In Oregon and the Pacific Northwest, it is too easy to take readily available great beer for granted. In Portland, even dive bars are an option for finding at least a few decent choices when it comes to craft beer. However, not every region of the country is so blessed with exceptional beer culture.
As any hard core beer geeks should, we keep our ear to the ground and our nose to the grindstone when it comes to just about anything craft beer related. On a whim we recently took a look at what might be happening in what we suspected was one of the most craft beer deprived states in the country.
Alabama, Like Oregon and Washington is an alcohol beverage control state. However, unlike Oregon and Washington, Alabama’s government holds a monopoly on the sale of all alcoholic beverages. The political and social climates of the Alabama and Southeastern United States (with the exception of Southern Florida) is much different that here in the Northwest. Alabama is in the heart of the Bible Belt and to many seems quite conservative in comparison to Oregon and especially Portland and Multnomah County.
As for beer, Alabama spent much of the 20th Century banning beer greater than 6% ABV. This was due to Prohibition-era laws remaining unrepealed. For so long, craft brewing was hardly a concept in Alabama. These unamended laws surrounding brewing prevented Alabama breweries from having a tap room and also place weighty restrictions on small brewpubs.
In 2006-7 a grassroots organization known as “Free The Hops” introduced bills in the state House and Senate, intending to raise the limit on beer to 13.9% ABV. In 2007 a House bill made it to the floor but failed because a 60% majority vote was not reached. This was needed to even consider a bill before the state budget has been passed.
The movement to raise the the alcohol limit on beer in Alabama was in many ways similar to changes in Georgia and the Carolinas. These states also had 5-6% ABV limits on beer until recently. Georgia’s limit was raised to 14% in 2004, North Carolina’s limit was raised to 15% in 2005, and South Carolina’s limit was raised to 17.5% in 2007.
Finally on May 22, 2009 that some of the restrictions on these Prohibition-era laws were changed. Governor Bob Riley signed House Bill 373, also known as the “Gourmet Beer Bill.” This act amended Section 28-3-1, Code of Alabama 1975, relating to “certain definitions for the sale and licensing of alcoholic beverages, to further define the term “beer” for ABC licensing purposes, to include malt beverages with a higher alcohol content.”
The new bill allowed for beer up to 13.9% ABV in Alabama and opened the door a little wider for some craft beer enthusiasts in the state. Today there are five active breweries in the state, about an eighth as many as are in Portland, Oregon. Still, as American craft beer culture makes its ascent, this only spells good news for beer lovers in Alabama. Here’s a look at the breweries in currently in operation in Alabama:
Emerald Coast Beer Company (ECBC): Founded by a Birmingham investment group managed by Red Mountain Beverage Company in 2007 and contract brewed by Melbourne, Fla.’s Florida Beer Company. It is owned by Linearstone Holding Corporation a company diversified in a number of business sectors such as technology, healthcare, natural resources and consumer products. ECBC’s lineup is represented by a balance of ales and lagers with about a third of their production being seasonal specialties. A few beers we found out about from them include their 30-A Pale Ale and Sunset Pilsner. The Pale is brewed with two-row barley, caramel malts, and Cascade hops. According to a press release “It has a cooper color and a thick full body head that makes it a beer for a true beer-drinking aficionado.” The Pilsner is described as “a light-bodied refreshing ‘beer drinker’s’ beer. Its’ taste comes from the finest German hops and 100% two row Pale & Pilsner malt. With its’ one of kind golden color and crisp, dry finish it is the perfect summertime beer.”
