Southern Brew News February/March 2013 : Page 1

By Bill Plott ast fall, on the eve of Hop City Craft Beer & Wine Shop’s soft opening in Birmingham, state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board agents swooped in and con fi scated thousands of dollars in homebrew equipment. The store still opened with its shelves full of craft beer and wine. It just had to put its homebrew section on hold for the present. Ripping the state for its action, Birmingham News columnist John Archibald wrote: “…it’s ironic be-cause nothing in the Birmingham area – short of UAB, perhaps – has done more to spur economic growth and urban redevelopment in the last few years than…Beer.” See Birmingham p. 4

Beer Keeps Birmingham Growning

Bill Plott

Last fall, on the eve of Hop City Craft Beer & Wine Shop’s soft opening in Birmingham, state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board agents swooped in and confiscated thousands of dollars in homebrew equipment.

The store still opened with its shelves full of craft beer and wine. It just had to put its homebrew section on hold for the present.

Ripping the state for its action, Birmingham News columnist John Archibald wrote: “…it’s ironic because nothing in the Birmingham area – short of UAB, perhaps – has done more to spur economic growth and urban redevelopment in the last few years than…Beer.”

Well, that’s a bit over the top, John.

But then, there is a lot of truth in there, too. A year ago Birmingham was sort of a blip on the craft beer radar screen. Today, it is a legitimate destination.

“Birmingham has become a craft beer destination for Alabamians, and I think we are well on our way to becoming a place people in nearby states and, hopefully, beyond will want to visit because of what we can offer when it comes to craft beer,” said Gabe Harris, president of Free the Hops.

At the top of the new Birmingham beer scene are three breweries with tasting rooms, a contract brewer, a proposed brewpub and the arrival of retail chains Hop City and World of Beer.

At the second level, there are nationally recognized beer bars like The J. Clyde and a growing number of restaurants with not only good beer selections but also separate beer menus, right there with the wine lists.

“I remember when Birmingham had no local breweries and it was a challenge to find anything more interesting than Sierra Nevada Pale Ale in stores and restaurants,” said Danner Kline, founder of the Free the Hops, the grassroots organization that has changed Alabama’s beers laws over the past four years.

Harris acknowledged a bit of personal bias, pointing out that Birmingham now has become a player on the festival scene.

“I’m biased, but the two festivals that Free the Hops organizes in the area – Magic City Brewfest and Fall FestivAle -- are as fun as any I’ve been to in the country, and the beers available at them gets better every year.,” he said.

While Free the Hops’ legislative efforts brought about an increase in alcohol by volume (6% to 13.9% in 2009), container size (bombers now available), and tasting rooms for breweries, it was backed by a cadre of young homebrewers that has resulted in breweries in Montgomery, Huntsville, and, most recently, Anniston.

All of this has happened over the past four years, with Birmingham’s transformation over the past two years. Previously, the city’s last brewpub and last microbrewery both had shut down in 2000.

Good People Arrives

When Good People Brewing Company resurrected the craft beer scene in Birmingham eight years later, it may not have been back-breaking work, but it was surely back-straining for brewer Jason Malone.

Located in the old Southside Cellar Brewery location, Malone had to lug 100- pound sacks of grain up a metal staircase from the floor to the brewhouse one story up. And that was after pushing the sack on a dolly for about a hundred yards through narrow hallways.

His equipment was the dusty leftovers from the previous brewery.

“This place had been uninhabited for about five years….To say it was in disarray would be a vast understatement,” Malone said when he and partner Michael Sellers began setting up their operation.

The first kegs of Good People Pale Ale by were tapped in two local restaurants in July 2008. It was soon followed by an American Brown Ale.

In the spring of 2010, with as much inventory as could be produced in advance, the brewery shut down for a few weeks to move into a former warehouse at 114 14th Street, just a stone’s throw from the new Railroad Park in downtown Birmingham.

A year later that location was threatened by plans to build a minor-league baseball park in that area. Good People dodged the land grab bullet. From their front door they can watch steel girders rising toward the sky. Hopefully, a lot of those baseball fans will check out the Good People tasting room before or after the game.

Good People’s flagship beers also include Coffee Oatmeal Stout, Good People IPA and Snakehandler IPA.

