My night with the Lexington Legends – June 12, 2018

The second stop on my trip through the Bluegrass State for baseball and beer was Lexington, Ky.  It is a city that I used to know really well because I attended the University of Kentucky for two years as an undergraduate, but it has been nearly two decades since I was last a student at UK.  So returning to Lexington to explore its budding craft beer scene (yes, BEER not bourbon) while also visiting another Minor League Baseball stadium has been on my “to-do” list for quite a few years.  Finally this summer, I got to make it happen.

So on a Tuesday afternoon following some visits to the city’s local craft breweries, my wife Katie and I made it to Whitaker Bank Ballpark, home of the Lexington Legends.  When I was a student at UK in the mid-1990s there was regularly talk of Lexington seeking a MiLB team, but none of it came to fruition until 2001.  Unlike many other ballparks built during the early-2000s, the Legends’ stadium is not in downtown, but instead northeast of downtown off a ring road (New Circle Road) across from a strip mall.

I didn’t know it at the time we planned our visit, but it was a mystery giveaway night.  It turned out that the Legends were giving away a bobblehead of University of Kentucky head football coach Mark Stoops.  So I neglected to capture my customary stadium entrance photo, as we hurriedly entered to secure out bobblehead.  However, I went back outside to capture the view the typically greets fans arriving at the ballpark.

The main entrance to the ballpark.

There was a LOT going on after entering the ballpark, but in a good way.  Fans see a lot of branding in multiple places, so you have to be oblivious to the environment to be unaware that you are attending a Lexington Legends baseball game.

For fans interesting in scoring the game, you find the home team’s lineup and the South Atlantic League standings.

Although Katie and I hurried through the gate, we had plenty of time before the game started so we wandered the concourse checking out the food options with a brief pit stop at the team gift store.

We didn’t get any food before the game because I wanted to get a picture of the night’s bobblehead honoree, UK head football coach Mark Stoops throwing out the ceremonial first pitch.  So we headed to our seats that were just to the right of home plate.

Following Stoops’s ceremonial first pitch we watched the beginning of the game, which pitted the Columbia Fireflies against the host Legends.

Lexington Legends starting pitcher Janser Lara delivers the first pitch to Columbia Fireflies left fielder Raphael Gladu.

With seats almost immediately behind home plate, we also had easy access to the Kentucky Ale Taproom.  It has a full-service bar and kitchen with many ballpark staples, but also some of the signature food items available at the ballpark like the Larry Mac Burger (more on that later).

After watching some of the action, I went exploring the concourse again.  Along the way I found something most Minor League teams incorporate into their ballpark, and something I had never seen before at a baseball stadium.  Near a display case showing off the team’s current uniform set, I found plaques commemorating all of the players who played for the Legends and made it to the Majors.  The unique item I found was artwork created to commemorate the team’s 15th season in 2015, which was made from signed mini baseball bats.

Speaking of unique items at the ballpark, the Legends feature a collection of wall decals featuring two prominent groups of people: former Legends who made it to the Majors and former University of Kentucky basketball players throwing out ceremonial first pitches.

I’ve seen all sorts of ways Minor League teams commemorate their former players who reach “The Show,” so seeing a collection of generic Fathead decals wasn’t surprising.  It was different, but certainly not surprising.  However, it was very surprising to see wall decals of former UK basketball stars (Patrick Patterson, Willie Cauley-Stein, and others) throwing out ceremonial first pitches.  Wildcat basketball may make the world go ’round in Kentucky, but it was not something I expected to see incorporated into a Minor League stadium in Lexington, even if it is the university’s home city.

The concourse does not wrap around the ballpark, but I was easily able to photograph the bleachers in left field and the Pepsi Party Deck in right field.

There are also multiple spots around the stadium to keep kids entertained.  Down the right field line is a basketball court, which seems unusual at a baseball stadium but also seems completely natural in Kentucky.

An overview of the basketball court and the entrance to the part deck.

Down the left field line is the more traditional kid zone.  The team’s kids club is sponsored by Jif peanut butter, which is produced in Lexington at the world’s largest peanut butter production facility.

At Whitaker Bank Ballpark, the bullpens of both teams are in play.  The home team’s bullpen is down the right field line and the visiting team’s bullpen is down the left field line.  While exploring I was able to capture photos of both bullpens and some other scenes of the ballpark.

Although I walked around the entire stadium to capture the surroundings, I did manage to watch some of the baseball game.  Katie and I literally had front row seats, so there was no shortage of baseball watching this night.  In fact, the Legends starting pitcher Janser Lara, first baseman Nick Pratto, right fielder Seuly Matias, and catcher MJ Melendez are among the Kansas City Royals’ top-30 prospects.

Eventually watching all of these top prospects made Katie and I hungry, so we settled upon the aforementioned Larry Mac Burger, which we found at the Ballpark Favorites concession stand along the third base line.  The burger is a third-pound Kentucky Proud burger topped with either original or jalapeño Larry Mac’s beer cheese, Applewood-smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato, and onion.

