IN ALABAMA, 2008 was the year everything changed. Previously, it was illegal to create or sell beer that exceeded 6% ABV in the state, therefore, eliminating many of the beer styles available at most craft breweries across the country. Before 2008, it was also illegal to operate a taproom at a brewery or sell beer directly to a consumer. This was the year that Alabama said “hell no” to beer restrictions.
In May 2009, thanks to Free The Hops’ Gourmet Beer Bill, the 6% ABV limit was raised to 13.9% ABV. In 2011, restrictions that caused difficulties in opening breweries and selling onsite were lessened, and in May 2013, the ban on home brewing was lifted. We’ve come a long way in such a short time thanks to organizations like Free the Hops, and we couldn’t be more excited. Thanks to their work, we can embark on an unbeatable craft brew crawl through the state of Alabama.
Fairhope Brewing Company, Fairhope
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Let’s start at the gulf. If you’re here during our annual oil spill, you’ll want to stay away from the water anyway. Fairhope Brewing was born out of pure desire for lower Alabamians to have good beer specific to the southern part of the state. Their first beer was brewed on December 21, 2012, also known as the “End of the World” according to the Mayan calendar, but luckily, the world went on and we’ve been enjoying great beer in Southern Alabama ever since.
When you visit the taproom, you’ll notice the industrial feel and the reclaimed wood tables. Everyone might not know your name, but they will soon enough. Fairhope prides itself on being the “local living room,” and being extremely community- oriented. Don’t forget to try the (Take the) Causeway IPA. It’s hop-heavy, but still light enough to be a local favorite. Also, don’t miss out on a personal favorite: I Drink Therefore I Amber. It’s toasty, smoky and light as a feather, and I can’t get enough.
Special thanks: Rob Mitchell
Good People Brewing Company, Birmingham
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When you’re ready to head north, hop on I-65 and head towards the new “Parkside” district. Explore Regions Park, Railroad Park, and the surrounding areas before finally ending on the patio of Good People Brewing Company. This place was the apotheosis of a couple of folks who were more passionate about brewing than their day jobs, aka: my heroes.
When you visit this family-friendly taproom, be sure to try the Coffee Oatmeal Stout. It’s one of the most popular brews. It’s got a ton of coffee flavor, with a hop overload at the finish. Before you try a Snake Handler, ask yourself: “Do I have a D.D.?” You will need one. This 10% ABV beer has such a great pine and citrus flavor with a pineapple pop. Drinking Snake Handler— can’t stop, won’t stop.
Avondale Brewery, Birmingham
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Sober up and repeat down the street. Avondale Brewery is home to some great history and even greater beers. The building that houses the taproom was at one point in time a post office, a fire house, a bank, a bar, and a brothel, and each beer’s name pays homage to the history and folklore of Avondale. Bring Fido to this dog-friendly yard, and let him hang with his friends, too.
The Spring Street Saison is a Belgian-style ale and is the brewery’s flagship creation. When Native Americans inhabited the area, the Avondale Cave was home to a spring with the cleanest water around. This spring flowed through what is now 41st Street, nicknamed “Spring Street,” and is home to Avondale Brewing Company. Another A+ brew is the Vanillaphant Porter, lovingly named for Miss Fancy the Elephant, who loved to indulge in bootleg beer. The Vanillaphant is full of roasted nut, chocolate, and vanilla flavors, and is a 6.2% gift from Heaven.
Back Forty Beer Co., Gadsden
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When you’re done with your adventures in Birmingham, take 59 east to the little city that could: Gadsden, Alabama. Here you will find Back Forty Beer Co. Back Forty got its name from an old agricultural term. The “back forty” acres of land were thought to be the most difficult to maintain, and were often ignored, similar to the state of Alabama in regards to the nationwide craft brew scene. In reality, those acres are often the most productive because their soil is so pristine and pure. I love their sass, and I love their beer.
On the Back Forty’s top shelf is the Truck Stop Honey Brown Ale. At 6% ABV, this English brown ale is brewed with Alabama wildflower honey, and my oh my, she is tasty. The Naked Pig Pale Ale has a lighter taste compared to most pale ales and is the perfect gateway drug for new hop addicts.
Special thanks: Rob Mitchell
Straight to Ale, Huntsville
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Take the back roads to Huntsville for a caricature of “Alabama life.” After holding a beer and listening to a band repeat “straight to hell, straight to hell,” the founder of Straight to Ale thought, “well, duh?” You can visit this taproom any day of the week to find your favorite Straight to Ale brew.
Named after the monkeys we sent to space, the Monkeynaut IPA is, in my opinion, the best IPA in the state. This beer’s name also pays homage to Huntsville’s ties to space exploration. Full of citrus and floral hops, this 7.25% beer is a dream come true. Another great beer with a greater story is Brother Joseph’s Belgian-Style Dubbel. This burgundy beer is named after Brother Joseph Zoettl, who was left maimed and with a hunched back after an accident. He spent his days collecting rocks, glass, and other treasures, and eventually used them to build the Ave Maria Grotto. This “Jerusalem in Miniature” is a popular attraction, and is a beautiful testament to brother Joseph’s hard work and attention to detail, much like the beer.
If you have some extra time in Huntsville, try Yellowhammer too.