A pint at Blue Pants Brewery in Madison, Ala.

There are a lot of things you can do with an old cotton warehouse.  Building a brewery was an ideal fit because of the need for floor space to house all the brewing equipment.  It is a far cry from where Blue Pants Brewery started off Slaughter Road in a 400-square-foot space.  Now when visitors to the brewery and taproom arrive, they immediately see an expansive building with ample parking.

Main entrance to the brewery.

Visitors immediately enter the taproom.

An overview of the seating area.

The taproom maximizes the available space with a nice merchandise area.

A view of the merchandise for sale.

Uniquely among the merchandise is a cooler, so visitors can take home their new favorite beer and also some liquor that is distilled on site.

A view of on-site produced spirits for sale.

However, I came to drink beer not spirits.  So back to the bar…

I had visit the brewery on a previous occasion, so my wife Katie and I opted to split a flight of beers.

A flight of beers.

We ordered Caramel Apple Pinstripe (a milk stout with caramel and apples), Schwarzbier (a dark lager), Candy Bar Pinstripe Stout on nitro (a milk stout with candy bar flavors), and Hopfenweiss (a hoppy weisse).  Craft beer drinkers in Alabama know Blue Pants’s pinstripe stout and its numerous variants, and the candy bar version is one of my favorites.  It was even smoother and more enjoyable having it served on nitrogen instead of with carbon dioxide.  The Caramel Apple Pinstripe was big on caramel flavors with just a hint of apple.  It was reminiscent of a fall festival.  The Schwarzbier was smooth and not overly smoky.  The Hopfenweiss was a hoppy wheat beer with a bit of bitterness on the finish.  We In addition to the flight we ordered the Helles, which is a great classic German-style lager that is just a bit sweet and very light.

In addition to the indoor space, the taproom has a very extensive outdoor space.

An overview of the outdoor space.

The outdoor space includes a handful of fire pits, picnic tables, and outdoor sofas.  So regardless of the weather, visitors to the Blue Pants taproom will find plenty of space to enjoy their beers.

Speaking of beers, Blue Pants also has a crowler machine on site.  Although all Alabama breweries are able to fill a glass growler for customers, a few go the extra step and have a crowler machine on site that allows you to purchase a 32-ounce can of your favorite beer and not have to worry about bringing your own growler or buying one in case you forget to bring your own.  Katie and I decided we would take home a crowler of Caramel Apple Pinstripe because we haven’t seen available in packaging around our town.

A view of a finished crowler.

The label for the crowler was really cool.  Every brewery has their own way of labeling a crowler, but I loved the humor of the name tag that Blue Pants used.  Not surprisingly, the beer was just as great a few days later at home as it was at the brewery.  Hooray for crowlers!

And hooray for Blue Pants Brewery and its diverse offering of beers.  There’s virtually something for everyone who visits the taproom.  If you like darker beers, you need to try whatever pinstripe stout variety is on draft, but if you prefer lighter beers you can find an equally tasty India pale ale, too.

Presidential sights in Nashville, Tenn.

When people think about visiting presidential sights, it’s easy to get caught up in visiting Washington, D.C.  However, there are a couple of presidential places in Music City people can visit.

The most famous presidential resident of Nashville is Andrew Jackson, who served as the seventh president from 1829 to 1837.  He moved to Nashville in 1788 following his appointment as a prosecutor in the Western District of North Carolina (historical note: Tennessee did not become a state until 1796, and was a part of North Carolina up until that time).  Jackson eventually married Rachel Donelson in 1794, and purchased the plantation that would become known as The Hermitage in 1804.

Main entrance to The Hermitage.

The Hermitage includes the mansion, gardens, numerous outbuildings, and Jackson’s tomb in a small family cemetery (see more here).  Admission pricing varies depending on the type of experience you want.  General admission provides access to the mansion, the grounds, the exhibit gallery, and the souvenir store.  You can upgrade to the president’s tour or the VIP tour for an additional price.  You are not able to tour the mansion on your own.  People wishing to visit the mansion are required to participate in a tour, which is led by a costumed guide.

The other president associated with Nashville was a protégé of Jackson, and was also born elsewhere before his family moved to Middle Tennessee in 1803.  Following his graduation from college James K. Polk moved to Nashville and began his career as a lawyer in 1818.  Polk eventually served as the eleventh president from 1845 to 1849.

Although Polk served in the Tennessee government in a variety of roles before becoming involved in national politics, he primarily resided south of Nashville in Columbia.  Following his departure from the White House, Polk and his wife Sarah toured the South en route to their recently purchased home, Polk Place.  However, Polk reportedly died from cholera a few months after moving to Nashville and was initially buried in Nashville City Cemetery before being interred at Polk Place per the instructions of his will.  Sarah was buried besides him in 1891, but both their bodies were moved to their current location at the Tennessee State Capitol in 1893.  The Polk Tomb is located on the northeast side of the capitol grounds (see more here).