My dinner for the night was the Larry Mac Burger.

The version I received was a two quarter-pound beef patties smothered in jalapeño beer cheese.  Unfortunately there was no lettuce, tomato, or onion in sight.  It was a deliciously, gooey, and messy meal though.  In hindsight, I might have opted for the original beer cheese, as the jalapeño-version remained with me throughout the night.

I did not have any beers at the ballpark, but that was not because of any shortage of craft beer options.  The Kentucky Ale Taproom is sponsored by Alltech Lexington Brewing & Distilling Co., which produces the Kentucky Ale line of beers and the Town Branch Distillery spirits.  Craft beer choices are available throughout the stadium, but The Handle Bar (along the first base line) has the largest selection of beer.

The biggest deterrent to having a beer at the ballpark to compliment my Larry Mac Burger was that shortly after ordering my food the skies opened and the tarp came out to cover the field.  Following a 37-minute delay with one out in the bottom of the fifth inning the game was called.  When the game was called the skies had started to clear, but apparently the field was too wet to continue the game and it had progressed far enough to be an official game.

The cloud appear to part after a heavy downpour led to the cancellation of the game after five innings.

Despite an abbreviated game, I had a great experience at Whitaker Bank Ballpark watching a Lexington Legends game.  There is plenty of parking at the stadium, which is a benefit of its outside of downtown location.  The stadium has been well maintained and updated since its opening in 2001.

Most importantly the experience at the ballpark checked off all of the boxes I expect when visiting a Minor League ballpark.  The stadium had a pleasant setting and was well-maintained.  The food and beverage choices were unique and included locally-produced products.  The team offered unique promotions during the game.  The staff was friendly and helpful.  I wish the game had resumed so I could’ve enjoyed the atmosphere at the ballpark more, but it was an enjoyable experience and definitely a family and fan-friendly place.

Final: Columbia 1, Lexington 2 (Five innings)
Box Score

Disclosure: My admission to the Lexington Legends baseball game was provided by the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau (VisitLEX).  I received a media rate for my two-night stay at the Lexington Hilton/Downtown.  Be assured that all words and opinions contained here are 100% my own.

My night with the Louisville Bats – June 11, 2018

There is something to be said for returning to places you have visited before.  If you haven’t been to that place in a number of years you may get to see how it has changed since your last visit.  Sometimes the more you visit a place the more you notice different characteristics.  That was the case this summer when I returned to Louisville, Ky., to attend a Louisville Bats baseball game.

I had previously attends a Bats game in 2005.  So some things had changed and some things had relatively remained the same since my last visit 13 years ago.  The Bats still play at Louisville Slugger Field just east of downtown Louisville.  However, the team’s color scheme changed dramatically ahead of the 2016 season.  The team switched from a purple and black color scheme to a red and blue color scheme, and overhauled their logos.  However, the exterior of the facility appears the same as it did when I visited several years ago.

A view of the ballpark at the intersection of Main and Preston streets with the former Brinly-Hardy Company warehouse being incorporated into the stadium.

Fans walking from downtown will see the former Brinly-Hardy warehouse first, but the “real” entrance to the ballpark is adorned by one of Louisville’s favorite sons: Brooklyn Dodgers shortstop Pee Wee Reese.

The main entrance to Louisville Slugger Field with a statue of Louisville-native and National Baseball Hall of Famer Pee Wee Reese.

Although the statue of Pee Wee Reese serves as the welcome to fans attending a Bats baseball game, but it is really a facade before fans get to enter the seating bowl.  The stadium’s incorporation of the Brinly-Hardy warehouse allowed the stadium to enclose all the entrance ways on Main Street, and create a restaurant at the end of the building that is now occupied by Against the Grain Brewery & Smokehouse.  The space between the building and seating bowl also allows the team to decorate with pieces of the franchise’s history.

Fans walking into Louisville Slugger Field will find that they enter the stadium concourse and walk down to their seats unless they’re in the more posh luxury suites upstairs.  As my wife Katie and I arrived at the ballpark just a bit before the first pitch, we took a moment to hang out behind home plate so I could capture the official start of the game.

Louisville Bats starting pitcher Homer Bailey delivers a pitch to Columbus Clippers center fielder Todd Hanks.

With the seating bowl below the concourse there are numerous concession stands around the level, which wraps around the entire field.  As is my habit, I walked around the entire concourse to peruse the food and beverage options and get a feel for the stadium.

In addition to the concession stands and portable stands between the first and third base bags, Katie and I saw some food options down the left field line and on the outfield concourse.  However, it was just beyond the gate in left field that struck my attention during our stroll around the concourse.  So I investigated and found something I did not know existed at the stadium.

A statue of Louisville-native and famed football star Paul Hornung stands at the northwest gate to the stadium.

A statue of famed Green Bay Packer and Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back Paul Hornung.  I was stunned to see this statue outside the stadium because it featured a football star outside a baseball field, but also because until seeing the statue and doing some research I had no clue that he grew up in Louisville.  In hindsight, it still seems a bit odd to see a statue of a famous football player outside a baseball stadium, but it is also cool to see the city commemorate its star athletes.

