Friday, February 20, 2015

A letter to Unknown Brewing

Posted By on Fri, Feb 20, 2015 at 2:46 PM

Dear Unknown,
Sorry for the delay in responding to your last letter, the one you sent the entire Charlotte craft beer community earlier this month. Usually I’m a bit quicker with my words, but yours made me pause. It’s clear you spent a great deal of time, energy and heart crafting your message, and I wanted to ensure my response wasn’t flippant.

First off, let me thank you for that letter. I’ve been going to your brewery since you first opened your taproom doors in November 2013 with much fanfare and celebration, and, honestly, I feel the letter was addressed to me specifically. In fewer than 500 words, you systematically addressed every previous reservation I had about your operations and your beers.

On Saturday the 21st, you’re turning 1 year old, celebrating when you started brewing on your own system instead of contracting out production. True to form, you’re celebrating with a massive party that I look forward to attending. Your redesigned taproom is destined to be slammed full of people ogling that chrome hop chandelier, as they should. You’ve come a long way from where most people first met you at your city-wide launch party events.

I was at one of those events myself. You'll have to excuse my frankness: That first pint I had of No Shame Wheat was shamefully yeast-slurried, and the Head First Pale Ale wasn’t fully realized. But here’s the thing: You’re far from the first brewery to stumble out of the gate. Every brewery’s first few batches take time to dial in on a new system, especially if you’re scaling everything up from homebrew recipes. Moving forward, I hope more new breweries budget to brew a few batches on their new system, learn the ropes a bit behind closed doors, and dump those experiments until they are confident the beers they release are a representation of the brewery itself.

Y’all did find your feet, though. That first batch of Silverback Stout was decently on-point. Your first bottle release of Vehopciraptor had one of the coolest designs I’ve ever seen on it, and the beer was no slouch itself. Your core beers improved as well.

But then, there was “La Jordana del Escorpion en Fuego Hacia la Casa del Chupacabra Muerto,” or, as most folks called it, “the scorpion beer,” due to the 99 food-grade scorpions inside.

Honestly, I was amazed at how much I enjoyed it. Not only was it the best beer I’d had from you up until that point, but it was one of the rare well-done imperial Mexican lagers out there. Bumping up the ABV with agave nectar was an inspired call, the Serrano pepper level was spot-on, and the tequila stave presence fired on all cylinders once the beer warmed up a touch. It’s those damn scorpions that threatened to derail an otherwise great beer.

I’ve read elsewhere your responses to the “why scorpions” question. “Throw away your preconceived notions, because this beer is like no other.” Let’s face it: they didn’t add anything to the beer flavor-wise, aside from a slightly gimmicky aftertaste on the tongue and a “shellfish allergy” warning label on many beer menus. I tried to get strangers to give it a shot one night (as I was enjoying it myself on draft), but they just couldn’t get past that warning and refused to even give it a chance. While the scorpions were food-grade, their mere inclusion poisoned folks against considering it.

That’s not to say you can’t have any fun, though. After all, fun is what separates beer drinkers from wine snobs. There’s nothing wrong with pushing boundaries either; the Sriracha-infused Fire Down Below had nice heat, Krash the Kremlin epitomized the massive imperial stout, and tossing your TelePorter into bourbon barrels came out great.

You’re making much better beer these days than you did when you opened. You really are. Just remember that sometimes it’s OK to just let the beer speak for itself. Expectations are a funny thing, and you can raise them up too high if you’re not careful.

Yes, my first impression of your beer at the Launch Party last year was that it was “less than world class,” but I haven’t stopped giving you another try. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by you since then; hopefully other beer drinkers you may have lost in your initial stumbles will find their way back to you soon.

Cheers, and I look forward to personally wishing you a Happy Birthday tomorrow.
Jonathan Wells

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