The grave of James and Sarah Polk is on the grounds of the Tennessee State Capitol.

There is no fee to visit the grounds of the Tennessee State Capitol.  Tours of the building are also free, and run on the hour from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. from Monday to Friday.  Visitors can also take a self-guided tour of the building from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the week.  You can also take a virtual tour of the building through the Tennessee State Museum’s website.

The state capitol is also home to a statue of Andrew Jackson, which is located in the east plaza of the grounds.  The statue is a replica of the Clark Mills sculpture that was erected in front of the White House in 1853.  There are four versions of the statue with the most famous statue residing in front of the Saint Louis Cathedral in New Orleans.

The Clark Mills designed statue of Andrew Jackson sits on the east side of Capitol Hill.

Many people may be unaware of the connection between Jackson and Polk, but it is fitting that the connection between these two presidents is displayed virtually side-by-side in downtown Nashville.  If you want to see presidential sites closer to you, check out my Presidential Pathways page.

A pint at Old Black Bear Brewing Co. in Madison, Ala.

After losing their government contract jobs Todd and Dawn Seaton turned to a rather unconventional choice by opening a craft brewery.  After starting by contract brewing their beer, the couple finally realized the dream of opening a production facility of their own in 2015.  The pair went all in when they opened 7,000-square-foot facility that includes a restaurant.  So when people visit Old Black Bear Brewing Company in downtown Madison, you get much more than just beer.

The brewery occupies two buildings in the corner of revitalized strip mall.  So there is a building that houses the production side and another building houses the taproom and restaurant.  In addition to the brewery and its taproom, visitors will find a variety of boutique shops along this stretch of Main Street.

An overview of the brewery’s entrance.

Although the taproom is clearly labeled, sometimes visitors do wander into the production building looking to eat and drink.  So if you’re visiting Old Black Bear for the first time, the cream-colored, brick building is the production facility and the red, brick building is the taproom.

Due to the building’s previous history as a restaurant, OBB’s taproom has a dedicated waiting area that is filled with comfortable couches and games to keep people entertained while waiting for a table.

There are a LOT of seating options at the taproom.  Visitors can dine at the bar or at one of the high-top tables in that bar area.

An overview of the bar.

People hoping for a more traditional dining experience may prefer the back room, which features a mix of tables built around old barrels and standard, square four-top tables.

An overview of the back dining room.

Regardless of where you sit, visitors will find an extensive food menu complimented by a solid selection of beers.  Sunday brunch is by far one of the most popular times at the taproom with a mix of lunch sandwiches and breakfast items.  In addition to beer with brunch, Old Black Bear also serves mimosas and a variety of mixed drinks because the taproom has a full bar.

The chicken pesto Italiano sandwich.

I opted for a chicken sandwich this time, but have previously eaten the waffles that are delicious.  The sandwich I ordered had pesto spread on the ciabatta bread with a roasted red pepper and slice of provolone cheese on top.  It paired nicely with the shoestring fries.

My wife Katie and I split a flight of beers to ensure that we sampled the most recent offerings at the brewery.

A flight of beers.

The four beers were ordered were 256 Extra Pale Ale (an American pale ale), Bavarian Hefeweizen (a traditional German hefeweizen), Buzz Light Bear (a German pilsner), and Roaming Bear (an American porter).  Of the four beers I had during my visit, I enjoyed Roaming Bear the best.  It was quite smooth and had some good coffee notes, and checked in at 5.5% ABV.  My other favorite was the Bavarian Hefeweizen, which had solid banana and clove notes.  It’s a great beer for warm Alabama days at only 4.6% ABV.  While it wasn’t on draft the day we visited, my all-time favorite beer from OBB is Black Bear’s Delight, which is an imperial stout that checks-in at 9% ABV with some delicious coffee and chocolate notes.

If you’re wondering why there are so many bear themed beers at the brewery you have to know about the brewery’s name.  On the OBB’s website, it states that people are rewarded as a product of their hard work.  Black bears, in addition to being the state mammal of Alabama, are “diligent, intense, and resolute workers.”  So many beers feature names as an homage to nature or local connections, such as the 256 Extra Pale Ale.  As anyone who has lived in northern Alabama knows, 256 is the area code for Madison and much of the surrounding area.

After finishing our food and drinks, we got a tour of the production side from head brewer Eric Tollison.

Until talking with Eric, I did not realize that Old Black Bear also distilled vodka for use at the taproom’s bar.  The brewery hopes to expand its spirits offerings to include whiskey as well.  Eric only recently started working at Old Black Bear, but has worked in Alabama’s craft beer industry for a number of years.  The majority of beers brewed at OBB are German style ales as evidenced by the hefeweizen and pilsner on draft when we visited.

If you’re going to OBB to tour the brewhouse you may be disappointed because the brewery does not offer regularly scheduled tours.  If you visit during the week you may be fortunate enough to find Eric or others working in the brewhouse and you may get to look around.