After capturing a photograph of the Paul Hornung statue I returned to the ballpark to snap shots of the view from the outfield concourse.  One of the first things I saw was an empty chair reserved in honor for POWs.

“One empty seat” as part of the POW-MIA Chair of Honor program sits in left field.

After capturing the Chair of Honor, I turned my attention back to the stadium and the downtown area.  The stadium’s location on the eastern edge of downtown provides a lot of great views of the downtown Louisville skyline.

As Katie and I continued walking around the concourse, we were dwarfed by the scoreboards.  In fact, the primary scoreboard in right field loomed over us so much that I had to capture of photo standing beneath it.

A closeup of the scoreboard in right field.

The concession stand beneath the scoreboard is aptly named because the scoreboard overlooks everything around it, including the kid play zone nearby.

A glimpse of the carousel and kids play area in right field.

After finishing our walk around the stadium, I started to contemplate my food and beverage choices for the night.  While walking around the stadium, I saw the usual ballpark food items (hot dogs, hamburgers, nachos, pizza, etc.), but nothing screamed, “You must eat this food at a Louisville Bats baseball game!”  So while continuing to think about my food choices, I remembered that the Bats had partnered with Against the Grain to create a beer specifically to be served at the ballpark.  After asking a few people working at stands serving alcohol, Katie and I ended up behind home plate at the Diamond Drinks concession stand.

A view of the Diamond Drinks stand behind home plate.

In addition to offering a variety of beers, including some craft beers, Diamond Drinks is notable because the stand serves liquor and wine.  So if you’re not a beer drinker, you can still find a quality drink at the ballpark.  We each ordered our 16-oz. cans of Bats Win! and took our seats.

The beer is a golden ale that checks in with 4.9% ABV.  It is a light, crisp, and clean beer that is great for summer and baseball.  It is among the growing trend of collaborations between Minor League Baseball teams and local craft breweries, which I wrote about in a guest piece for MiLB.com’s Ben Hill (a.k.a. Ben’s Biz).  You can read the piece here if you want to learn more about the trend.

Soon after finishing our beers, Katie and I started discussing food options.  As I try to avoid the “usual suspects” at the ballpark, I remembered that a few years prior the Bats had entered a grilled pork chop sandwich in the annual MiLB Food Fight.  We also happened upon a sign advertising the delectable treat, and decided that was the right choice to fill our bellies.  We located it at the outfield grill in center field.

The sandwich did not come with the advertised lettuce, tomato, or onion, which would have really complimented the deliciously grilled pork.  However, the sandwich was filling and definitely a unique food item that I’ve not seen or read about being served at other ballparks.

With my stomach full and my thirst quenched, I turned my focus to capturing the sights of the ballparks.  I realized that during my walk I had photographed much of the park except for a closeup of the seating bowl and the scoreboards in the outfield.

As I took pictures of the scoreboards, I got to witness one of the between-innings contests put on by the Bats.  As is common practice at baseball games, teams have people race around the bases or sometimes around the warning track.  Often times these races incorporate a local connection to make it more unique.  In Louisville, home of the Kentucky Derby, the team has people dress as horses and race around the bases.  It was a nice twist to a classic ballgame contest.

Although my focus was not as much on the game at hand, I did get to enjoy watching Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Homer Bailey make a rehabilitation start with the Bats.  Additionally, I got to watch some of the top prospects for the Cleveland Indians like catcher Eric Haase and infielder Yu-Cheng Chang and some of the top prospects for the Cincinnati Reds like infielder Nick Senzel, who is the fourth-rated prospect in all of Minor League Baseball, and reliever Tanner Rainey.

Although ogling over star prospects and rehabilitating Major Leaguers draws some people out to the ballpark, my focus is always on the experience.  I come to the stadium to eat some great food, drink some good craft beer, and enjoy the atmosphere.  Without the doubt, I got to do all of those things at Louisville Slugger Field.  The stadium does not show its age, despite opening in 2000.  Most importantly, the Bats do a great job of keeping fans involved in the game with some local twists on the between-inning contests.

Final Score: Columbus 7, Louisville 4
Box Score

Disclosure: My admission to the Louisville Bats baseball game was provided by Louisville Tourism.  I received a media rate for my two-night stay at the Aloft Louisville Downtown.  Be assured that all words and opinions contained here are 100% my own.

Touring Hank Aaron’s childhood home in Mobile

It’s not every day that a ticket to a baseball game also gets you admission to the childhood home of a baseball Hall of Famer.  However, that is precisely what you will find at Hank Aaron Stadium in Mobile, Ala., home of the Mobile BayBears.  In 2008, the city moved the childhood home of Mobile-native Henry Louis (“Hank”) Aaron to the grounds of the stadium that bears his name.

HISTORY OF THE HOME
Herbert Aaron, Hank’s father, built the house in 1942.  It initially consisted of three rooms, but the Aaron family gradually expanded the house.  It now has seven rooms, and it is possible to see where the Aaron family added an extension to the rear of the house.  In 2008, the home was moved from its original location in the Toulminville section of Mobile, restored, and dedicated on April 14, 2010, as the Hank Aaron Childhood Home & Museum.

INSIDE THE HOME
When visitors enter the home they are greeted by Hank Aaron’s voice detailing his childhood in segregated Mobile, and see a sign detailing the transformation of the home into a museum.

A sign displaying the restoration of the historic home.

The first room to the left used to be the bedroom of Hank and his brothers.  It has now been converted into a room that preserves Aaron family pieces, including a dress worn by his mother Estella.

Items from the Aaron family home including a china cabinet.

The only room in the house that resembles its original appearance is the kitchen.

A view of the kitchen.

The remainder of the exhibits chronicle Aaron’s illustrious baseball career starting with playing semi-professional baseball for an independent Negro League team and concluding with his final season in the Major Leagues playing for the Milwaukee Brewers.

Most notable among the exhibits are the items associated with hitting the record-breaking 715th career homerun, which made him the Major League homerun king.

Hank Aaron received numerous accolades after hitting his 715th career homerun to become the all-time homerun leader in Major League Baseball history.

The exhibits focus primarily on the accomplishments of Hank Aaron, but his younger brother Tommie also played and later coached in the Major Leagues.  So  two lockers feature items from Hank and Tommie’s careers in baseball, including photographs of them as teammates on the Atlanta Braves.

Lockers reflecting the career of siblings Hank and Tommie Aaron.

The home centers around what Hank Aaron accomplished on the baseball field, but it was first and foremost a family home.  As visitors exit the home you see a portrait of Hank’s parents, Herbert and Estella Aaron.  It was commissioned by MLB Commissioner Bud Selig in honor of the dedication of the home museum on April 14, 2010.

A painting of Herbert and Estella Aaron commissioned by MLB Commissioner Bud Selig.

If you want to visit the home of this National Baseball Hall of Famer and cannot attend a baseball game, it is also open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Admission is $5.

A new home brings about a new name

If you know me beyond my web presence, you already know that a LOT has changed in my life over the past three months.  However, if you only (or primarily) know me as a travel writer/blogger then you probably are unaware of the dramatic change that has taken place.

I have moved to Tokyo, Japan!

Yep, this Southern-raised, Northern-born college geography professor has left the academic life (at least as a full-time academic) and relocated to Japan.  There is a LOT behind this move, but it boils down to my wife Katie securing a job teaching at a Department of Defense school in Tokyo and us deciding this was the move we wanted to make.

So we packed up our apartment and moved to Tokyo (technically the western side of metropolitan Tokyo).  She will start work later in August, as a teacher of students with visual impairments (TVI), but I have not yet secured a full-time job.  So with her support, I am using this opportunity to focus on travel writing full-time.  With the shift to full-time travel writing, I have also made the decision to rename my blog from “My Geography Lessons” to “Steven on the Move.”

The content of the blog will not change much, as I will continue writing about sports (especially now that I get to experience baseball in Japan), beer, culture, and history with a dash of food.  However, I felt that now was an opportune time to rename the blog to highlight my content as travel writing and NOT academic writing about the discipline of geography (if you want to read my academic thoughts go here).

If you don’t already follow me on the usual social media platforms, I hope that you will “like” my page on Facebook, “follow” me on Twitter and Instagram, and if you want to see what beers I’m drinking send me a friend request on Untappd.

So as we say in Japan when toasting, “Kampai!”

A pint at Big Beach Brewing Co. in Gulf Shores, Ala.

Opening a brewery takes a lot of time, effort, and patience.  However, Jim and Julie Shamburger navigated the process relatively quickly to open Big Beach Brewing Co. in Gulf Shores, Ala.  Jim started homebrewing after his daughter bought him a Mr Beer kit, but he quickly advanced and in July 2015 petitioned the city to open a brewery.  Construction of the building was completed and the brewery opened its doors in October 2016.

The brewery sits on the corner of East 2nd Street and East 24th Avenue in the Waterway Village District, so it is easily accessible to locals or people coming for a beach vacation.  During a recent visit I talked with brewmaster Rod Murray about the beers he brews at Big Beach while my wife Katie and I checked out the taproom and sampled some of their beers.

An overview of the brewery from the street.

The exterior of the brewery is very welcoming, but the trees can make it difficult to locate the parking lot behind the building.  So visitors instead see…

A view of the entrance.

Moments after walking in the door, Katie and I were greeted by Rod and we went straight to the production side of the facility to talk about beer.

Currently the brewery operates a 10-barrel brewhouse with six fermenters and two brite tanks.  Visitors are unable to see the production side of the brewery from the taproom, but there is limited seating behind a window that allows people to drink beer while watching Rod brews.

Like any brewery, Big Beach has a varied selection of merchandise available for purchase.  The selection of T-shirts and other items adorn a wall facing the production side of the brewery.

A collection of merchandise available for purchase.

