From plough to pint, Pittsboro’s Fair Game Brewing Company is a craft distillery committed to local agriculture, fresh ingredients and hard work to make beautiful brews, liquor and fine wine.
On January 28, Fair Game – located at 193 Lorax Lane in Pittsboro, NC – hosted its Apple Fest, a local celebration of North Carolina apple cider, wine and brandy. The event also marked the grand opening of Chatham Cider Works, a refreshingly new cider that’s bound to have its bottles in the homes of many happy customers.
“Apple Fest was a great success,” said Chris Jude, the Head Distiller at Fair Game. “We host special events like Apple Fest about once a month, and this was one of our best. But it wasn’t a surprise because we’ve been seeing our crowds grow over the last two years. We are a little off the beaten path, but I think folks really enjoy coming out and finding such a special place out here in Pittsboro.”
Fair warning: Fair Game is an easy place miss for newcomers. To get there on your first pass, drive slowly on East Street, then look for a long gravel-laden road named Industrial Park Drive. Turn on Industrial Park Drive, and within minutes you’ll find five buildings dotting the spacious 15 acre property where Fair Game and other business are housed.
“This property here, we call it ‘The Plant’,” said Jude “We have eleven different tenants and for a while we were the only beverage company on the property. Now, we’re pleased to have Chatham Cider Works here as tenants and there’s also talk of a local meatery moving in soon.”
As more patrons arrived at The Plant, Jude expressed what it felt like to be at Fair Game’s grand opening four years ago, and how far the brewery has come since then.
“I was the first employee with the company and I’ve been here for over four years,” said Jude. “We’ve really come up. There’s been a lot of growth over the last four years and it’s kind of amazing to see, you know? Every time we get into a new bar, restaurant – or new parts of the state – it’s just really exciting to think about how we started with an empty building and an idea.”
Maureen Ahmad, owner of Chatham Cider Works, was enthusiastic at the grand opening. As the sun began to set, a crowd awaited inside a tasting room, eager to try Cider Works barrel-aged and keg-conditioned concoctions.
“This is amazing, this is amazing,” said Ahmad. “I woke up this morning with butterflies in my stomach and I’m still scared to go in there because I’m going to hear someone say, ‘Yuck! I don’t like this stuff.’ And it’s going to make me feel really bad, but I’m still excited.”
“But that’s the thing. You shouldn’t cater a product to suite everyone’s taste,” said Jim Crawford, Chatham County Chairman, co-owner of Chatham Cider Works and husband of Ahmad. “If you did, the product ends up being less unique, which is the point that excites me … I grew up on cider. On our family farm in Pennsylvania there was always a 50 gallon barrel in the barn,” said Crawford.
“I like to drink cider,” said Ahmad. “When we started looking into what kind of cider was out there, it was really hard to find good tasting batches back then.”
A “good tasting batch” to Ahmad and Crawford means honest, real, fermented and unfiltered, unpasteurized juice. Not bland, and nothing back-sweetened with sugar water.
“When people think of cider they think of the taste of apple juice, but our stuff is fermented to almost no sugar, so it just drinks very differently,” said Ahmad. “For some people, that’s a little bit of a shock. Sometimes they’ll take that first taste and they’ll say that this was not what they were expecting.”
The lack of a heavy saccharine component also increases the alcoholic content per volume of the cider. Unlike most commercial ciders that fall around 4 ½ percent ABV, Chatham Cider Works boasts a 9.2 percent ABV.
“I thought it was pretty different from the other local ciders we have around here,” said Courtney Yednock, a Fair Game patron who recently moved to Pittsboro. “It’s not like Bold Rock. It’s not very sweet, but it went down pretty smoothly. I thought it was really nice.”
Nearly 200 people attended the event, and Chatham Cider Works’ opening round of stock for the event flew off Fair Game’s shelves.
“The event surpassed our expectations,” said Ahmad. “The fact that so many people tasted it and then decided to take some home makes me very happy!”
Chatham Cider Works is located right beside Fair Game on The Plant. The building is a 7,000 pound repurposed Quonset hut that Crawford traveled hundreds of miles down to Lake Okeechobee, Florida to reclaim. The interior of the hut has a soft white color to it; the walls are not stiff flat structures. Instead, the walls curve up towards the ceiling in a dome-like fashion. The inner portion of the building almost resembles the core of an apple.
“I’m very proud of the building. It’s a repurposed Quonset hut that had been damaged in hurricane Andrew. It was torn apart and scattered in pieces,” said Crawford. “It used to protect RV’s from the elements and now it’s going to be used to make cider. Even if the cider is a flop, I’m going to come over and live in this building,” Crawford said jokingly.
Chatham Cider Works envisions continued growth within the social sphere of Chatham County.
“Our long-term vision is kind of shared vision for us and the shared owners of this property,” said Ahmad. We’re looking to create a beverage district. Fair Game has led the way with that and now we’re the second beverage tenants here. So long-term we’re forward to this being a Pittsboro beverage district for people to come around to taste, buy and hang out.”