In addition to the taproom space, Old Black Bear has an extensive outdoor space that is ideal for spring and summer.  There is a stage for live music surrounded by picnic tables, and a game area for people of all ages.

Regardless of whether you prefer to sit indoors or outdoors, eat breakfast or lunch, drink beer or spirits, Old Black Bear Brewing Company has you covered.  The taproom is perfect for a family enjoying Sunday brunch or for a group of guys drinking beers at the bar.  The pinball games, cornhole set, and bocce courts are perfect for keeping young children entertained, and for adult-sized kids who want to have a fun time.

A pint at Salty Nut Brewery in Huntsville, Ala.

Proof that the craft beer scene is growing in Huntsville is clearly visible through the history of Salty Nut Brewery.  Brent Cole and Daniel Yant along with a team of partners opened the brewery in 2013 off Evangel Circle near the UA Huntsville campus.  In January 2016, the brewery relocated to its current location in Downtown Huntsville off Clinton Avenue in the spaced previously occupied by Yellowhammer Brewing.

Although Salty Nut has changed the space to meet its needs, the general structure has not changed.  One building serves as the taproom while another building houses the brewing and fermentation equipment.

Main entrance to the taproom alongside the production building.

Visitors immediately walk into the seating area before finding the bar, which is in the back of the taproom.

An overview of the seating area at the brewery.

After navigating the crowd watching TV when we visited, my wife Katie and I made our way to the bar.

We opted to order a flight of all the beers (and ciders) on draft, so while waiting for the bartender to fill the flight I took a picture of the merchandise area across from the bar.

Merchandise area across from the bar.

Due to the brewery’s name the merchandise features a lot of squirrel and acorn themed items.  However, the story behind the brewery’s name is just as interesting as the merchandise.  Cole and Yant played the video game “Rock Band” and had named their fictional band Salty Nut, so it seemed like the natural choice when the duo started a brewery together.

Before long we had our flight, so we headed to a table to enjoy it.

A flight of beers in a specially-made acorn flight tray.

The flight tray we used is very unique, and not an item most visitors get to use when they visit the brewery.  With eight slots, it typically holds a sample of each beer on draft.  If you don’t order ALL the beers, you get a typical flight tray.  So because we ordered everything on the menu, we got the unique acorn-shaped flight tray.

When we ordered all eight beers on draft we got a wide variety of styles and flavors.  Our flight consisted of: Imperial Moustache Red (an Irish red ale), Hop Naughty (an American IPA), Hawt Blonde (a blonde ale), Pom Diggity Cider (a pomegranate flavored cider), Koopa-Cabra Kölsch (a German Kölsch), Maibock (a German maibock), Straight Up Cider (a classic cider), and Long Live the Chief (a double IPA).  Of the eight brews we had, I enjoyed Pom Diggity Cider the best.  It was sweet, but not overly sweet and had an interesting flavor profile.  I’m not big on pomegranate, but it added something really unique and enjoyable to the cider.  On the strictly beer side, I especially enjoyed Maibock.  It’s a malt-forward ale that is lower on the IBUs.  By comparison, my wife Katie liked the Imperial Moustache Red the best, which is great evidence that we all have different tastes when it comes to beers.  Fans of the classic hop-forward IPAs should try Hop Naughty, which is the first beer Cole developed as a homebrewer.

In addition to the interior space, Salty Nut also has an extensive beer garden.  It’s great for springtime and summertime visits, but even during cooler weather it’s still quite enjoyable with a few strategically placed fire pits.

When you venture outside you can also investigate the production side of the brewery, which is housed in a separate building from the taproom.  I didn’t get to go on a tour, so I didn’t get to explore the production side in great detail, but there is a window open that allows visitors to see the fermentation tanks.

A view of the brewery’s fermentation tanks.

Back inside the taproom art fans will find a variety of unique items adorning the walls.  Salty Nut plays up the squirrel and nut motif.  Across from the bar is a wall with a variety of items, but by far the coolest decoration was a small wooden plaque hanging above the men’s restroom that says: “Welcome to the nut house.”

That may be the most appropriate description of the brewery Cole, Yant, and their partners have developed.  Salty Nut Brewery’s taproom sits under a billboard in a former industrial area of Huntsville.  They brewed a beer called Unimpeachable Pale Ale to mock the governor of Alabama and his affair with a top aide.  They have someone dressed up in a squirrel costume handing out sacks of nuts at beer festivals.  So when you visit the taproom, you’ve definitely arrived at the nut house.  You’ll find the jolliest bunch of people drinking beer at this nut house.

Recapping the 2018 Birmingham Winter Beer Fest

Ever since I moved to Tuscaloosa nearly five years ago I’ve been making occasional trips to Birmingham to enjoy the city’s burgeoning craft beer scene.  For the second time in as many years, my wife Katie and I traveled to the Magic City to attend the Birmingham Winter Beer Fest.  Before the festival we met up with one of my wife’s friends, and took a ride-share to the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex for the event.  We arrived around 2:40 because we had purchased general admission tickets, and that session began at 3 p.m.