The seating area is very spacious with a beautiful bar top and ample seating at various heights.  There are high-top tables and regular tables along with a couple of sofas that allow people to choose their experience at the taproom.

So onto the beer…

When we visited there were eight beers on draft, so Katie and I got a flight with each half of the menu.  The left side of the menu included Catman Kölsch, Czech It Out (a Czech pilsner), Ale of Two Cities Scottish 70 (a wee heavy/Scottish ale), and Amy (a wheat ale with honey and basil).  The right side of the menu had Rod’s Reel Cream Ale, Small Town Brown Ale, Dixie’s Heart Red Ale (an Irish red ale), Hundred Daze IPA (a hazy India pale ale).  The brewery’s introductory beer is Rod’s Reel Cream Ale, which is a light, crisp beer that is perfect for the beach.  It along with Amy, which is a wheat ale with basil and honey, were my favorites on draft.  A beer like Amy can be an acquired taste because it is strong on basil with a hint of honey on the finish, but if you like those flavors it is a deliciously well-executed brew.

Rod prides himself on brewing beers to style, which means adhering to the standards set forth by the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP).  He follows these guidelines because of his award-winning experience as a homebrewer and commercial brewer when he worked in Missouri.  So the beers at Big Beach Brewing Co. may be different than beers at other breweries that are the same style.  The difference means that the beers people find at Big Beach are closer to the historical style of that beer.

The interesting part of Rod’s story is that he found Jim and Julie searching for a brewmaster as he was seeking to “retire” and find a place near the beach.  Clearly Rod hasn’t retired and is still brewing some delicious ales for a town that uses “Small Town, Big Beaches” as part of its marketing campaign.

Visitors to Alabama’s southernmost brewery will find a fresh, new building with an appropriately beach-influenced taproom, delicious brews, and a wonderful small-town feeling.

A pint at Serda Brewing Co. in Mobile, Ala.

Opening a brewery is a labor of love for a lot of reasons.  One of the primary reasons is because of the long time it can take for a brewery to go from being someone’s idea to becoming a reality that craft beer lovers can visit.

A great example of this process is Serda Brewing Company in Mobile, Ala. The idea started with John Serda and his father Ed in 2013, but did not come to fruition until late in 2017.  The plan started to come together after the father-son duo found a vacant former Goodyear Tire Store in downtown, but even after identifying the building it took several months before the company was brewing beer.  What visitors see now is a far cry from what used to exist on the site, as guests pull up to a fully-renovated building with bright, vibrant colors proclaiming the rebirth of the site.

A view of the main entrance.

My wife Katie and I walked to the brewery from our downtown hotel, so we did not have to worry about parking out car.  However, there is plenty of parking available behind the brewery and on adjacent streets.  Walking up to the building there are two potential entrances: one to the taproom and one to the production facility.

Entrances to the taproom and production facility.

We walked into the taproom, surveyed the taproom seating arrangements and orders a pair of flights.  But before I delve into beers we should take a look around the taproom as there are several seating options for visitors.

The beer menu is to the right of the bar.

The beer list.

Visitors pass a large merchandise area almost immediately after walking into the taproom.

An overview of the merchandise available for sale.

So after ordering our flights, Katie and I saw down at a high-top table to have our first taste of beer from Serda Brewing Company.

One advantage of visiting a brewery a few months after it has opened is that they tend to progress beyond just their flagship beers and usually offer a few one-off brews.  So I ordered a flight of flagship beers while Katie put together a flight of one-off brews.  My flight consisted of Hook Line & Lager (a German pilsner), Tidewater (a Vienna-style lager), Mobile Bay IPA (an international IPA), and Clear Prop (a Baltic porter).  Katie’s flight included Espresso Porter (an American porter), Home Port (a hefeweizen), a Randall-version of Mobile Bay IPA with a variety of fruits, and Kellerbier (an unfiltered pilsner).  Out of the eight brews, my favorites were the Espresso Porter, which was very smooth but had a big espresso nose and pronounced coffee notes, and Clear Prop, which has nice roasted flavors but was not heavy.

The brewery focuses on German styles with a unique American twist.  That is clear in the German pilsner, Vienna-style lager, hefeweizen, and other beers on draft when I visited.

After finishing our flights, I explored the production side of the brewery and captured pictures of the brewery’s three-vessel, 30-barrel brewhouse.  They also have four 60-barrel fermenters and two 60-barrel brite tanks.

In addition to the indoor space, Serda Brewing also has an extensive outdoor space.  There is an alley behind the brewery that regularly hosts food trucks.

An overview of Food Truck Alley.

Additionally, there are tables underneath tents that extend out from the production building that offer visitors plenty of outdoor space to enjoy a beer.

An overview of outdoor seating.

Overall, the brewery and taproom are very inviting with splashes of bright color incorporated into the logo, the taproom decor, and even the awnings covering the outdoor space.  The beers are approachable and well-executed by head brewer Todd Hicks, who has over 20 years of professional brewing experience.  Serda Brewing is downtown Mobile’s first craft brewery, which makes it accessible to residents and visitors alike.

A pint at Fairhope Brewing Co. in Fairhope, Ala.

A town of approximately 15,000 people may not seem like the ideal location for a brewery, but it was precisely the place Brian Kane and Jim Foley thought would be perfect for a brewery.  Just over five years ago, the pair opened Fairhope Brewing Company in Fairhope, Ala.  Not only has the brewery survived for five years, it has thrived and expanded about three years ago.

The brewery consists of two buildings, one used exclusively for production and one that serves as a taproom.  The production facility recently had a mural added to it while the taproom sits next door.

An overview of the mural on the brewery’s brewhouse.

Local artist Sarah Rutledge Fischer painted the mural, which covers the entire length of the production facility.  Next door the taproom occupies a brick-faced building that features the brewery’s logo above the front door.

An overview of the brewery’s taproom.

My wife Katie and I arrived early on a Saturday afternoon when the brewery was hosting the Mobile Baykeeper organization and released Hop in the Bay IPA with sales of the beer going to support the charity.

Mobile Baykeeper information table at the Hop in the Bay release party.

Shortly after arriving, we met with assistant brewer Brandon Fischer and co-owner Brian Kane.  Katie and I waited a few minutes as some other folks joined us for a tour of the facility.  The tour starts by taking people from the taproom building into the production building under a covered walkway.  Visitors immediately see the large fermentation tanks when they arrive in the production building, but we went past them to the grain mill.

Like most breweries, we moved from the grain to the brewhouse, which is a 30-barrel system.

The brewery’s mash tuns.

Immediately in front of the brewhouse are the fermenters.

An overview of the brewery’s fermenters.

If you stand with your back to the brewhouse the fermenters are immediately in front of you and to the left are a pair of brite tanks.  With the brewery’s bottling line not far away.

The next stop was the taproom storage space, which contains additional grains not stored in the production building and the brewery’s barrel program.

Not officially part of a tour because of space constraints, the brewery does have a smaller brewhouse and fermentation tanks in the taproom that are utilized for taproom only production.  As we wrapped up the tour, I was able to take a quick photo of the space.

A glimpse of the brewery’s taproom brewhouse system.

If you’re interested in participating in a tour, the brewery regularly runs them on Saturdays at noon.  More details can be found on Fairhope Brewing’s website.

After concluding the tour, Katie and I ordered a flight and talk more with Brandon and Brian about Fairhope’s history and their beer.  Brandon emphasized that the brewery focuses on “making beer we want to drink” instead of necessarily chasing trends.  However, that doesn’t mean visitors won’t find unique and experimental beers in the taproom.

On my flight, I order Tarts & Crafts (a cherry Berliner Weisse), Fairhope 51 (an American pale ale), UP-Dog (a Mosaic pale ale), Everyday Ale (an American blonde), and Liter of Cola (a Belgian saison).  Katie ordered Cheap Sunglasses (a Kölsch), Carole (a sour with ginger and orange peel), A Long Came a Cider Strawberry-Lime (a strawberry-lime cider), Dauphin (a New England IPA), and Hop in the Bay IPA (a session IPA).  Between the two of us we had a good mix of Fairhope’s year-round beers and some taproom-only brews.  Among my favorites were Cheap Sunglasses, which was crisp and clean and a fantastic beer to enjoy during the summer.  We both enjoyed Dauphin, as well.  However, our favorite taster was the strawberry-lime cider, which was a great mix of sweet and tart along with the apple base.  In fact, we enjoyed it so much that we purchased a 32-oz. crowler to take home with us.

While sampling our beers, I asked Brian more about the history of the brewery and what led to choosing Fairhope as the location.  He said that from all of traveling he and his wife Michele did around the U.S. that they particularly enjoyed visiting small-town breweries and the small town concept.  So Fairhope was appealing to the Mobile-native because as he said, “The town carries its own weight.  It is well-known for arts and crafts.”  Plus it has great water that only has to be filtered for particulates, so there is not additional expense to treating the water for brewing.

With an emphasis on being a small-town brewery the name was easy for Brian and his other partner Jim Foley to settle upon.  The logo, which features a capital letter “F” with a pelican inside it, took more time to agree upon.  Working with a design firm, the team struggled to agree upon a design because it initially centered around sunsets, but they felt like that would not translate well onto T-shirts and other items.  Eventually the graphic artist came up with the “F” with the pelican occupying negative space.  The pelican was the animal of choice because of their prominent appearance at the Grand Hotel in downtown Fairhope just a few miles away.

After the conversation with Brian and Brandon, Katie and I stayed around the taproom and enjoyed some food from the Bleus Burger food truck while watching people fill the place to support Mobile Baykeeper and listen to The Orange Constant perform.

Although the taproom was full when we left, it has lots of space and tables for visitors to enjoy a beer while watching TV, listening to a band, or just talking with friends.  Food trucks are regularly at the brewery on the weekends, but guests are welcome to bring their own food anytime.  The beers at Fairhope Brewing Company are a blend of approachable flavors for newcomers to craft beer like the Everyday Ale and experimental like UP-Dog for the adventurous beer drinker who wants to try something new when visiting a brewery.

Alabama Memorial Day weekend road trip preview

As the summer travel season is almost upon us, my wife Katie and I will be making our first extended trip of the year over the Memorial Day weekend.  The inspiration for our upcoming trip is baseball and craft beer, as we are setting out to see every Minor League Baseball team that plays in Alabama while also visiting more of the state’s craft breweries.

Our schedule is built around attending MiLB games, but we will assuredly be visiting craft breweries and seeing other local sights.  Here is our schedule…

Saturday, May 26:Biloxi Shuckers at Mobile BayBears, 7:05 p.m.

Tuesday, May 29:Jackson Generals at Montgomery Biscuits, 6:35 p.m.

Wednesday, May 30:Chattanooga Lookouts at Birmingham Barons, 12:30 p.m. (Rickwood Classic)

In addition to seeing games at every Minor League ballpark in the state, Katie will get to attend the Rickwood Classic.  We regularly attend Barons games at Regions Field in the Southside District, but she has never been to the annual game at Rickwood Field.  So this year, we are making it happen.

In addition to the baseball games, we plan on visiting the following breweries…

Fairhope Brewing Co. in Fairhope

Serda Brewing in Mobile

Big Beach Brewing Co. in Gulf Shores

For good measure, we’ll also be exploring some Civil Rights sights in Montgomery and Selma, too.

To see everything together, you can check out the Google Map I created that combines two of my favorite interests and some of the other sights we plan to visit during our trip.

You can follow along with our trip on the usual social media accounts.  I’ll be posting regularly on Twitter (@StevenOnTheMove) and Instagram (@StevenOnTheMove).  If you enjoy craft beer, you can follow my check-ins on Untappd (StevenOnTheMove) by sending me a friend request.

A pint at TrimTab Brewing Co. in Birmingham, Ala.

Someone who enrolls in law school and influenced by the philosophy of Buckminster Fuller is sure to create a unique brewery.  That is without a doubt what people will find when they visit TrimTab Brewing Company in the Lakeview District of Birmingham.

While enrolled at the University of Alabama School of Law Harris Stewart spent his spare time homebrewing and researching hop varieties before pursuing his calling of brewing craft beer full-time in 2012.  Stewart won a contest to re-purpose a lot in downtown from George Barber as “TrimTab Brewhouse & Hot Chicken Kitchen,” but ultimately realized the brewery operation would need more space.  Stewart convinced Barber to lease him another piece of property on 5th Avenue South that had previously housed Barber’s motorcycle collection, which is now housed at the Barber Motorsports Museum.

It is here that my visit began.

The brewery’s main signage.

Despite clear signage on the building, the entrance to the taproom, err tasting gallery, isn’t quite as clear.  The majority of parking at the brewery is in front of the facility where visitors will see a mural that hearkens back to Birmingham during the 1950s.

A slogan from the 1950s adorns a shed roof at the brewery.

Visitors who park underneath the mural may enter the brewery through its courtyard, where you can often find a food truck, or you can walk down the alley into the tasting gallery.  My wife Katie and I opted to enter the brewery through the alleyway.

The main entrance to the brewery.

Walking down the alley leads you directly into the taproom, where on the weekends you may be fortunate enough to find Stewart spinning vinyl.

DJ Sex Panther helping create the vibe.

After walking into the tasting gallery, I met my point of contact.  My wife Katie and I met with sales manager Jimmy Stewart, so I grabbed a flight of beer and we talked about the history of the brewery.  Stewart’s inspiration for the brewery’s name come from Buckminster Fuller piece about social responsibility.  He espoused that even on giant boats that there tiniest rudder could dramatically change the course of the entire vessel.  The tiny rudder attached to the main rudder is called a trim tab, which is the piece that can redirect the entire ship.  Fuller advocated that even the smallest act of social responsibility could change the direction of society.  The idea of the “trim tab” is why the brewery doesn’t have a taproom, but a “tasting gallery” where local artists can sell their artwork without a fee.

However, we came to drink beer.  So onto my flight.

A flight of beers.

TrimTab is widely available across Alabama, so I’ve had the majority of their flagship beers.  So on this visit, I decided to take advantage of sampling beers that have primarily only been available in the tasting gallery or in limited release on draft.  I ordered the Bankston Citrus Blonde, Cloud Hollows, Dry Hopped Blueberry, and Pillar to Post Rye Brown.  Of the four, my favorite was by far Cloud Hollows.  It is a really unique zero-IBU New England IPA.  So it is juicy and fruity with wonderful orange notes, but technically no bitterness.  If you prefer staples like an IPA or the brewery’s Paradise Now, which is a raspberry Berliner Weisse, you’ll find those on draft, too.  Additionally, each Friday the brewery releases a new small-batch beer that is only available at the tasting gallery.

After finishing my flight, Jimmy introduced Katie and I to head brewer Marc Fishel, who took us on an impromptu tour of the production side of the brewery.  The facility is like most similarly sized craft breweries, so we got to see the grain elevator, the mash tun, the fermenters, and canning line.

