The last beverage I enjoyed at the newly opened Free Range Brewing poured the color of dark chocolate, and before I could indulge I had to wait for the tan bubbles to shoot down to the bottom of the glass before cascading back to the top, where they commingled into a dense, creamy head.
I won’t blame you if you’re thinking stout, since all the telltale signs are there. But this was no stout, nor even a beer at all. Since opening, Free Range Brewing has devoted one of its taps to cold-brew coffee from Pure Intentions, a local roaster. It is pushed from the keg using nitrogen, which lends the coffee a body and carbonation not unlike a Guinness.
“It’s not like you’re drinking something totally different,” said Pure Intentions founder Matt Yarmey. “When it’s served on that nitro tap, it’s got so much body and flavor that it’s almost like you’re drinking a beer.”
The brewery moves through a 5-gallon keg of the coffee – which is served by the pint or half pint – every week (impressive since it is only open Thursday through Saturday right now). Other locations that have tapped kegs of the coffee include Red Clay Cider, Wooden Robot, Old Town Public House and Fonta Flora in Morganton.
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Free Range founders Jason and Jeff Alexander dedicated a tap to coffee for a couple of reasons: to showcase the coffee they use in their Bob’s Pure Intentions Coffee Brown Ale, and to provide patrons a nonalcoholic option. The brewery also rotates through various nonalcoholic shrub sodas, made with such ingredients as ginger, honey and hibiscus. Down the road, Heist Brewery brews its own root beer and ginger beer.
Nonalcoholic options are becoming increasingly common throughout Charlotte’s bars and breweries, even if they’re not the first option many brewery visitors consider. But as Charlotte’s breweries weave themselves into the fabric of their respective communities, it’s important they cater to everyone – not just their more obvious clientele. On any given night, a taproom could be filled with a mix of diehard beer geeks as well as teetotalers, families and the not-yet-of-age.
With bars, there are degrees of family friendliness – from dimly lit dives to polished, corporate-feeling chains that would feel safe whether you’re 9 or 90. That’s less the case at Charlotte’s breweries, all of which are fairly family-friendly options. Think of The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery’s biergarten, where kids are free to roam about while their parents chew pretzels or sip beers. Or at the aforementioned Free Range, where free-range kids are given space to roam in a separate section filled with books and a chalkboard canvas beneath the bar.
NoDa Brewing was one of the first breweries to tap a nonalcoholic option when it brought in kombucha, a fermented tea, from Lenny Boy Brewing Co. At that point, Lenny Boy had bottled its kombuchas but never kegged them.
“It had never really been done before that I knew of, especially in Charlotte,” said Lenny Boy founder Townes Mozer. “We just kind of got the thought that more bars would like to get it on there as well.”
And they have. You can often find Lenny Boy’s kombucha at Triple C Brewing, Wooden Robot Brewery, Sycamore Brewing, D9 Brewing, Red Clay Cider and, yes, Free Range. Seeing the kombucha do well on tap around town played a part in Lenny Boy’s decision to open a taproom of its own.
“I think it would have happened either way, but it definitely helped the decision-making process of actually going through and doing it,” said Mozer.
While other breweries have made it a point to bring nonalcoholic options, Mozer went the other way. He started with the nonalcoholic kombucha before deciding to brew his own beers and alcoholic kombuchas, all of which can be found at Lenny Boy’s taproom in South End (2224 Hawkins St.).
Like Yarmey, Mozer sees a lot of crossover between his kombuchas and craft beer.
“It’s a fermented product, so it’s not just a soda where you’re mixing sugar and water and whatever else together,” Mozer said. “It’s a craft beverage, just not a beer.”
Sip of the week
Mecktoberfest, The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery
Around $9.99 for a six-pack
Yes, school’s in session, football is back, and there’s that unmistakable crispness in the air (at least in the mornings). But there’s no surer sign of autumn’s approach than the return of The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery’s Mecktoberfest. The brewery will tap its popular Märzen-style lager at 11 a.m. Friday, with both filtered and unfiltered options in the taproom. Bottles will hit shelves as soon as this weekend.