So after entering the BJCC, we waited in line for about 20 minutes before grabbing our sampling mugs.  As we stood near the front of the line, we saw the crowd grow.  So I was quite pleased when I took a picture of the front of the line to see that there were at least three times as many people standing behind us in line.

A small crowd waiting to enter the BJCC’s East Exhibit Hall.

Once we were inside we started checking out the booths, and started with the local Birmingham breweries that were mostly clustered on one side of a beer garden.  However, “beer garden” may be a slightly misleading label, as there were multiple tables side-by-side with a hanging curtain behind people to create separation from the breweries on the other side.

In addition to the beer gardens there were a variety of other activities for festival goers, which depending on your objectives are a welcome respite or a distraction from sampling new beers.  There was a beer and cheese demonstration sponsored by Guinness, a karaoke area, a cornhole competition sponsored by SweetWater Brewing Company, a silent disco, a concession stand serving food, and a live band performing on a stage.

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Although we picked up a festival guide booklet upon entering the East Exhibit Hall, I did not use it much because of it was a bit oversized.  It contained information about the breweries at the event, the beers that were expected to be available, and a map displaying the location of the different breweries.  So while it had a lot of information I didn’t use it as much as I could have because once we got through the doors, we started visiting the brewery booths and sampling beer.  If we had been able to get out mugs and get oriented before beer starting pouring, I might have use the booklet more.

However, very few people go to a beer festival to read a booklet.  We go to beer festivals to drink, and hopefully find some new brews to enjoy.  If you use Untappd, you saw my timeline take off with 39 check-ins during the event.  If you don’t utilize Untappd, but follow me on Twitter then you saw that timeline populated with the various samples I drank.  I won’t recap each beer because some were just OK, but there were a variety of beers (some old and some new) that I found and really enjoyed.  When reviewing my rankings of the beers on Untappd I find that two beers separated themselves from the pack and nine beers fell into a nine-way tie for my third favorite beer at the festival.

The two beers that I rated the highest were Yellowhammer Nussknacker, which I have had before this event (and rated it a 4.5 out of 5.0), and Anderson Valley Thribble Currant, which I drank for the first time ever at the festival (and rated it a 4.25 out of 5.0).  Of the nine beers that I rated a 4.0 out of 5, I had drank three previously (Avondale Vanillaphant Porter, Blackberry Farm Classic Saison, and InnerSpace Sky Farmer).  So I’m going to recap the six new beers I sampled at the event in more detail along with Nussknacker and Thribble Currant.  The six other beers are…

  • Boulevard Bourbon Barrel Quad
  • Harpoon Vanilla Bean Porter
  • Interstellar Ginger Beer & Exploration First Contact
  • Singin’ River IPAcalypse Now
  • Slag Heap Jerry’s Cherry Vanilla Porter
  • Terrapin Beyond the Galaxy

Yellowhammer Brewing’s Nussknacker is a holiday bock.  It has the typical spice flavors you’d expect from a darker winter ale.  It check-ins at 6.5% ABV, and like many beers at the festival is available in packaging throughout the state.

Anderson Valley Brewing Co.’s Thribble Currant is a unique American wild ale.  It begins as Brother David’s Triple and then the wort is transferred to wine barrels before black currants are added.  The result is a deliciously dark and complex sour ale.  Although it is aged in wine barrels, which helps boost the ABV, and despite checking in at 10.5% ABV you don’t notice any boozy flavors.

Boulevard Brewing Co.’s Bourbon Barrel Quad is a deliciously sweet and smooth beer.  It carries at 11.2% ABV, and the booziness is quite noticeable.  However, the bourbon barrel flavors do not overpower the beer.  So if you enjoy barrel-aged beers and Belgian-style ales this is a great combination of both.

Harpoon Brewery’s Vanilla Bean Porter is a great winter beer.  The vanilla adds a touch of sweetness to a relatively robust brew.  It checks-in at a very mild 5% ABV, which makes it an excellent dessert beer.  I would love to try it with vanilla ice cream as an adult root beer float.

Interstellar Ginger Beer & Exploration Co. is one of the most unique breweries in Alabama, as they brew alcoholic ginger beer.  First Contact is meant to be an ideal introductory beer for those who have not had an alcoholic ginger beer.  It is sweet and smooth and checks-in at 6.9% ABV, so it carries a bit more alcohol than people may expect.

Singin’ River Brewing Co.’s IPAcalypse Now isn’t a beer I’d usually drink because I don’t typically enjoy India Pale Ales (IPAs).  However, I always try to sample beers I wouldn’t normally drink when I’m at a beer festival.  Although it isn’t brewed to be a New England-style IPA, it was incredibly juicy and smooth.  It checks in at 7.1% ABV, so it’s definitely not a session beer for the spring or summer.

Terrapin Beer Co.’s Beyond the Galaxy is an IPA brewed with Galaxy hops.  It was a juicy and smooth, but had a hint of bitterness on the finish.  It checks in at 6.3% ABV, so it was a good start to my time at the festival.

