By Bobby Bush
Pat Johnston was there when it all started. As Regional Brewing Manager for the successful and growing Southend Brewery & Smokehouse group, he not only helped put the original Charlotte brewpub on the map, but also has been instrumental in defining the brewing strategy of this well-established company.
The first Southend opened in the revitalized, historic South End district of Charlotte back in 1995. Located in a refurbished mill building, this classy brewpub is always busy, serving a full array of smoked meat and pizza from their wood-fired oven. Southend's shiny brewery, which separates bar from dining areas with high glass wall, is proudly on display. And if that visual message isn't enough reminder that this is indeed a serious brewery, there are no macrobrews available, at all.
Charlotte is where Johnston's beer philosophy originated. Over the years his system has been tweak to include all Southend locations. Four beers comprise the Southend core- Carolina Blonde, Carolina Light Blonde, Ironman Wheat and O'Ryan's Oatmeal Stout. Seasonal brews, which include Pale Ale, Red, Brown, Bock and others, are given localized names. These rotating beers also allow each facility's brewer creative latitude on seasonal recipes. Charlotte's brewers are Greg Kolander and Paul Schwierk.
The Charlotte program worked so well, that in May '96 the Southend venture found another spot, turning an old building in downtown Charleston, SC into a similar but different brewpub. This one's complete with third floor cigar lounge attainable by glass-walled elevator. Fine foods, with a low country flair, and the Southend stable of beers, brewed by Frank Hughes and Dave Merritt, make the coastal city of Charleston a much more hospitable place in those sticky hot summer evenings.
And now there's more Southend news. A third brewpub opened last November in Raleigh, NC. Brewer Bob High and his able assistant John Clark invited us in for a tour. As with the other facilities, the two brewers work behind glass walls to an audience of hungry, thirsty patrons. From five fermenters, six serving tanks and three secondary tanks, their 10 barrel system makes some mighty fine brews. Exemplifying the flexibility of the Southend program, Raleigh's seasonal single-decoction Spring Bock was surprisingly well hopped for a German-style lager.
Head brewer High actually got started in the business at nearby Greenshields Brewing, but on the food service side. Skipping off to California to work with a brewing equipment manufacturer for a while, he served a stint as head brewer for Brewski's in Hermosa Beach before returning to Raleigh and landing the gig at Southend.
Similarly, assistant brewer Clark took the food path. Following culinary school and a job at Raleigh's famed taproom, 42nd Street Oyster Bar, the fledgling homebrewer moved to Charlotte where he did time working in Southend's kitchen and selling homebrew supplies. As High's assistant, he's undergoing training to become head brewer at yet another Southend location. Corporate Brewer Johnston believes in promoting within, so sometime in August when the Southend folks dedicate a Jacksonville, FL location, Clark will be most likely be running the brewery. He's looking forward to the move and the challenge.
Sometime before 1999 closes, the Charlotte area will get another Southend. Situated in the bustling suburban town of Lake Norman, Southend number five will reside in the Jetton Village shopping complex, a mile off I-77 at exit 28 (and not far from Lake Norman Brewing Company). This will be the corporation's first brewpub built from the ground up. Atlanta's Perimeter Mall will host number six, sometime next year.
Southend Brewery & Smokehouse has jumped into the hectic brewpub scene and seemingly written their own never-ending, happy-ending tale. From exquisitely designed buildings to scrumptiously tempting food to well-crafted beer, Southend is a first class operation.
This article first appeared in Focus Magazine of Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush