The State of Alabama Beer
Alabama, I can tend bar. I can tend bar because I know how to lay a pint glass to a tap and make smooth, pungent carbonated liquids slide steadily down into a slowly spinning pool of happiness. So what? So what yourself! You think you can do it perfectly, with a proper tall head (bubbles) on top, and not a sip spillin’ over the side? Can you do it interchangeably with two handfuls of different taps - meaning different beers with different qualities in different kegs - and still get that pour spot-on every time? Can you do it while a ravenous group of good-timing earthlings paws at your ears for hours on end? And (probably the most important question for a law man), can you do it without drinking it while you’re doing it? Well then, you’re either a carpet-baggin’ liar, or you’re a bartender too. And if you are the latter, it just might be a very good thing. Why? Because, if you’re reading this, you might be living in Alabama; and in Alabama, there’s about to be a whole lot of need for bartenders, because in Alabama, there’s about to be a whole lot of beer.
If I tried to tell you why Alabama is only just now getting a whole lot of beer, your eyeballs would split at the seams and the part of your brain where “reason” and “sense” are stored would melt straight out your ear holes (New Yorkers’ opinions of us, on the other hand, might solidify). Because the long and short of it is this: there is no sensible reason why Alabama is only just now getting its own beer. It’s a mystery on par with the Bermuda triangle and Stonehenge. Don’t try to fathom it - you might do something stupid. Just keep calm, and keep reading.After years of heart-wrenching nonsense, the Alabama legislature finally decided to let Alabama brewers who wanted to turn a profit brew their own beer, bottle it, and sell it to a distributor. After about million years, this wave of legislation somehow managed to include beer that contains more than six-percent alcohol, as well as beer bottles whose volume exceeds twelve ounces. I know it’s all very technical terminology, and it’s probably Communist (and there are some who’ll run crazy with the whole idea and think we should start rolling our own Cuban cee-gars too), but God bless it if our legislators didn’t do it.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Don’t matter. Don’t do it. It’s a trap!” That’s what I thought too, but there are people who had the stones to call the legislature’s bluff and actually start doing it, and - you’re not going to believe this - the swat teams stayed at home, nobody got arrested, Communism stayed in China, and (at least thus far) there is an active beer market in the state of Alabama that offers homegrown, legally-brewed beers.
Oh, but there’s a catch. In order to fully appreciate this miracle of modern legislation, you really need to go to the source (no, not the legislature). Yes sir, picking up a six-pack or other of Alabama beer will feel good, and it’ll taste good, and it’ll be good for Alabama’s economy, but visiting one of the breweries where that beer was brewed will do all of these, as well as show you how far “The Beautiful” has come as a democratic state in a democratic republic. If you go brewpub-ing (this word has not yet been approved by the AP), or tap-rooming, you‘ll find that it’s a whole new culture. It’s art and agriculture and music and cuisine and rescued warehouses and beer clubs. It’s lunch and mid-afternoon and happy hour and dinner and after-dinner and early-late-night. It’s live acts, funky chalices, and custom-built equipment Jules Verne would’ve written into his novels. It’s brewers who care about originality, and customers who care about the same. If you didn’t know that already, you still don’t. Go see for yourself:
The Railyard Brewing Company (Montgomery, AL)
A.K.A. “The Front Liners”
The Capital City is where all the legislators come, so, naturally, only one bold group has been brave enough to start operating right under those litigious noses. Run by the notoriously successful restauranteur Bob Parker, The Railyard exists in what was once a massive warehouse servicing Montgomery’s rail lines. Now it’s producing massive quantities of beer. The Railyard is also a full service restaurant, and a great place to go wiggle your tippy toes thanks to a regular commitment to musical acts. There’s enough bar stools to field two football teams, and enough flat-screens to make a rubix cube (this is an educated guess). Bottom line, this is a serious brew pub, and it is seriously changing the landscape in downtown Montgomery.
Good People Brewing Company (Birmingham, AL)
A.K.A. “The Godfathers”
Good People set up shop in an abandoned brew pub in Birmingham’s Five Points, and moved to their much larger digs in Birmingham’s “Warehouse District” a couple of years later. With fairly believable claims to a newly opened “Airport Pub” in Birmingham’s newly renovated international airport, Good People will probably start to see a sharp rise in demand in the international market. I’m predicting specifically in areas like China, North Korea, and Iran. It might be that Good People beer will bring about world peace.
Avondale Brewing Company (Birmingham, AL)
A.K.A. “The Culture Pushers”
When you’re drinking bottled Avondale beer, you need to concentrate your taste buds very hard to understand the complex product inside the bottle, mostly because your eyes will keep wandering to the label. Seriously, if there were such things as “eye-buds” - and this author is not too sure there’s not - drinking Avondale beer would be near-total sensory euphoria. While we’re lavishing praise, let’s not forget that each beer Avondale produces has a historical setting - like “Brothel Brown,” which is named after a group of very tolerant ladies who used to live above the brewery (in the olden days...when not every guy could find a girlfriend).
Back Forty Beer Co. (Gadsden, AL)
A.K.A. “The Mountain Movers"
If any of the brewers associated with this article are in the slightest bit uneasy about my cavalier attitude towards twentieth century Alabama lawmakers, it’ll be Back Forty. Jason Wilson (and I name him only because he deserves a bronze statue) took the time to explain to me how we got ourselves out of the legislative fiasco that had plagued Alabama brewers since the repeal of Prohibition ( if memory serves, it was somewhere around the Spanish Inquisition). By the time he was finished, I understood why beer was invented in the first place: to cleanse the honest man’s mind of unwholesome worldly distractions. God bless Jason Wilson and Back Forty Beer. Here’s a company that ran its operations through Mississippi for about three years before they started making beer where they wanted - here in Alabama. What does that tell you? They got “sperience,” and a saint’s lot of patience. And what does that tell you? The beer is kick-ass. (Mr. Wilson, by the by, is the President of the Alabama Brewers Guild, so I hope I’m not going to catch any flak from the other brewers ... they, of all people, should know that he’s been as influential to the new state of beer in Alabama as Paul Revere was to us whippin’ old King George way back in seventy-six!)
Beer Engineers (Birmingham, AL)
A.K.A. “The 'Bout to Movers”
Taps: (Coming Soon)
How do you know when to say your city is a “beer city”? Trick query, that’s a subjective question. Still, this is a good start: next spring, Beer Engineer DB Irwin III (who has been fine-tuning a small operation by contracting with Back Forty’s) is going to open up a brew pub (yes, that means food too) right next to the Birmingham Barons’ baseball stadium. Big whoop? Very big whoop. Why? Because there’s already a brewery next to the baseball stadium (shout-out to Good Peeps). What does this mean for you? Two places, with about twenty different Alabama beers on tap between the them, located only a tip-toe or two away from each other ... and a jaywalk away from a shrine to America’s favorite past-time. Holy freaking fireworks. Not to mention the beer already being engineered. A bourbon barrel peanut butter porter? I’m not sure about the name, but the description sounds like it could pass for chocolate milk at a Baptist graduation party.
Cahaba Brewers (Birmingham, AL)
A.K.A. “The Slow ’n Steadies”
Cahaba Brewers are not quite a year old, but they’re flying under the radar on purpose. Not one of these fellas has quit their day job yet - which means they’ve got a good head on their shoulders - and you can rest assured that all the beer coming out of Cahaba is made with love and affection, and not for love of money. “Small Batch, Big Craft” is the motto here, although that’s only half the story: this place hosts skeeball tournaments. But Cahaba’s not letting the sports famedom fool’em: they’ve already got four beers in distribution, plus two seasonals, which is more than your typical first year brewery can boast. And with names like “Fraxinus Maximus Double IPA” and “Rose Mallow”, you probably won’t be able to remember exactly what you ordered, but you’ll never forget what you drank.
Fairhope Brewing Company (Fairhope, AL)
A.K.A. “The Lone Sharks”
Last, but not least, Fairhope Brewing Company has a veritable stranglehold on beer in LA (Lower Alabama, yankees). The closest brewery is in Montgomery, but don’t expect it to stay that way for long. With the quality coming out of the ten taps in that taproom, somebody’s going to realize that this brewery is re-establishing what it means to live along Alabama’s Gulf coast. People down in Fairhope have been eating the local seafood since DeSoto was stomping in these parts, and now that they can drink the local brew too (again), well, it’s only a matter of time before the genius that began just this past January on the Eastern shore catches on. Then it’ll be suds, not sand, drawing all the Okies to Gulf Shores.
So go out, Alabama. Drink up, toast your twenty-first century legislator, and bear hug your local brewer.