A beercation in Birmingham

Craft beer drinkers don’t usually think of visiting cities in the Southern United States, aside from Asheville, N.C., for a craft beer vacation, but recent changes in alcohol laws have led to a growth of breweries in Birmingham, Ala.  So with an extended break, my wife Katie and I decided to visit the Magic City for our own beercation over a two-day period.

We’ll start our trip on Friday, March 30, by visiting the five breweries around downtown Birmingham (Avondale Brewing Co., Cahaba Brewing Co., Ghost Train Brewing Co., Good People Brewing Co., and TrimTab Brewing Co. ).  On Saturday, March 31, we will head to the suburbs to visit breweries in Homewood (Red Hills Brewing Co.) and Alabaster (Interstellar Ginger Beer & Exploration Co.).  There are other breweries in the works around metro Birmingham, but none have announced definitive opening dates.  So we will have to make another trip to check out these breweries.

If you’ve never thought about doing a beercation in Birmingham, it’s a great spot because the downtown breweries are within five miles of each other.  The especially ambitious beer explorer could visit the five downtown breweries and visit Homewood and Alabaster in one day, but because our goal is to enjoy and explore the taprooms we are visiting the outer breweries on Saturday afternoon.

If you’ve yet to make the trek to Birmingham, I hope you’ll follow along this weekend on social media.  I’ll be posting updates to Twitter (@StevenOnTheMove) and Instagram (@stevenonthemove).  If you want to see the beers I’m drinking you should add me as a friend on Untappd (@StevenOnTheMove).  I will also write up my taproom visits, so be sure to check back for a more detailed look into each of the breweries and their taprooms.

A pint at Jekyll Brewing in Alpharetta, Ga.

Neolocalism is rich at craft breweries across the country.  Many draw from their hometown or nearby places as inspiration for the brewery’s name and regularly pull from the same places and histories for their beer names.  However, Jekyll Brewing in Alpharetta, Ga., takes a unique twist on the inspiration and draws from an island over 350 miles away on the Georgia coast.

Main entrance to the brewery.

Jekyll Island, which is a barrier island that is part of Georgia’s Golden Isles, is a popular vacation destination for Atlanta-area residents.  Despite drawing its inspiration from Jekyll Island, the brewery that Michael Lundmark and Josh Rachel established in 2013 focuses on the island’s role in the history of Georgia and the Deep South and not on the role of the island as a vacation destination.  It it this history that visitors will learn about when going on a tour, as my wife Katie and I did when we visited recently.  We met Nicole Mazzuca, who oversees the taproom operations now that Georgia changed its laws to allow breweries to sell beer directly to customers.

Almost immediately after walking through the door, my wife Katie and I got a beer in our hand and Nicole was walking us around the brewery.  So I’ll start with the tour, which the brewery still offers on an hourly basis on the weekends.  Right now, the tours are free, and the brewery hopes to maintain that status.

To the right of the bar next to the merchandise area is a door that leads visitors to the production side of the brewery.

Some of the merchandise available at the brewery.

Although many areas have a specified purpose, there is storage throughout much of the facility.  The first two rooms we entered stored grains and yeast and the grain hopper.

The next space we visited was the loading dock, but it served multiple purposes.  It stored several more whiskey barrels for aging, numerous pallets of unused beer cans, and most importantly the brewery’s coffee roaster.

A coffee roaster is far from a traditional piece of equipment to be found at a brewery.  Due to Mike Lundmark’s affinity for coffee, the brewery roasts its own, which is available for purchase in the taproom.  Additionally, Jekyll Brewing offered complimentary coffee on Monday morning recently.  The brewery’s location in an office park attracted a steady crowd of visitors to these free events.

After walking through the storage area of the brewery, visitors finally get to see where the beer is brewed.  Technically, people see where the beer is stored first.

Along with seeing the fermentation tanks, visitors see where the grain is stored for use in the brewing process in the company’s silos behind the building.

The brewery’s grain silos behind the building.

Back inside visitors are greeted by the last part of the beer-making process: packaging.  The brewery kegs their beers, so you get to see a keg cleaner.  Additionally, Jekyll Brewing bottles AND cans their beers, so we got to see both machines used in that process.

Tucked behind the canning line is the brewery’s small-batch, pilot system.