Slag Heap Brewing Co.’s Jerry’s Cherry Vanilla Porter is the last of the new beers I tried at the festival that made its way into my “best of the festival” list.  Slag Heap is opening later this year in Trussville, just outside of Birmingham.  It was one of the breweries I really wanted to see at the festival.  I hoped to sample all the beers they brought, but sadly I arrived too late and only got to try Jerry’s Cherry Vanilla Porter.  I got a lot of dark cherry flavors from the beer with minimal vanilla notes.  However, at 5.5% ABV it is a very smooth and drinkable winter beer.

A view of the Slag Heap Brewing Company booth setup.

As I reflect on the festival, I am happy that I bought only the general admission ticket for the event.  I visited just about every booth, whether I drank beer from that brewery or not.  I focused on trying new beers instead of trying everything that I liked.  So I maximized my time, even though I did get sidetracked a few times talking with brewery representatives that I know from going out to events in my town.  As I reviewed the full beer list in the booklet the other night, I don’t feel like I really “missed out” on a beer.  Of course, I would enjoy more time to chat with people and sample more beers, but I definitely feel like I got my money’s worth at the event.

One particularly interesting thing regarding the beers available at the festival is that I did not tend to see too many small batches or one-off brews.  Every brewery chooses what beers they want to bring to a festival, but I found it interesting that very few breweries brought kegs of beer.  Instead most tended to have bottles or cans of their products.  So while I drank new beers at the event, I feel like I have seen most of the beers available in the craft beer bars and stores around the state.

Although this was my first time using a ride-share program to get to and from a beer festival, it was relatively reasonably priced when split between three people.  We used two different services coming and leaving the BJCC, but paid about $30 to travel out to Hoover.  So it’s something I may use in the future instead of relying on a friend to pick me up afterward.

In comparison to last year’s festival it seemed as though attendance was greater, which as a craft beer fan makes me happy because I enjoy attending beer festivals and know that attendance is critical to seeing the event happen next year.  One downside was that the East Exhibit Hall seemed very packed and crowded, and it was difficult to discern if people were standing in line for a beer or just standing toward the back to drink their beers.  I’m not sure how to resolve this issue except to use more space and spread out the tables further to allow more room for people to mingle and chat.  However, I understand that every event is a learning process and that the organizers will make adjustments before the 2019 Birmingham Winter Beer Fest.  Skål y’all!

A pint at Green Bus Brewing in Huntsville, Ala.

In downtown Huntsville just off the courthouse square in a former law office is a homebrewer’s dream come true.  It’s not a homebrew store, but Green Bus Brewing.  It is a homebrewer’s dream come true because that’s what happened for Green Bus’s owner Jason Sledd.  In advance of my visit to Huntsville’s first nanobrewery, I happened to hear Jason’s interview with Beer Guys Radio, which shed a lot of light onto his journey from homebrewer to brewery owner (listen to it here).

Back to the Rocket City and the Madison County Courthouse Square, where you find Green Bus Brewing on an idyllic tree-lined street.

Main entrance to the brewery.

When visitors enter the brewery they immediately see a few tables and the bar to the left side with a set of stairs on the right.

An overview of the bar.

Just past the bar are a few more tables.

The side of the bar.

Perhaps the coolest part of the table around the bar is the grain.

A closeup of a table with grains underneath.

There are a variety of grains underneath the glass tabletops, which is cool to see as a craft beer fan.  However, the really unique and fun part is the informational sheets with each type of grain.  For example, in the front right corner of the previous photo you can see black patent malt with details about how the grain is utilized in the brewing process and the different flavors it brings to beer.  So the tables are educational in addition to being decorative.

Speaking of grain, the storage area is just beyond the seating area.  So visitors get a very unique taproom experience when visiting Green Bus Brewing because unlike larger breweries, there is not enough space to separate storage areas for necessities like grain.

Grain storage in the back of the brewery.

The brewery’s size is intentional according to Sledd, who says he aspires to be Downtown Huntsville’s neighborhood brewery and does not have plans to distribute or package his beer.  The nanobrewery concept is new to Alabama, as there have not been others to open just yet.

The story behind the name of the brewery is particularly fun because if you visit the brewery you see artwork that evokes the green bus.  According to Jason’s interview on Beer Guys Radio, he owned an old green Volkswagen bus, and after being ribbed by brewers at another local brewery about what he was going to call his brewery he jokingly replied, “Green Bus Brewing.”  Soon after the teasing about when he was going to open his own brewery began, so when Sledd set his sights on opening a brewery the name was already set.  In homage to the old, green VW bus, which Sledd still owns and occasionally appears at beer festivals around town, the brewery features a variety of pieces depicting a Volkswagen bus.

