Charlotte’s most anticipated brewpub-in-planning seeks to raise the bar with its farm-to-table menu and beers made with locally sourced ingredients.
Brothers Jason and Jeff Alexander bring their respective creative and business acumen to the table and there’s no mistaking their passion. “Circumstance can be a beautiful thing,” Jason begins as the Q&A session gets underway. Just three years ago Jason’s graphic design gig with a high-profile agency in Charlotte had run its course. “It couldn’t have worked out any better from a timing standpoint,” Jason recounts. With his first son a month from being born, it became clear there was no room for a day job if Free Range Brewing was going to become a reality.
Free Range Brewing (FRB) has seemingly nailed each beer it has unveiled to the public with “Afternoon Delight” one of the clear favorites at Queen City Brewers Festival 2012. Who has been your inspiration – brewery or individual – and how do you create your recipes?
[Jason:] Food is the foundation of my brewing creativity, and Alice Waters (founder/owner at the legendary Chez Panisse Restaurant in Berkeley, CA) has been a tremendous inspiration in terms of what we’re striving to achieve at Free Range. That’s not to say countless breweries haven’t had an impact, but food has been the starting point for me when it comes to creating a beer I believe to be special. But I will say that Todd Boera from Catawba Valley Brewing has been the most significant figure from a brewing standpoint. He’s an incredible brewer and has taught me so much when it comes to beer foundation and recipe creation; just an awesome teacher. In fact, Todd and Catawba Valley Brewing deserve plenty of credit as we collaborated on “Afternoon Delight”. Finally, I can’t forget the 8 hours a day I spent learning chemistry at Siebel Institute of Technology and World Brewing Academy (Siebel). Having this education under my belt gives me the understanding and confidence to experiment with really any style of beer.
What stage are you in the brewery planning process and when can we expect FRB’s doors to open?
[Jeff:] At this stage we’re seeking out and evaluating investors. It’s also the trickiest part of the process because we’re not looking for just the investment; we have to be comfortable with the investors.
[Jason:] That (the investor) is one of the most crucial elements for us. We want to find someone that is going to sweat and bleed Free Range just as we are. It’s not about getting rich; we want to earn a comfortable living, but at the end of the day it’s about creating a place where friends and family can come together and enjoy the fruits of our passion.
[Jeff:] From a logistics standpoint, it could be six to nine months once we have our building locked down to get it up-fitted while checking off the appropriate permits along the way. All the while we’re keeping our eyes and ears open for a chef. But we don’t want to promise anything being this far out, as we know there is always the potential for delays.
The name ‘Free Range’ connotes a fresh-off-the-farm theme. Tell us about plans for the brewpub, and will it actually include farmland?
[Jason:] Well, ultimately, we’d love to run a New Glarus-type operation with some farmland and a bed & breakfast feel, but in the near term we’re conscious of the demographics that will sustain our business so that means we’ll focus on phase one before we begin dreaming about phase two. Bottom line is that we want to be a neighborhood place that’s super kid-friendly and has the backyard or back porch feel that got us to this stage in the first place.
The kid-friendly part is especially important to me. Having two young kids, I know how stressful dining out can be for parents. We want a place where Mom and Dad can kick back with a nice beer and let the kids loose to do their thing. There will be a number of kid classics on the menu like mac & cheese, but nutrition won’t take a back seat. My youngest is lactose-intolerant so coming up with healthy substitutes in staple recipes has become part of my trade (laughs).
Picture 50+ seats, a big bar, plenty of outdoor space, an entertainment area, clear sightlines to the brew house – with no glass or barrier; the smells that come out of the brewing process are an important part of the experience – and as many green energy practices we can put to use. You can call it urban farmstead, rural-industrial, rough warehouse or just weird. No matter what you call it, we’ll be glad to have you.