The small-batch system.

Farther in the back is the 50-barrel system that towers over the production side of the facility.

In the “crow’s nest” of the brewery’s 50-barrel system.

Following the tour of the production side, we returned to the taproom to sample some beers.  As we contemplated our beer choices, I seized the opportunity to take pictures of the taproom.  The taproom is quite extensive, despite losing some space with the addition of the 50-barrel brewing system in March 2017.

An overview of the taproom.

The taproom has two spaces for customer seating.  One is adjacent to the bars, and the other is farther away from the bars, but closer to the production-side of the brewery.  The space closer to the production side has the same type of tables as the side closer to the bars, but there is also a performance stage and some sofas.

As Katie and I visited the brewery around two o’clock on a Saturday on a holiday, the space closer to the production side of the brewery did not have many visitors.  However, the space closer to the bars was quite full.

The main bar features several names of varying sizes.  As Nicole explained, these are the names of people who contributed to the brewery’s Kickstarter campaign in 2013.  The size of the text indicates the amount of the individual’s donation to the campaign.

It was as Katie and I sipped on some flights that we got to learn about the history of Jekyll Island and how it connects to the brewery.  Thankfully because my wife enjoys craft beer, I got to hit up the year-round beers I had not sampled while she worked on some taproom exclusives.

So before delving into the beers, it’s important to understand the history of Jekyll Island how it inspires many of the beers and beer names at Jekyll Brewing.  There are multiple stories about beer and the Deep South, but instead of delving into each one of them I am only going to retell the story about what saved the colony of Georgia.  In 1733, James Oglethorpe, a member of the British parliament, soldier, and social reformer, established a settlement near the side of modern-day Savannah, Ga.  Following a visit to London the following year, he left Major William Horton in charge of the colony during his absence.  Horton noticed that many colonists were dying, and built the first brewery in the Deep South on Jekyll Island.  The colony flourished during this period, and subsequently he allotted new colonists forty-four gallons of ale to live.  It is from Horton’s brewery on Jekyll Island that Michael Lundmark and Josh Rachel drew their inspiration when establishing Jekyll Brewing.

So onto the beers!

Jekyll Brewing products are widely available where we live, but I have not tried all of the brewery’s year-round brews.  So I felt that I should focus on trying the core beers.  While I focused on those beers, Katie opted to sample some taproom exclusives.  With my mind on year-round beers, I had Big Creek (a Kölsch), ‘Merican (an American amber), Southern Juice (an American India pale ale), and Slow n’ Low Porter (a smoked porter).  All were very good and brewed close to style.  Of the four, I really enjoyed Southern Juice and felt that it was a particularly approachable beer, especially for people who do not identify as hop heads.

The taproom exclusive flight that Katie built is indicative of what breweries have been doing since Georgia changed its beer laws and allowed breweries to sell beer directly to customers.  As of my visit to the brewery, Jekyll Brewing has brewed fifty-seven beers exclusively for the taproom since Sept. 1, 2017.  So Katie ordered the Strawberry Lemonade Southern Juicy Juice Shandy (a shandy mixed with a New England IPA), Secret Apollo (a New England IPA), Let’s See What Happens (a saison with strawberry and rhubarb), and Major Hot Lips (an American stout with coca nibs, raspberry, and Habanero).  I liked all of them for different reasons, but I especially enjoyed Major Hot Lips.  You got the chocolate notes upfront with a bit of raspberry before finishing with a nice bite from the Habanero peppers.

Whether you prefer to stick to the basics or experiment with your beer selection, you will find something that suits your tastes at Jekyll Brewing.  The taproom has plenty of space for visitors, so whether you’re checking out a new brewery on your own or hanging out with a group of friends you can find a spot to enjoy great beer.  For those who visit on Saturdays, you are likely to find a food truck in the parking lot, too.  If for some reason you don’t like craft beer, you can check out the brewery on Monday morning and enjoy some freshly roasted Colombian coffee.

A pint at Heirloom Rustic Ales in Tulsa, Okla.

Sometimes there is such a thing as coming home.  The opportunity to return home is one of the reasons Jake Miller came to Tulsa after Melissa and Zach French contacted him about opening a new brewery.  The Frenches are both full-time dentists, but Zach has homebrewed since 2001 and splits brewing duties with Miller while Melissa brings a flair for design to the brewery as the creative voice behind the taproom design.  In November 2017, Heirloom Rustic Ales opened in a former automobile repair shop in the Kendall Whittier District.