Now onto the beer, which usually covers a spectrum of styles.  There are usually at least a dozen beers on draft.  So when I visited I saw selections ranging from a milk stout to a double IPA to a blonde ale to an English bitter.  If you want to know ahead of time what is on draft, you can check out the brewery’s beer menu on Untappd.  Whether you’re an experienced craft beer drinker or a newbie, you’ll find a beer that’s just right for your taste buds.

From my visits to the brewery, I’ve had Camper Von Blonde, Sour Pale, Downtown Julie Brown, Schwarzbier, Dominant Red, ESB, and Tiramisu Milk Stout.  All are solid representations of their style, but by far my favorite one is the Tiramisu Milk Stout.  At the name evokes, it is a chocolate and coffee milk stout.  So it’s smooth like a milk stout and checks in at 5% ABV, but it carries the chocolate and coffee flavors you typically find in heavier, boozier stouts.  It was intended to be a seasonal brew, but quickly became the most popular beer so it is now brewed year-round.

Like most breweries, Green Bus does not have a kitchen, but occasionally sells snack items like a build-your-own nacho bar or you can bring in food from any of the surrounding area’s great restaurants.  The taproom has a genuine neighborhood feel, as regulars were quickly recognized and the bartender greeted many customers by name.  So if you’re in Huntsville you should head downtown for a pint or taster of a beer you won’t find anywhere else in the city and visit Green Bus Brewing.

Previewing the 2018 Birmingham Winter Beer Fest

There are tons of beer festivals across the world and across the country virtually every weekend.  Many tend to be during the summer when outdoor spaces are available and people can easily stroll the local fairgrounds or public park.  During the winter very few people want to drink beers outdoors, so beer festivals have started to do the same.

As the craft beer industry continues to grow in Alabama more events are popping up on the calendar.  This coming weekend, Birmingham hosts the 2018 Birmingham Winter Beer Fest at the BJCC – East Exhibit Hall.  The venue is hosting the festival for the second time, as it also hosted the 2017 event.  Whether you’re traveling from the Birmingham area or elsewhere it is easy to access the BJCC from the interstates and there is plenty of parking available on surface lots or at the parking garage underneath the convention complex.

Who: You and your craft-beer loving friends
What: The Birmingham Winter Beer Fest
Where: Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex’s East Exhibit Hall (2100 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd, Birmingham, AL 35203)
When: Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018; 3 to 7 p.m.
Why: To sample new beers and get some awesome swag from the breweries
How: General admission tickets are $45 in advance, and $50 at the door.  VIP tickets are $80 in advance, and $85 at the door.  General admission designated driver tickers are $15, and VIP designated driver tickets are $25.  Tickets can be purchased online from Ticketmaster or at the BJCC central ticket office.

There are a variety of perks associated with the VIP ticket.  Most notably, people with a VIP ticket get to enter the festival starting at 2 p.m.  Additionally, VIPs get access to the VIP area, complimentary food from Jack Brown’s Beer and Burger Joint, and exclusive beers not available to the public.  There will be food available for purchase for all attendees as well.

There are a lot of activities at the festival besides the beer sampling.  There is a cornhole tournament, a silent disco, Samuel Adams Brew University sessions where you can learn more about craft beer, the Royal Cup Coffee & Tea Collaboration Garden where you can sample beers brewed with Royal Cup coffee and tea, Guinness beer and cheese pairings courses, a photo booth, and live music from Livewire.

I attended the 2017 Birmingham Winter Beer Fest, and expect that some things will be slightly different from last year.  However, I expect a similar setup with individual booths for most breweries and a few instances of a distributor having a booth with three or four beers from different breweries.

With four hours and over 80 breweries participating, it is difficult to maximize time.  My strategy for festivals is to start in one direction and keep moving.  The setup at last year had aisles with breweries on both sides, which made it tempting to jump back and forth across the aisle.  I found that was not an effective way to enjoy the festival, so I encourage you to walk one side of the aisle and then the other.  When I encountered long lines, I would skip to the brewery next door with a shorter line and finish my sample by the time the first brewery’s line thinned out.

I love beer festivals because they allow people to sample a variety of beers that may not be available at their craft beer store or craft beer bar, and to sample beers you may not otherwise drink.  I’m not a hop head, but usually test my taste buds at beer festivals and sample a few IPAs or double IPAs to see if I enjoy that particular beer.  I’ve seen people be skittish about sampling a particular beer because it’s not part of their usual beer palate, but this is the best time to try out new things.  If you don’t like it, pour it out, rinse out your sample mug, and try something else.

Beer festivals can overwhelm you with so many breweries, which is really a blessing and a curse.  It’s always exciting seeing a lot of breweries and a lot of beers available at a festival because it means you have variety.  However, having too much variety means it is nearly impossible to sample all the beers or all the breweries.  So when I attend a beer festival, I try to focus on breweries whose products I do not see locally.  If it’s a local brewery, I focus on sampling beers I have not had from them before.

In an effort to help you decide what to sample, I broke the breweries list into five categories: Birmingham-area breweries, Alabama breweries, regional Southern breweries, national/international breweries, and cideries and meaderies (last updated on Feb. 2, 2018, at 8 a.m.)