Packaging Breakthroughs

In just four years Good People has become the groundbreaker in Alabama’s beer scene.

In November 2010 they discovered a quirk in Alabama law that allowed one geographic location -- Coosa County, about 60 miles south of Birmingham down U.S. Highway 280 – to sell 22-ounce bombers. That size container was illegal everywhere else in the state.

Malone began producing his County Line small batch brew series, selling the rare elixirs at Moseley’s Exxon convenience store in the Kellyton community. Each bottlehad to be hand-filled and hand labeled, a labor intensive process that made the batches even smaller than he wanted. Each batch delivered to Kellyton sold out within a few hours. In fact, one sold out in 52 minutes!

In 2010 Good People produced the first beer ever canned in Alabama. The pre- Prohibition breweries and the micros that followed in the 1990s all produced their product in only draft and bottle options.

Miss Fancy’s Prance

Avondale Brewing Company has been at the forefront of gentrification of one of the city’s older neighborhoods.

The brewery’s opening coincided with the $2.8 million renovation of nearby Avondale Park and the restoration of older homes by a new generation.

Not only has the brewery brought employment and a popular hangout in its taproom but also it has sparked other economic growth in the area.

The brewery owners, supporting the revival of the neighborhood and working with Main Street Birmingham, came up with Occupy Avondale, a competition for the best use of a piece of property they owned across the street. The prize was six months’ free rent in the building.

The winner was Freshfully, a website that connected Alabama farmers with people looking for fresh produce and other foods. With the incentive from the brewery competition, Freshfully opened a brick-andmortar store that now contains hundreds of Alabama-produced food items.

The brewery has drawn its "Trunks Up!" Logo and some beer names from the zoo that was in the original Avondale Park.

Established in the 1880s, the park has always been the heart of the community. There was a pond, ball fields and a setting for picnics, concerts, Easter egg hunts and other activities. Sometime around 1913 or 1914 the park acquired a retired circus elephant named Miss Fancy. For 20 years or so, children could ride on the elephant’s back.

Her handler, a man named Mr. Todd, liked to drink. He found a way around Prohibition, persuaded local officials that the elephant had a stomach illness that required alcohol for treatment. “Maybe so, but we think Mr. Todd was just a hooch hound,” said brewer Craig Shaw. “Nevertheless, the authorities would bring confiscated stuff to him for Miss Fancy. There is even a black and white picture of her turning up a drink.”

Encounters With The Law

Sometimes Mr. Todd would take Miss Fancy for walks down a couple of Avondale streets. There is a popular story about Todd taking one of these walks after a good bit of drinking – by him, not necessarily the elephant. The police were about to take him off to jail but faced the dilemma of how to get the elephant back to the zoo. They had to release Todd.

A few months before opening, modern Avondale had its own adventure with the law. Co-owner Coby Lake showed up one morning and found 40 metal kegs missing from the building. He texted the news to Shaw, who was not surprised and quickly reacted.

“I saw them casing the place the night before. They walked by about four times. They went down the side street and looked in the back yard. Within an hour I had called all of the scrap yards and located the kegs. The scrap yard had taken the license number and Ids at the time of the sale. I actually picked the two guys out of a lineup,” he said.

Avondale’s first beer was Spring Street Saison, the original name for 41st Street. That was followed by Battlefield IPA and Streetcar Kolsch. Two offerings, Miss Fancy’s Tripel and the seasonal Mr. Todd’s Double IPA, reflect the zoo heritage.And the brewery's logo is an elephant with the slogan: "Trunks Up."

Cahaba Brewing Company

The city’s newest brewery, Cahaba Brewing Company, made its debut at the 2012

At Magic City Beer Festival, its brewers trotting out three beers to introduce themselves – Oka Una IPA, Liquidamber and Ryzezome Rye Stout.

The lines for Cahaba’s beers were among the longest at the festival, another sign of Birmingham’s growing beer culture. The brewery came back with a soft opening in June and formal grand opening in September. Both events drew large crowds.

An Octoberfest was released at the grand opening.

To celebrate the opening of the tap room, they are bringing out six new IPAs, with one to be released each Friday night over a period of six weeks.

Cahaba is a partnership of five men, three of them homebrewers, Eric Meyer, Andy Gwaltney and Taylor DeBoer. All have day jobs. Meyer is a firefighter, Gwaltney is an AT&T engineer, and DeBoer is marketing director for a hunting magazine.