However, there are a few unique things visitors need to seek out that set the brewery apart from the rest of the scene.  If you’re lucky, you may find that one fermenter has been dedicated to former Alabama politician Dixon Hall Lewis, who is known for being one of the heaviest members of Congress.

The brewery’s largest tank is dedicated to former Alabama politician Dixon Hall Lewis.

In many cases, dogs are synonymous with visiting a brewery and spending time in a taproom.  However, TrimTab Brewing has its own “brewery dog” who wanders around the production side and occasionally makes her way into the tasting gallery.

Head brewer Marc Fishel with his dog Roxie talks about the brewery’s pilot system.

The atmosphere in the tasting gallery is light, bright, and colorful.  After all, it’s not just a taproom it’s an art gallery that serves its own beer.

If you prefer to sit outdoors, there is a courtyard that opens into the production side of the brewery.

An overview of the courtyard.

Regardless of where you choose to enjoy your beer at TrimTab Brewing, you will enjoy a unique brew that differentiates itself.  You may also be inspired to buy some art and be a small piece in major change.

A pint at Good People Brewing Co. in Birmingham, Ala.

After operating for two years in the Five Points South area of Birmingham, Good People Brewing Company relocated to its current location near Railroad Park.  After moving into a former warehouse, the company former Auburn University graduates Jason Malone and Mike Sellers started has blossomed into one of the biggest craft breweries in Alabama.  Despite its tremendous growth, Good People remains true to its roots as a brewery aiming to serve Alabama and neighboring states where you can find “good people” drinking great beer.

The main entrance to the brewery.

Upon arriving at the brewery, I met with sales team manager Stefano Daneri.  We immediately dove into a tour of the production side of the brewery.  I was fortunate to tour the facility on a Friday afternoon, but the brewery regularly runs tours on Saturdays at 1, 2, 3, and 4 p.m.  Tours cost $15 per person and include a collectible glass and a pint of beer.

An overview of the production side.

There is a LOT to see on the tour, so even if you’ve been on brewery tours before you are likely to see and/or learn something new here.  However, some things remain the same like seeing a canning line, fermentation tanks, and freshly kegged beer.

Some of the unique things my wife Katie and I saw on the tour include the brewery’s quality-control lab.

A glimpse into the lab.

A quality-control laboratory isn’t unique to Good People, but it is bar far the largest I have seen at a craft brewery.  In particular, it was interesting to see the refrigerator, which holds a sample from each batch of beer brewed over the last three months.  A sample is kept for testing in case there are problems with the beer after it has been packaged and distributed.

Although not unique, it was interesting to see the brewery’s original system that was used when they operated at Pickwick Plaza in Five Points South.

A view of the brewery’s original fermentation tanks that are now used for its pilot system.

Seeing the original system, which is still used for small batches, provides a lot of perspective about how much things have changed for Good People Brewing Co.  The quality of beer has not changed though, so it was with a view of the original system that we moved to the taproom to enjoy some fresh suds.

An overview of the bar.

With a facility in a former warehouse, it is difficult to capture the entire taproom in one photo because something is automatically left out of the visitor’s eyesight.

As a geographer, the mural of Alabama and its counties caught my eye.  I have visited the taproom multiple times, but somehow had never paid attention to the mural until this visit.  Not only is it cool geographic artwork, but it illustrates the brewery’s commitment to its home state.

Speaking of cool artwork, the brewery has a VERY extensive merchandise offering that occupies a corner of the taproom.

However, we came for beer not to buy merchandise.  Although there is plenty of cool merchandise available for purchase.

A flight of beers.

Good People Brewing is one of the largest (by volume) brewery’s in the state, so it is extremely easy to find their beers at restaurants, bars, and stores.  So when constructing our flight, Katie and I focused on the variety of taproom-only beers available on the day we visited.  We opted for the IPL (an India pale lager), HoDo Brown, Test Batch IPA, and Hazy Pale Wheat.  I enjoyed all of them, but the HoDo Brown was by far my favorite.  It had roasted notes and was quite smooth.  If you prefer more “traditional” beer choices, don’t fret.  The taproom carries the brewery’s mainstays and seasonal beers like their IPA, Bearded Lady, Muchacho, and others.

The taproom is usually quite crowded on the weekends, but there is plenty of outdoor space for visitors to utilize.  Good People has a covered patio where they offer yoga in the evenings (although that was not happening when I visited), and there is a courtyard in front of the building, too.

Although we arrived too early to enjoy it, the brewery has a daily rotation of food trucks that park near the courtyard to serve visitors.  The weekly list is usually posted on the brewery’s social media sites at the beginning of the week, and also each day.

Although people can easily find beer from Good People across Alabama and the region (as the brewery recently started distribution in Georgia and Tennessee), it is more than worthwhile to visit the taproom.  It is an active and exciting atmosphere with plenty of seating options, a beer list that caters to beer drinkers seeking something familiar and those searching for something new, and a great view of the Birmingham skyline.