Saturday, October 19, 2013

Beer Scene: Birmingham, Alabama

On my recent trip down South, we spent a day in Birmingham, Alabama for my niece Anna's birthday.  We arrived in town around 1:00 in the afternoon of a sunny and summer-like day (despite it being late fall and cold back home in Minnesota).  Anna was still taking a test when we arrived, but at her suggestion we stopped in at Rogue Tavern for lunch until she was able to meet up with us.

The concrete outside the tavern...

This was in a large old brick building, surrounded by other eating and drinking establishments and even an old curio shop that my mother-in-law Sally fell in love with instantly.  They frequently have live music and the large space certainly is conducive to that.  We sat at a high-top table and ordered some of the better-than-typical pub food: I had fried green tomato BLT sliders that were very nice.  I was most impressed with the beer list.  I didn't count them but think there were 20+ tap beers and a good number of bottles as well.  The beer menu was pretty hilarious too with descriptions of Angry Orchard as "alcoholic apple juice."  Besides the obligatory beers, they had a lot of local and regional beers like Good People, Beer Engineers, Thomas Creek, as well as Belgians and other unusual imports.  While the minimalist setting isn't awe-inspiring, these guys are putting a new fresh and crafty face on beer and pub culture for the Deep South.

Inside the Good People Brewery

After spending some time looking at junk (or treasure if you are my mother-in-law) next door, we headed to pick up Anna at her Old-Birmingham 1900's house.  From there (at my urging and against her will) she took our little party over to Good People Brewing Company.  Located, as many breweries are, in a somewhat run-down and industrial area, the brewery is in a large warehouse.  There is a small front bar at the entrance, but we were directed to the right and into the main building area.  There is a large semicircular bar in the corner, where we promptly sat down and ordered a sampler to share.  Brewers were at work at the other end of the building, listening to loud music that made it somewhat difficult to hear...not Sally's favorite!  They also had a small swag shop in the corner where I bought a tin tacker shaped like a licence plate for my basement bar.  Large wooden cable spindles were placed on their sides for additional seating and a small stage took up another area.  An open garage door led out of the building and to the side with additional seating, green space and even the old battered yellow truck that is their mascot.

These guys have been selling beer in Alabama since 2008, and have recently expanded to Tennessee as well--showing a growing need for craft beer in the South. 

A chalk line lay across the top of my sampler tray with the names of the beers scribbled in.  The beers were all above average.  I really enjoyed the brown ale and the Mumbai Rye (a very hoppy and spicy rye ale.)  The pale ale and IPA were respectable but not quite as balanced as some of my favorites from Surly, Steel Toe, Odell, etc.  The Bearded Lady wheat was fairly tasty as well.  My bill was served to me in a Good People IPA can--very fun.  I liked my visit to the brewery and would recommend trying them out as a shining example of a craft brewery carving a space in a difficult and traditionally non-craft market.  They can their beers, so I found a few later to bring home with me for later use.

Avondale Brewing

We didn't stay at Good People for too long, but headed out for another locale: Avondale Brewing Company.  Located in a historic building in the city/suburb of Avondale, the brewery opened in 2011 and has been putting out fairly traditional style beers since.  They have taken Miss Fancy as their mascot (a local elephant from the Birmingham Zoo in the 1920's that is famous for drinking confiscated hooch during prohibition).  All of the beers are named after local history and the brewery takes pride in its neighborhood connections.  The Brothel Brown, for instance, was named after the illicit house of ill repute that was once upstairs in the brewery building!  The brewery itself is quite small, and much of the fermentation is actually done in open fermenters--something I have seldom seen in America much less the Southern states!  

Avondale sampler

A small and dark bar (manned by Brock when we were visiting) serves up 12 or more different house brews and I got to try them all.  These ranged in style from the amazingly balanced Vanillaphant Porter, to a solid IPA.  The only one of these that I didn't love was the strawberry saison--just not enough fruit to make it work.  Otherwise all of the beers were very drinkable and clean. 

Sally went out back for some air and dragged me out to see the rest of the property: the brewery has a second outside bar and taps (not manned at 4 PM on a weekday) as well as a large stage where they host outdoor live music.  Elephant art graces the walls inside and out.  If you have a chance to stop into this place you will not be disappointed.  Trunks Up! 

Overall, my whistle-stop beer tour of  Birmingham was very enjoyable.  The South is really starting to come along in craft beer, just like the rest of the USA.  I was also very happy to get to see my niece, her roommate Laura, and her parents Doty & Greg for a very fun dinner at a local Italian place.  

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