With the Crosstown Expressway (formally I-244/U.S. Highway 412) behind it, the Heirloom Rustic Ales taproom stretches across a long parking lot.

Main entrance to the brewery.

The exterior appearance of the taproom closely mirrors the interior design, which light, bright, and airy.  Instead of a bold, aggressive font on the exterior of the building, the artistic, flowing script proclaiming the brewery’s name sets the tone visitors will find inside at the taproom.

The design inside the taproom is eclectic, but is also a comfortable atmosphere designed to create a community gathering spot.  The subway tile back splash along the draft wall compliments the reclaimed wood above it.  The cross-section of shiplap used to create the outline of the state of Oklahoma is breathtaking.  The taproom holds approximately 50 people across a variety of spaces.  My wife Katie and I chose to sit at the bar, and eventually go to talk with Jake Miller about his moves and the start-up of the brewery.  However, I was particularly intrigued by the high-top table to the right of the bar because it was partially separates from the rest of the taproom so it could hold a larger group, but it was not completely apart from the taproom.

The beers at Heirloom Rustic Ales tend to cover three broad areas: saisons, lagers, and mixed fermentation, oak-barrel-aged ales.  The beer list reflects the varied options available on draft for visitors.  Regardless of what beers are on draft, the brewery consistently carries about a dozen beers on tap.  If you enjoy a particular beer, you may be able to take it home in a 32-ounce crowler, too.  However, the staff at Heirloom Rustic Ales does crowlers differently than most breweries.  Instead of filling the can from the draft line, Heirloom fills it immediately from the tank and then seals it.  So be prepared to order your crowler early in your visit instead of waiting until the last minute.

While sitting at the bar talking with Jake, I asked about getting a tour of the production area.  Unfortunately, because he was the only person working at the bar he was unable to take me on a formal tour, but offered to let me explore the production side on my own.

As much as I enjoy exploring the production side of a brewery, it can be kind of monotonous when you visit a lot of breweries (mind you, I still love exploring the production side of breweries).  However, because Heirloom Rustic Ales focuses on open fermentation ales, I got to see a tank with spontaneous fermentation going on.

Speaking of beer, I sampled all twelve that were on draft at the time I visited.  Instead of discussing ALL of the beers, I am going to focus on the four that I enjoyed the most.  My favorites were Black Cauldron (a schwarzbier), Under His Eye (an American porter), Tinder Résumé (an American pale ale), and Barking Water (an English strong ale).  Black Cauldron has some great chocolate and roasted notes that are typical of a schwarzbier.  I particularly enjoy schwarzbiers, but they are not a style you commonly find at American breweries.  Under His Eye was quite decadent with some great chocolate and vanilla flavors.  It was so delicious, that Katie and I brought a growler of it home with us.  Tinder Résumé is a great example of the experimental beers that already define Heirloom Rustic Ales.  It is an American pale ale, but conditioned on cinnamon and Fair Fellow cold brew coffee.  So instead of being particularly bitter like most pale ales, it was mellow with great coffee flavors and just a hint of cinnamon.  Barking Water is an ode to traditional English pub practices.  It has noticeable Brett notes, but a smooth brown sugar flavor that almost mimicked syrup.

Like the taproom itself, the beers are a unique reflection on the trio who established Heirloom Rustic Ales.  The beers are far from traditional, but they are all delicious beers with flavors that make the beer drinker ponder the experience.  The taproom decor is eclectic, but energetic and expressive like the beers.  Overall, the atmosphere and vibe is cozy and welcoming, but with a fresh, modernist approach to fostering a community environment.

A pint at Iron Monk Brewing in Stillwater, Okla.

Only in a college town would a guy with a Ph.D. in molecular biology and a guy with an MBA meet and start a brewery.  However, that was precisely the recipe that led Jerod Millirons and Dave Monks to start Iron Monk Brewing in Stillwater, Okla.

