadow of Bank of America Stadium, home to the Carolina Panthers, Unknown pleases customers with three year-round standards, which includes Pre-Game Session Ale to help fire up fans on game day.
Unknown lives up to its claims of pushing the limits of beer with more experimental offerings like Hospitali-Tea brewed with black tea leaves and sweet orange blossom honey and Escorpion en Fuego brewed with agave nectar, serrano peppers, and 99 real scorpions and aged with tequila oak staves.
Besides pleasing game day crowds and brewing rather interesting beers, there are also sour and barrel aging projects in the works as Unknown continues to push boundaries.
Unknown has also helped entertain the craft beer community and Charlotte’s Gold District with unique events. To announce the release of Vehopciraptor double IPA, the brewery staged a flash mob at a local food truck rally to march around as dinosaurs. Unknown has also hosted a pantless run where participants droped their drawers on Charlotte’s light rail and paraded back to the brewery in their skivvies with a funk band. The fun continued with a pantless drinking party at the brewery.
Why the crazy antics and wild beers? “I want people to understand the point of The Unknown is to try different things, to live their lives to the fullest and to experience all that it has to offer. Live without boundaries!!!” Brad says.
Patrons don’t need to walk around pantless or act like a dinosaur to enjoy The Unknown. Most nights customers can be found drinking beer on the patio or playing games in the throwback arcade while sipping an Unknown brew paired with a snack or dinner from a food truck.
Bryan Richards is a craft beer, food and travel writer. He’s followed his taste buds across five continents, 20 countries, and 71 cities. When he’s not traversing the globe, he enjoys the craft beer scene in his hometown of Charlotte, N.C., and experimenting in the kitchen with his wife. He’s also the author of The Wandering Gourmand, a culinary and craft beer travel blog.