“I think we’re about six and a half years into the planning,” said Jason Alexander, and though he smiled I knew he wasn’t joking. For those who have enjoyed Free Range Brewing’s beers at festivals over the years, its soft opening last week in NoDa (2320 N. Davidson St.) has been a long time coming.
The first time I actually sat down with Jason and his brother, Jeff Alexander, was in late 2012, on the last Saturday of the year. We met at Amélie’s bakery in NoDa and, over coffee, talked about their plans to open a small brewery focused on brewing with locally sourced ingredients. They told me about their beers and how each had a story behind it. And as I was leaving, they shared a waxed bottle of Abbie Was Stout, brewed in homage to Jason’s black lab.
Had I looked straight out as I was leaving Amélie's, I would have spied their future home – even though none of us could have guessed it on that December day in 2012.
Then, I would have seen a nondescript brick building with a metal roll-up door. Today that metal door has been replaced by a new, glass version, and above it hangs a Free Range Brewing sign. In front of it all rests an old tractor, its metal long rusted, its tires long flat.
The metal doors found a home inside, where their panels were transformed into tables. Among the other items finding new life in the brewery are school chairs and bus seats, an old safe and a scale. The hefty bar was fashioned from lumber taken from the Mecklenburg Mill project, and below it runs siding pulled from a mill house in NoDa, its crackled white paint showing its age.
The bright red paint on the brewhouse floor, though, is certainly new. On it sit several fermenting tanks and the three-barrel brewery. While it’s much smaller than most area breweries, it will allow Free Range to cycle through a variety of unique beers.
“As far as styles go, anything and everything,” said Jason. “Nothing is off limits. We want to work with as much local, seasonal and relevant stuff as we can.”
That much was evident in Free Range’s opening lineup of beers, which include Bob’s Pure Intentions, a brown ale brewed with Charlotte’s Pure Intentions Coffee, and Caroliner Weiss, a “wild wheat” brewed with local green and red strawberries. There is also Cream of the Crop, a cream ale brewed with oats; Art, Son of Pale, named after Jason’s son; an oyster stout called Sea of Companions; a 9.5 percent IPA called My Fair Lady; and Jenny Bought A Farm, a farmhouse-style ale named after the brothers’ grandmother, who recently passed away. The name’s a little edgy, said Jason, just like she was. The brewery also served a nonalcoholic shrub soda brewed with blackberry and ginger, as well as Pure Intentions’ cold brew coffee on nitro.
Beside the bar is a small section where children can plunk down over a painted rug on the floor and read such classics as “Where the Wild Things Are” and more than a few of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series.
Were Jason to choose his own adventure again, he wouldn’t change a thing. The years he and Jeff spent preparing to open Free Range have finally paid off, and he could not be happier with the location.
“It worked out perfectly,” he said. “It was exactly how it needed to be.”
For now, Free Range Brewing is open 5-10 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. To keep up with their new beers and future events, visit www.freerangebrewing.com.
Event of the Week
Birdsong Brewing Cask Night at Vintner Wine Market
WHEN: 6-10 p.m. Friday.
WHERE: Vintner Wine Market, 8128 Providence Road.
Birdsong Brewing is currently the “Brewery of the Month” at Vintner Wine Market, which means you can find at least four taps from the brewery at the south Charlotte bar throughout July. This Friday, though, Vintner will tap not a keg but a cask. The brewery has filled a wooden cask with Communication Breakdown, a beer that was born when head brewer Conor Robinson added fresh jalapeños to Birdsong’s Higher Ground IPA instead of the Free Will Pale Ale.