Ken Carman is a BJCP judge; homebrewer since 1979, club member at Escambia Bay, Salt City and Music City Homebrewers, who has been interviewing professional brewers all over the east coast for over 10 years.
Written by Ken Carman
The Topic: The New Brew-Jewels of the Gulf Coast and Alabama
Written by Ken Carman
This will be a very general overview of three new breweries; one in the panhandle of Florida, one near the coast of Alabama and last: northern Alabama. Hoping to stop by Props and Fairhope next year to do full interviews and updates and, for my next big Brew Biz project, I hope to go Straight to Ale!
Millie and her weird, blond monster, husband, have always had a passion for the Emerald Coast, or Gulf Coast to include Mississippi and Alabama. So not too long before my birthday we headed south for a few days. I won’t tell you how old I am, let’s just say I’m close to double the old fashioned number journalists used to use to tell editors an article has ended, and I use at the end of every Brew Biz and Inspection column in honor of old time journalism.
You’ll figure it out by the time you scroll to the end.
Last year, on business in Florida, I just happened to notice this new place called “Props Brewery” in Fort Walton Beach: some publications list it as Crestview. Why, I don’t know. Most of Crestview is north of I-10, many miles away.
They hadn’t even brought in the brew system yet and said they didn’t know who their brewer would be. Not a good sign, normally, and I have observed a lot of “bad signs” here on the Coast: Nigel Manley’s near Destin which shared space with a busy mall and had questionable parking, Panama City Brewery: nice building but zzzzzzzzzzzzzz beer, Santa Rosa Bay Brewing which infamously tapped a Bud keg once and called it their own. A friend of mine almost turned it around: Todd Hicks. But when checks stopped coming he decided to leave, and soon they too were gone. Last time I looked when I drove by there all there was was an empty lot.
Of course maybe the lot emptied because of certain business decisions made by a part owner, like investing heavily in marketing a product called Death Cigarettes?
One of the more noble efforts, perhaps, was in Tallahassee: Buckhead, one of several Buckheads, the rest in the Atlanta area. But that also failed: most likely victim to overspending on a lavish building with antler chandeliers… and shifting brewers. Food was great: a lot of wild game. Beer went from yum, to ewe, to mmmmm, back to yack, then…
So I wasn’t even sure if Props would still be there when I got back. The whole Emerald Coast area has a mixed history when it comes to brew-based businesses like brewpubs or micros. I was not only surprised by how well their plans seemed to have come together, but felt the Black IPA alone was well worth the effort of stopping by. Most of the beers they had listed on their site weren’t on tap, according to Millie… except maybe the Porter and perhaps the Blond Bomber.
It’s a small place, with the small brewery in full view. They have a 7 barrel kettle, two 5 barrel fermenters and 12 barrel mash tun: a brewery they have affectionately called “Frankenstein.”
Apologies to Props. We really wanted to offer more in this edition of Brew Biz. However, seems like every time we stopped by my plans to do more on this interesting, shopping plaza-based, brewpub were thwarted. First time we had to go somewhere else and left, planning on stopping by on Monday. Camera battery was dead. I would have taken more pictures when I stopped back by on Monday, but the camera was having battery issues again. This, unlike the other two, is a brewpub with full menu. The food looked promising but, again, we had promised a friend we’d be somewhere else.
So more… later.
We got to spend more time at Fairhope Brewing, and the camera worked.
This is an area that has cried out for a micro with a tasting room for quite a while and someone spent a lot of money on this one. Unlike the now gone Hurricane Brewing in nearby, downtown, Mobile, which was Cannon before that, and another brewery before that, we believe this has a far better chance to survive, and not just because the parking is better. The main reason: Fairhope is part of a newer trend: a brewery with a public tasting room: not a brewpub. And it tis a very nice tasting room.
When we came into the area I had known there was a new brewery, but didn’t get to check, on line, until Saturday.
Oops! Two hours before their hard opening!
So we headed off to Fairhope. The line was long and they were obviously spiffing the place up. One of the best “spiffs” was smaller batch taps in the courtyard with brewer, Dan Murphy, pouring. There was a honey wheat and honey porter, both using peanut honey. “Peanut honey?” Yes, according to the very busy Dan. Apparently bees gathering their pollen from peanut plants make this marvelous honey. We were both amazed how much the peanut flavor carried over. Other honeys don’t seem to do what peanut honey does so well. We’ve used clover, buckwheat, orange blossom, wildflower and a few more I have forgotten, when we brew our braggots. This had a more obvious, more distinct, pollen-sourced flavor than any of these other honeys.
Have to get some!
Once again, like in Fort Walton Beach, among my favs, was a Black IPA, this one called Painted Black: nice roasted barley, solid bitter with decent firm body that coated the mouth with brew love. I really, really, wanted to try the double hopped one they were going to have in the courtyard but we couldn’t stay that long. As it was we did have the Imperial Honey Wheat, the first to be poured. The honey was in the nose and the taste: though a bit in the background. I did find it odd it didn’t taste all that wheat-y, more caramel malt-like. But since I’m not a big wheat beer fan: no problem! It obviously had wheat in it since the cloudiness caused by wheat proteins was visually quite evident.
It was quite a busy afternoon, on into the night: servers almost flying off their feet trying to serve a big crowd that poured in. The bar was beautiful with the brewery very visual behind the windows as you sat at the bar.
As we headed home a few days later I already had a plan for the last stop. One of the best beers I’ve had recently was Laika from Straight to Ale in Huntsville, Alabama. We were headed that way anyway and the GPS lady seemed cooperative at first. So after going crazy because she told us to turn where there was no place to turn, we finally found Straight to Ale behind all the other buildings the GPS gal claimed were Straight to Ale.
When I snapped the picture of the logo on their van one of the owners came out, curious. That brought me an invite into the brewery and on to the tasting room.
What I like the most about Straight to Ale is, like Hoppin Frog in Akron, they are not only not afraid to be aggressive: they seem to do so with delight.
What I like the least is you can’t buy the beer there. It’s all an Alabama law thing that makes you chase around looking for the marvelous Straight to Ale beers.
As we sat at the bar and sampled some of the best fare’ I’ve had in the South, and that includes a lot of damn good breweries, I knew I’d be swinging by again.
Brew Biz: Werts and All, is a column dedicated to reviewing, discussing and commenting on all things beer including, but not limited to: marketing, homebrewing and homebrew/beer related events, how society perceives all things beer. Also: reviews of beer related businesses, opinions about trends in the beer business, and all the various homebrew, judging and organizations related to beer. Essentially, all things “beer.”
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