Magic City Breweries
Avondale Brewing Co. (201 41st St. S, Birmingham 35222)
Cahaba Brewing Co. (4500 5th Ave. S, Birmingham 35222)
Ghost Train Brewing Co. (2616 3rd Ave. S, Birmingham 35233)
Good People Brewing Co. (114 14th St. S, Birmingham 35233)
Interstellar Ginger Beer & Exploration Co. (260A Regency Park Dr., Alabaster 35007)
Red Hills Brewing Co. (2823 Central Ave., Birmingham 35209)
Slag Heap Brewing Co. (227 Main St., Trussville 35173)
TrimTab Brewing Co. (2721 5th Ave. S, Birmingham 35233)

Alabama Breweries
Back Forty Beer Co. (Gadsden)
Black Warrior Brewing Co. (Tuscaloosa)
Blue Pants Brewery (Madison)
Fairhope Brewing Co. (Fairhope)
Goat Island Brewing (Cullman)
InnerSpace Brewing Co. (Huntsville)
Rocket Republic Co. (Madison)
Singin’ River Brewing Co. (Florence)
Straight to Ale Brewing (Huntsville)
Yellowhammer Brewing (Huntsville)

Southern Regional Breweries
Alltech Lexington Brewing & Distilling Co. (Lexington, Ky.)
Blackberry Farm Brewery (Walland, Tenn.)
Catawba Brewing Co. (Morganton, N.C.)
Diamond Bear Brewing Co. (North Little Rock, Ark.)
Chandeleur Island Brewing Co. (Gulfport, Miss.)
Cigar City Brewing Co. (Tampa, Fla.)
Fat Bottom Brewing Co. (Nashville, Tenn.)
Fullsteam Brewery (Durham, N.C.)
Garr’s Beer Co. (Gypsy brewery based in Franklin, Tenn.)
Goodwood Brewing Co. (Louisville, Ky.)
Grayton Beer Co. (Santa Rosa Beach, Fla.)
Lonerider Brewing Co. (Raleigh, N.C.)
Lucky Town Brewing Co. (Jackson, Miss.)
Mill Creek Brewing Co. (Nolensville, Tenn.)
Monday Night Brewing (Atlanta, Ga.)
Orange Blossom Brewing Co. (Orlando, Fla.)
Orpheus Brewing (Atlanta, Ga.)
Red Hare Brewing Co. (Marietta, Ga.)
Second Self Beer Co. (Atlanta, Ga.)
Southern Prohibition Brewing (Hattiesburg, Miss.)
SweetWater Brewing Co. (Atlanta, Ga.)
Tennessee Brew Works (Nashville, Tenn.)
Terrapin Beer Co. (Athens, Ga.)
Westbrook Brewing Co. (Mt. Pleasant, S.C.)

National/International Breweries
Anchor Brewing Co. (San Francisco, Calif.)
Anderson Valley Brewing Co. (Boonville, Calif.)
Argus Brewery (Chicago, Ill.)
Artisanal Imports (Austin, Texas)
Bell’s Brewery (Comstock, Mich.)
Boston Beer Co. (Boston, Mass.)
Boulevard Brewing Co. (Kansas City, Mo.)
Chilero Beer (Guatemala City, Guatemala)
Crazy Mountain Brewing Co. (Edwards, Colo.)
Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project (Denver, Colo.)
Dogfish Head Brewery (Milton, Del.)
Einstök Beer (Akureyri, Iceland)
Evil Twin Brewing (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
Guinness (Dublin, Ireland)
Harpoon Brewery (Boston, Mass.)
James Page Brewing Co. (Stevens Point, Wis.)
Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales (Dexter, Mich.)
Krebs Brewing Co. (Krebs, Okla.)
Lagunitas Brewing Co. (Petaluma, Calif.)
Left Hand Brewing Co. (Longmont, Colo.)
Mark Twain Brewing Co. (Hannibal, Mo.)
Moody Tongue Brewing Co. (Chicago, Ill.)
New Belgium Brewing Co. (Fort Collins, Colo.)
New Holland Brewing Co. (Holland, Mich.)
Oskar Blues Brewery (Longmont, Colo.)
Samuel Smith, The Old Brewery (Tadcaster, England)
Sixpoint Brewery (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
Smuttynose Brewing Co. (Hampton, N.H.)
Southern Tier Brewing Co. (Lakewood, N.Y.)
Stillwater Artisanal Ales (Baltimore, Md.)
Stone Brewing (Escondido, Calif.)
Traveler Beer Co. (Burlington, Vt.)
Uinta Brewing Co. (Salt Lake City, Utah)
Unibroue (Chambly, Quebec)
Victory Brewing Co. (Downington, Pa.)
Wyndride Farm (Dallastown, Pa.)

Cideries and Meaderies
Ace Premium Craft Cider (Sebastopol, Calif.)
Ciderboys Hard Cider (Stevens Point, Wis.)
Original Sin Cider (New York, N.Y.)
Woodchuck Hard Ciders (Middlebury, Vt.)
Wyndridge Farm (Dallastown, Pa.)

