This past Sunday was a remarkable moment in the history of the beer industry in Alabama. Representatives from all six breweries and beer companies currently in operation in our state were all under one roof for the first time, along with a representative from Mississippi’s only brewery, Lazy Magnolia. Even the brewery-in-planning slated to open early next year (Avondale) was represented, although they were not able to supply beer.
That I am able to type the number “six” in describing Alabama breweries is a marvel in and of itself. I vividly remember when Olde Towne opened in Huntsville in 2004, then the only distributing Alabama brewery in operation and the first to open in a decade (others that made a go of it in the 90s closed). That was followed by a quiet four years, then Good People opened their doors in Birmingham in 2008. Followed by Back Forty in 2009, and then Straight To Ale earlier this year. And finally, two more started selling brews almost simultaneously just a few weeks ago, Blue Pants and Yellowhammer. Avondale Brewing is well on its way to opening no later than spring of next year, and at least another couple of would-be brewers have the wheels turning in the early stages.
This seems crazy to me, and crazy exciting. The brewtopian state of California has around 250 breweries and brewpubs but until very recently, you could count all Alabama brewing operations on one hand. Even still, we suffer under draconian laws that make brewpubs next to impossible to profit from, thus the last remaining brewpub in our state just closed its doors recently. But on the whole, I think things are moving in the right direction and the likely passage of Free The Hops’ Brewery Modernization Act next year will greatly improve the outlook for brewpubs here.
The event that brought all these Southern brewing pioneers together was held (unsurprisingly) at The J. Clyde. The Clyde has done more beer dinners than any other establishment in Alabama, and an impressive number of those have featured the brewmasters themselves. I have attended a large number of them, and this was probably my favorite. It stood out both for the quality of the food and the fact that it was such a heartwarming milestone for craft brewing in Alabama.
The menu was phenomenal and featured an incredible number of different beers (made possible by very small serving sizes of each beer).
• Fourth course: Grilled pork chop with Gala fried apples and a roasted red pepper coulis, paired with Lazy Magnolia Southern Pecan, Straight To Ale Lily Flagg Milk Stout, and Back Forty Truck Stop Honey Brown.
I have quickly grown to love beer dinners that feature multiple beers in small servings for each course. It allows you to taste a variety of flavor combinations and decide which you prefer. My top picks were the Indian Summer with the soup, the Dirt Dauber with the shrimp fritters, the Yellowhammer White with the salad, the Truck Stop with the pork chop, and the Pumpkin Ale with the pumpkin fried pies. I’m generally a big fan of stouts with dessert, but it’s just about impossible to beat a pairing of pumpkin pie with pumpkin beer.
It’s been my observation that the still-new group of Alabama brewers has not previously had a strong sense of fraternity that I’ve seen among brewers in other states. I have a sense of some of the causes but don’t know all of the reasons that has been so. Regardless, I think this dinner was an excellent chance for all the state’s brewers to appreciate each other’s craftsmanship and enjoy one another’s company. As someone who is passionate about craft beer, my hope is that our state’s brewers work together as a team to improve the beer culture here and perhaps assist Free The Hops in improving the laws that regulate the industry. Sunday night was a step in the right direction.