“None of us is formally trained, We’re all homebrewers,” said DeBoer. “I have homebrewed for 15 years. My wife is so happy to have me off the back porch.”

The brewery has started with a threebarrel system that is in continuous use. The building is large enough to accommodate the 30-barrel system they hope to eventually install.

Meanwhile they are installing a yeast laboratory where they hope to culture their own yeast and also use cultures provided by friends.

New Contract Brewer

Beer Engineers, a contact brewer, also made its debut at the Magic City Beer Festival, releasing Velocity IPA, an imperial IPA that runs about 10% abv and 60 IBUs.

“For the style it’s got a different sort of flavor for an IPA. It’s got a citrusy sort of floral, hoppy aroma to it. On the finish, it is not bitter. It doesn’t have that bite a lot of high gravity IPAs have,” said brewer and co-owner D. B. Irwin III.

Beer Engineers plans to specialize in high gravity beers. The beers are brewed by Back Forty Beer Co. In Gadsden. Velocity IPA, like all future releases, will be available on draft and in four-packs. Statewide distribution was expected in the fall.

The ultimate goal of a production facility is probably two or three years away, Irwin said.

In the wings is Trim Tab Brewhouse, another microbrewery planned for downtown Birmingham. Brewer Harris Stewart has signed a contract with the Barber Companies for a 4,000-square-foot location.

Barber Motorsports Park is a museum and multi-purpose racing facility that brings in Indy cars, motorcycles and other vehicles throughout the year.

Good Beer Bars

In The J. Clyde, Birmingham has one of the Top 100 Best Beers Bars in America, according to Draft magazine.

Owner Jerry Hartley discovered great beers in Europe and brought his enthusiasm to Birmingham in 2007, opening with 12 taps. Within a year he had more than 70 beers on tap, was hosting beer dinners, offering beer culture classes and introducing cask ale.

“The J. Clyde is one of the best craft beer bars in the country as their selection and cellar grows daily it seems, plus they truly care about craft beer,” said Gabe Harris of Free the Hops.

Other restaurants expanded their beer offers. The Diplomat Deli in nearby Vestavia Hills has a large bottle and can selection while On Tap sports bar offers an extensive list at three locations.

To show just how far beer culture has come in Birmingham you only have to look at Slice, a pizzeria. A year or so ago Slice had only l0 taps but all 10 were Alabama beers.

“You have to try really hard to find a place now that isn’t carrying good craft beer, especially local beers,” said Harris.”And the majority are expanding their selections all the time.”

Package Stores, Too

Birmingham’s watering holes are complemented by an abundance of good package stores, also. Vulcan Beverage, started by Mark Green in 1993, was the first to carry every beer available from local distributors. When Green opened, he pretty much had the beer-centric package store business to himself.

“Nobody else was doing it and I had the room,” he said. “Over the years we have offered more than 3,200 beers. Today, we have more than a thousand and we have 74 taps.”

He was an early provider of microbrewery and export beers and an early supporter of Free the Hops .

In recent months other local retailers Such as Highland Package Store have entered the market with an array of cans, bottles and growlers. Now there are numerous supermarkets and package stores with not only huge selections of bottled and canned beer but also growlers of draft beer.

Joining that mix in the past few months have been chain retailers Hop City and World of Beer.

Despite its rocky start, Hop City, out of Atlanta, opened on time and is doing well, according to manager Spencer Overton.

He said they are working with ABC to correct the homebrew supply problem.

“We are trying to get more wine representation. The Beer folks have found us for the most part. We’re putting out a lot of growlers.”

Hop City currently carried 60 taps, 20 of them from Alabama. They stock 1,200 beers and 820 wines.

World of Beer opened as both a major package store and a bar. The bar offers no food but has plenty of seating, live music, and tie-ins with local restaurants. The restaurants deliver to patrons at World of Beer.

“It’s amazing how far things have come and I’ve very hopeful we’ll continue catch up to more advanced beer cities like Asheville, NC over the next few years. The sky’s the limit,” said Danner Kline.

Read the full article at http://sbnonline.brewingnews.com/article/Beer+Keeps+Birmingham+Growning/1325531/148014/article.html.

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