Good People Brewing (GPB): Unlike ECBC, these guys have a website and a lot of information on it. Further, their beer is actually brewed right in Alabama (Birmingham). What began as a homebrewer’s dream of Jason Malone (brewmaster) and Michael Sellers, in 2007 turned into a reality. Today eight 7-barrel fermenters produce a variety of ales and lagers that are available draught-only in Birmingham, though there are plans to soon move the product in bottles. Here’s a look at what GPB are brewing:
- American Brown Ale – This deep colored Brown Ale is often requested and one of our personal favorites. Many a weekend was spent perfecting this one. Brewed with 2-Row Pale and 5 Specialty malts, it’s malty in both flavor and smell. A heap of Cascade and Willamette add to balance to this easy drinking ale. Hole up, have a few, and tell us what you think. We’re bettin’ it’s the best Brown Ale you’ll ever have; OG 1.054, IBUs 34
- American Pale Ale – This classic American Pale Ale is floral to the nose and flavorful to the mouth. 2-Row & 5 Specialty Malts create subtle caramel tones while just the slap right amount of cascade hops make our Pale Ale just a shade short of perfect. Grab some and tell us what you think. Surely to be one of your new favorites; OG 1.054, IBUs 36
- American IPA – Copper in color with herbal and earthy hops being most prevalent. Light caramel flavors balance out this unique ale. Hop lovers will enjoy this unfiltered, dry-hopped IPA; OG 1.060, IBUs 64
- Oatmeal Coffee Stout – A limited, seasonal offering for the fall of 2008 turned regular year-round beer. This was brewed per the request of our friends at Free the Hops. Creamy, dark, roasty, silky, and refreshing. Big coffee flavors dominate early only to be wiped out by an enormous about of Willamette hop flavors. One of GPBC’s most requested beers. Complex and full of flavor yet amazingly sessionable. Brewed with coffee from Primavera Coffee Roasters here in Birmingham, AL; OG 1.066, IBUs 54
- Snake Handler – Double IPA – A big, joyous celebration of all things hoppy (5 different varities). Large flavors and aroma of pine, citrus, flowers, spice, pineapple, and grassiness complimented with a touch of biscuit and caramel backbone. Our most requested beer. ABV 9.3%. IBUs 103
- Fatso – Imperial Stout – A huge, viscous, full-bodied, dark as night, imperial stout yet somehow amazingly drinkable. Big aromas and flavors including dark fruits, roasted malts, dark chocolate, and spiced rum. Not for the faint of heart. Big but surprisingly nimble, as it can compliment any course of a meal. ABV 8.5% , IBUs 78
- Hitchhiker – India Pale Ale – A far cry from our original IPA, The Hitchhiker is a big floral/citrus American IPA. Aromas and flavors of pineapple, grapefruit, orange, and tangerines take center stage with a tad bit of caramel malt backbone to balance just a bit. A very dry finish with hops flavors lingering…this one is for the hopheads. ABV 7.4%, IBUs 81
- Mumbai Rye – Rye India Pale Ale – ABV 6.6%, IBUs 72
- Bubba – Imperial Pils – Large but simple, obnoxious but very likable, unfiltered…Bubba. A big American version of the classic Pilsner style. A simple malt bill is complimented by a ridiculous amount (nine additions…nonuple hopped brewed??) of flavorful American hops. A golden straw colored beer encompassing a huge hop aroma and flavor profile. All the qualities of a clean/crisp pils with lots of citrus and floral flavors. ABV 8.2%, IBUs 78
- Stepchild – Belgian India Red Ale – Many a fine quality of different beer styles all brewed up into one beer. Belgian yeast flavors appear only to give way to pine/citrus American hop and specialty caramel malt flavors. Complex hop flavors linger and finish dry. ABV 7.8%, IBUs 56
- Love Child – Belgiweizen – Combining a Belgian yeast with traditional Bavarian Weizen yeast produce a truly unique beer. A large, yet not overly complex malt bill, plays second fiddle to the yeasts on display. The esters produced by the weizen yeasts are very pronounced in the aroma while pushed aside by the spicy phenols fruity esters of the Belgian yeast in the flavor with noble and American hops providing a little balance. One of our most popular beers produced to date. ABV 10.4%, IBUs 40
- Strongman – Belgian Strong Dark – This started our Brewer’s Reserve Series and is surely one that will be offered again. A gorgeous deep brown beer with ruby highlights to showcasing it’s complexity. Fruit flavors of raisins, plums, dates, and dark cherries are balanced out with spicy Belgian yeast flavors and alcohol warmth. A very drinkable beer considering it’s size. ABV 10.3%, IBUs 35
- Hawg Wash – Belgian Pale Ale – ABV 4.75%, IBUs 22
- Skeeter Bite – Weizenbock – ABV 7.5%, IBUs 22
- Dirt Dauber – Roggenbier – A limited, seasonal offering for the fall of 2008. A weizen nose with grainy, clove, and spicy flavors dominating the fruitiness experienced in other familiar weizens; ABV 4.7% IBUs 18
- Federale – Ancho Chile Brown Ale – ABV 5.2%, IBUs 34
As you can see, GPB are making a concerted effort to be transparent about the brewing process and business practices. From the sounds of it, they seem like the place to frequent when in Birmingham.