I have not seen a full beer list yet, so instead of recommending specific beers I’m going to focus on the breweries you should check out at the festival.  Here are the breweries I’m excited to see at the festival…

Magic City Recommendations
Some of the biggest producers in Alabama are in the Birmingham area, which means most people have tried their beers.  So instead of focusing on the big boys like Good People Brewing Co. or TrimTab Brewing Co., which both make beers I like, I want to suggest that you check out Interstellar Ginger Beer & Exploration Co., which is located in the suburb of Alabaster.  Interstellar brews alcoholic ginger beers, which most people only use to make a Moscow mule cocktail, but it is something unique and worth trying because it’s unlike almost every other beer at the festival.  The other brewery people should check out is Slag Heap Brewing Co., which is located in Trussville.  Slag Heap has not yet opened its taproom, and I have not seen their beer on draft around Birmingham yet.  So I’m looking forward to my first opportunity to taste their beer.

Alabama Recommendations
The list of breweries outside Birmingham participating in the festival is like a Who’s Who of Alabama breweries with statewide staples like Back Forty Beer Co., Straight to Ale Brewing, and Yellowhammer Brewing participating.  However, the brewery people should really check out is InnerSpace Brewing Co. from Huntsville.  The family-owned and operated brewery has not yet opened its taproom, but has been brewing limited batches since this summer.  Sampling their brews at the festival is a great way to decide whether to visit their taproom once it opens.

Southern Regional Recommendations
With over 20 breweries from throughout the South, it’s extremely difficult for me to narrow down the list and pick only two or three breweries.  My first step is to focus on breweries that I don’t see as much at my local stores and bars.  So I’m not going to suggest Terrapin Beer Co. or Cigar City Brewing Co., although there are beers that I really enjoy from both breweries.  Attending a beer festival should be about trying NEW beers, so you should check out Diamond Beer Brewing Co. from North Little Rock, Ark.  I have visited their taproom, but did not know until seeing the brewery list that they were distributing their beers in Alabama.  So I expect most festival goers have not tried their beer yet.  Another brewery that I have visited, but didn’t know was distributing beers in Alabama is Fat Bottom Brewing Co. from Nashville, Tenn.  I’ve been to the original and the current brewery taproom in Nashville, and have enjoyed their beers immensely.

National/International Recommendations
I expect most well-informed craft beer drinkers will recognize the big name breweries at the festival like Lagunitas Brewing Co. and Boston Beer Co., who brews the Samuel Adams line.  So instead of stating the obvious, I’m going to suggest you check out Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project from Denver, Colo., which brews some amazing sour beers.  If you are just starting to enjoy sour beers, then you definitely need to sample Crooked Stave and expand your horizons.  Another brewery with a great reputation for making sour ales is Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales from Dexter, Mich.  They recently started distributing in the state, and I don’t see their beers on too many shelves.  So it’s well worth sampling their wares at the festival, and asking your local store or bar to carry their products if you like what you drank.

There are five international breweries, and I am certain that everyone recognized the Guinness brand.  The brand you may not recognize is Unibroue, which is a Canadian brewery known for brewing delicious Belgian-style ales.  Although I do enjoy a delicious Guinness stout, if you only try beers from one international brewery at the festival it should be Unibroue.

Cideries and Meaderies
Like last year, the Birmingham Winter Beer Fest will have a dedicated “Cider Garden.”  I’m not a huge cider drinker, but have sampled a few over the years and notice their packaging when I’m at the store.  So I expect most people know about Woodchuck Hard Ciders, but you may not see as much from Wyndridge Farm, which is based in Dallastown, Pa.  I’ve had a few ciders from Wyndridge Farm, and they offer something for just about every palate.  The other cidery I’m excited to try is Original Sin Cider from New York City.  I have seen their posters, but not yet sampled their ciders.

Now all that is left is to arrive at the BJCC early enough not to get stuck outdoors for too long waiting to get inside and start sampling beers.  I try to arrive about 15 minutes before the doors open because I find that gets me in the door pretty quickly without standing around for too long.  Last year, workers checked IDs and handed out bracelets while people waited in line.  So it was a pretty smooth process to enter the BJCC East Exhibit Hall for the festival.  There should be plenty of beer available, so pace yourself and enjoy the beer you’re sampling.  It’s also important o wash out your sampling mug after each taste because you don’t want flavors mixing.

Last, but not least, record your favorite brews.  My preferred method is using Untappd, which is a free app for your phone.  It allows users to track the beers they have drank, rate them, earn badges, and most importantly interact with their friends and other craft beer drinkers.  If you’ve already downloaded it, you’re ahead of the game.  If you haven’t downloaded it yet, you should do that before going to the festival and feel free to send me a friend request because I’ll be recording and commenting on the beers I’m sampling at the 2018 Birmingham Winter Beer Festival.