Alabama's Best Pints
Loosened liquor laws now allow brewmasters to create craft beers and sell them across the state. Here are five of our foaming favorites
Avondale Brewing Company, Birmingham
The Place: Alabama's newest brewery sits on a quiet street in the Avondale neighborhood just east of downtown Birmingham. The building housing the open fermentation tanks (the only ones in the state), rows of gleaming kegs, and a welcoming taproom has been many things—a fire station, pharmacy, bank, and brothel—in its 117-year history.
The People: Brothers Coby and Hunter Lake founded Avondale Brewing Company last year. They combined their backgrounds in real estate with their home-brewing experience to get things started, and then enlisted the expertise of brewmaster Craig Shaw.
The Beers: Avondale's five beers get their punch from a special yeast designed by Craig and cultivated exclusively for the brewery. The brewmaster recommends Spring Street Saison, a light beer with a honey aroma that has a slightly bitter flavor and a crisp, clean finish ($5/pint).
201 41st Street South; avondalebrewingcompany.com or 205/777-5456
Good People Brewing Company, Birmingham
The Place: Located near Birmingham's Railroad Park in a former beer distribution warehouse, Good People has been brewing "ales from the heart of Dixie" for four years and canning for one year.
The People: Friends Michael Sellers and Jason Malone took their knowledge from years of making backyard beer and partnered to start Good People in 2008. They based the name on a colloquialism, Michael explains. "I kept hearing this older gentleman say, 'He's good people.' I thought it fit our community because this area is full of good people."
The Beers: Good People offers five different year-round beers as well as small-batch seasonal brews with names such as the Bearded Reserve series (which playfully alludes to the beards worn by all of Good People's staff). Jason's favorite is a double IPA called Snake Handler, which blends five varieties of hops to create a bold floral brew with bits of citrus ($11/four pack).
114 14th Street South; goodpeoplebrewing.com or 205/317-1363
Back Forty Beer Company, Gadsden
The Place: In a former Sears Roebuck appliance repair center in the middle of town, the bottling line of Back Forty Beer Company hums under the watchful eye of owner Jason Wilson and brewmaster Jamie Ray. Back Forty began brewing and bottling beer in 2009 and grew so quickly Jason moved the operation to its current, larger quarters last year.
The People: Jason was visiting a Colorado brewpub in 2001 when he first realized the potential of craft beer. "I took a sip of the best beer I'd ever tasted, and said 'Amazing!'" he remembers. "All of a sudden, the brewmaster popped out from behind a tank and said, 'Thanks!' He looked like he really enjoyed his work. That inspired me to try this, and luckily I found Jamie to help me do it."
The Beers: Back Forty makes four different bottled beers including Naked Pig Pale Ale, Kudzu Porter, and Freckle Belly IPA—but its claim to fame is the award-winning Truck Stop Honey Brown Ale ($9/six pack). Made with wildflower honey from several apiaries in Alabama, the earthy, medium-bodied brew won a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival in 2010.
200 North Sixth Street; backfortybeer.com or 256/467-4912
Blue Pants Brewery, Madison
The Place: At first glance, you might not notice this small brewery hidden away in an industrial park. But Blue Pants is more than a building—it's also a young couple's brew-filled version of the American dream.
The People: After living in Seattle and learning to love its locally crafted beers, Allison ("Blue") and Mike ("Pants") Spratley moved back to Mike's hometown of Madison and founded their namesake brewery in 2010. "There's so much individuality in craft beers, especially when we give them our own spin," Mike says. Allison still works as a math teacher and Mike has kept his day job as an engineer. But the couple is considering making brewing their new careers, ever since moving their operation into a larger 10,000-square-foot space last year.
The Beers: Knickerbocker Red and Corduroy Rye are always flowing out of Blue Pants' taps, while the seasonal Sans-Culottes ("no pants") Saison cools off the summer months. Mike suggests Knickerbocker Red with its full body and aggressive yet balanced mixture of hops ($4/pint).
500 Lanier Road, Building 1, Suite A; bluepantsbrew.com
Straight to Ale, Huntsville
The Place: A nondescript building on the edge of the Huntsville Municipal Golf Course houses the city's oldest brewery and gives its owners a place to honor their space-age hometown.
The People: Straight to Ale founders and brewmasters Dan Perry and Rick Tarvin went from making beer at home to doing it for a living in 2009 after winning a few home-brewing competitions. "We've always loved figuring out a recipe, then changing and perfecting it," Dan says. "So after we won some awards, we got a little obsessed."
The Beers: Straight to Ale currently brews three beers and cans one beer year-round, as well as several "occasional" brews such as Unobtainium, an ale aged in whiskey barrels—an innovative technique that Dan and Rick are still perfecting. Dan recommends Monkeynaut, a balanced beer with a hint of sweetness ($9/six pack). Like all of Straight to Ale's beers, Monkeynaut (named for Miss Baker, a squirrel monkey who was launched into space in 1959 and is now buried at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center) pays homage to Huntsville's role in the NASA program.
3200 Leeman Ferry Road; straighttoale.com