Hurricane Brewing Company: We found a link to a website online, but it was just a test page. However, solid reviews on PubCrawler.com indicate that this place might be worth a visit if you’re ever down in the deep South. In a statement by the brewery dating 11/26/2006, we discovered the following:
“A new brewpub is coming back to Dauphin Street in downtown Mobile, Alabama. Hurricane Brewing is scheduled to open December 2006 with a Grand Opening just after the New Year. Remodeling is almost complete and the building looks great and will have a more open common pub atmosphere. It is more than just a coat of paint; new kitchen and bar equipment, new air conditioners, and NEW LOCAL OWNERS and MANAGEMENT. The only relic is the fully operational brewhouse and former brewer, Todd Hicks, who will be brewing up some of his favorite English ales and lagers. Thank you all, and please come visit.” – Todd G. Hicks, Brewer
Follow up reviews reveal brews like The Insurance Adjuster PA, Flying Debris, ESB, Storm Surge Oatmeal Stout, Irish Porter, Amber, and a Golden Lager. All point to good beers, decent food, and great service. So now you know were to go when in Mobile.
Montgomery Brewing Company: We suppose if you’re going to take the leap and brew craft beer in Alabama, you’d better know what you’re doing. It definitely sounds like these cats do. Taking a pride in the history of brewing, their website proclamates:
“The first recorded history of beer brewing in Montgomery cited Charles E. Hall as the founder of the original Montgomery Brewing Company. His brewery was located at the foot of North Hull Street just a few blocks from here. Prohibition put poor Charles out of business in 1919. But in 1992, acknowledging the micro brewery renaissance, Alabama passed its Brewpub Act with the intent of revitalizing Alabama’s historic districts, thus allowing The Montgomery Brewing Company to open on October 27, 1995.”
Known as “the Brewpub” in town, Montgomery Brewpub remains in a historic building built in 1913. Well respected for the great food, the beers have won national acclaim as well. The brewery proudly took home a silver medal at the 2008 Great American Beer Fest for their Goat Hill Pale Ale. Brewer Jaime Ray also produces a standard lineup of the following American favorites:
Montgomery Blonde Ale: “You won’t believe this is a light beer! Our lightest beer – this “enlightened” Old Montgomery Blonde, our best selling ale, will quench the largest thirst and leave one savoring the smooth clean flavor and fresh Czech Saaz hopped finish.”
Riverboat Red: Riverboat Red: “Named after Montgomery’s former river boat The Betsy Ann , has caramel malts that leave your palate with a clean, slightly sweet malty flavor. Mild hops contribute to the smooth balance with a slight fruity-floral finish. Mark Twain would be proud of this one.”
Wipe Out Stout & Old World Porter: “(These) are our darkest, richest, and most flavorful ales. With dark caramel malts, expensive English hops, and ample amounts of chocolate and black Patent malts, these ales leave your palate with a complex malty-coffee flavor. Guaranteed to satisfy your biggest taste buds.”
Olde Towne Brewing Company: We found the following information from Wikipedia:
“Founded in 2004, the Olde Towne Brewing Company is the first microbrewery in Huntsville, AL, since prohibition was repealed. The brewery debuted August 12, 2004, at Humphrey’s Bar & Grill. In the early hours of July 5, 2007, the building that houses the company suffered a fire and was a complete loss. In summer 2008 the brewery finished rebuilding and their beer will again be available for sale in Huntsville starting in August. They will expand to Birmingham in late fall.
“As of late July 2008, all four regular Olde Towne beers are fermenting — Amber, Pale Ale, Hefeweizen, and Pilsner — and will soon be kegged in preparation for sale on draught first. Bottling will resume later in 2008. They will also be bringing back their seasonal brews, including a Porter, a Pumpkin Ale and a Bock.
“Olde Towne has started contract brewing with the introduction of their Chocolate Stout, which was commissioned by The Nook in Huntsville, Alabama.
“Prior to the fire Olde Towne had stopped production of the Extra Pale Ale and it will not be returning. Don Alan Hankins is the brewmaster and co-owner of Old Towne Brewing Company.”
Beers available at Olde Towne include Brewers of Olde Towne Amber Ale, Olde Towne Hefeweizen, Olde Towne Pale Ale, Olde Towne Pilsner, Olde Towne Porter, Olde Towne Pumpkin Ale, Olde Towne Oktoberfest, Olde Towne Emancipation Double IPA and other seasonal beers.
So there’s a little on what you can expect in Alabama if you’re looking for state produced brews (with the exception of Emerald Coast).
According to Free The Hops website, some frivolous restrictions still apply to Alabama breweries that serve as obstacles for which the beer enthusiasts and craft beer proponents are still trying to overcome. For example, any brewpub in Alabama must be located in a historic building “in which beer was brewed for public consumption prior to prohibition. Brewpubs are also not allowed to bottle their beer for off premises consumption. These restrictions can be found in the following sections of The Code of Alabama:
“(1) The brewpub premises must be located in an historic building or site as defined in Section 40-8-1, in a wet county or wet municipality, in which county beer was brewed for public consumption prior to the ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1919.” §28-4A-3(a-1)
“(3) Beer brewed by the brewpub licensee shall not be possessed, sold or dispensed except on the premises where brewed, and shall not be packaged or contained in other than barrels from which the beer is to be dispensed on the premises for consumption on the premises.” §28-4A-3(a-3)”
As for breweries in Alabama, they are prohibited from selling their beers for on premises consumption in §28-3A-6(b) of The Code of Alabama. This same section of The Code prohibits breweries from operating a bar or pub whether it is connected or separate from the brewery.
“No manufacturer licensee shall sell any alcoholic beverages direct to any retailer or for consumption on the premises where sold, nor sell or deliver any such alcoholic beverages in other than original containers approved as to capacity by the board and in accordance with standards of fill prescribed by the U. S. Treasury Department, nor maintain or operate within the state any place or places, other than the place or places covered by the manufacturer license, where alcoholic beverages are sold or where orders are taken.” §28-3A-6(b)”
When compared to the Pacific Northwest, Alabama would seem to be a wasteland for craft beer, but thanks to the few like the folks at Free The Hops, there are some shining examples of stellar beer and still hope for great reform. If Alabama could eventually extricate themselves from the shadows of inequality surrounding Civil Rights, than moving forth with the reformation of trivial economically binding beer laws seems quite hopeful.
Event of the month in Alabama:
March 27, 2010 Remembering The Beer Hunter
The J. Clyde, Birmingham, AL Celebrate the life and times of Michael Jackson with some special brews. Kegs of Avery Hog Heaven, Bell’s Batch 9000, Good People BlackHefe, and Yazoo Rye Saison will be featured. 3-5 pm
This is your country, too. For more information about how contribute to Free the Hops and help with the cause, please visit http://www.freethehops.org/howtohelp/
For a history of brewing in Alabama, visit http://www.alabev.com/history_of_brewing_in_alabama.htm