Due to Oklahoma alcohol laws, production in the brewery started in advance of the taproom opening.  The brewery, which recently celebrated its fourth anniversary within the past month, did not open its taproom until late 2015.  The modernization of Oklahoma beer laws has given the taproom new life, as they are now allowed to sell beers above 3.2% alcohol-by-weight.  Now the taproom is open more days and attracts larger crowds because of the new laws.  It’s location in downtown Stillwater helps facilitate a steady flow of visitors.

Main entrance to the brewery.

Immediately after entering the brewery, you see the bar a distance from the front door.  To the left is a wall of empty beer cans and to the right are some coolers with beer along with some merchandise for sale.  If you strain when you enter the brewery, you may see the production side of the brewery.

The bar feature a beautiful wooden top with a pair of televisions, so it is a great setting to watch your favorite sporting event and enjoy craft beer.

An overview of the bar.

My wife Katie and I had previously visited the taproom a few years ago when we were in town to visit with friends from graduate school at Oklahoma State University.  With the modernization of Oklahoma beer laws encouraging breweries to offer a wider variety of beers on draft at the tap, which allowed us to build two unique flights of beers.  We shared one flight before our tour of the production side, and the other flight after our tour.

A flight of beers.

We started with Bright D. WeizenSour, Raspberry Wheat, Exit 174 Rye Pale Ale, and Chocolate Habanero Stout.  Bright D. WeizenSour was particularly unique blend of fruits, but a very good Berliner Weisse.  The best beer from the flight was by far the Chocolate Habanero Stout.  Its base is a milk stout that has habanero peppers and chocolate added to bring together a unique mix of flavors.  It is incredibly smooth, but spicy with some chocolate undertones.

Our second flight consisted of the Payne County Imperial IPA, Velvet Antler, Hopped-Up Wheat, and Stilly-Rita.  Among this quartet, the Payne County Imperial IPA was my favorite beer.  It was rather malty for an imperial India pale ale, but it finished with a good bite.

With sampling the beer out-of-the-way, it’s best to delve into how it came to be in the glasses.  So after finishing our first flight, Katie and I got a tour of the production side of the brewery.  The tour starts with a binder of photographs detailing the history of the building, which is not something I’ve encountered on other brewery tours.  Although some photos focus on the transformation of the building to its current use as a brewery and taproom, there were also plenty of photos showing the history of the structure as the former AT&T building where local residents would pick up their phones.

The tour, like those offered at many breweries, walks visitors through the production process from start to finish.  So we started by seeing the grain room and the grain hopper.

A view of the grain hopper.

After seeing the grain hopper and learning about the wheat strains that Oklahoma State University has developed that the brewery using in the production of its beer, we got to see the mash tun.  Seeing a mash tun isn’t necessarily exciting, but because the staff had brewed just a few days beforehand it was open.  So for the first time ever, I got to see inside a mash tun.

Following our view of the mash tun, we got to see the fermentation tanks.

The last place visitors see on the tour is the canning line, which is one of the newest additions to the brewery.  Currently, Iron Monk regularly cans seven beers.

An overview of the canning line.

After completing our tour of the production side of the brewery, we returned to the taproom and had our second flight of beers.  I also took the opportunity to capture a few more photos of the taproom.  Most importantly, I wanted to capture a photo of the area to the left of the bar that provides visitors with a view into the production side of the brewery.

An overview of the production area from the taproom.

Tours of the brewery are offered on Saturdays at two and four o’clock.  People under 21 are allowed to participate in the tour, but because of Oklahoma law those under 21 are not allowed in the taproom.

Even if you don’t go on a tour, the taproom is a great place to enjoy craft beer.  There are a variety of seating options, a handful of televisions, and even a selection of board games.  Like many breweries, Iron Monk has a selection of beers available to take home in their cooler, but they also have a crowler machine that allows guests to take some a 32-oz. can of their favorite beer available on draft.  Katie and I opted to bypass the beer in the cooler and took home a crowler of Chocolate Habanero Stout.

Whether you like a spicy stout or a more mellow beer or a hoppy IPA , Iron Monk Brewing has something to offer everybody.  With incredibly high ceilings and a variety of wood tones, the taproom creates a spacious yet intimate setting to enjoy a quality beer.

A pint at Cabin Boys Brewery in Tulsa, Okla.

Great ideas often originate at communal gathering places.  That is certainly the case of Cabin Boys Brewery.  The idea germinated at a cabin Jeff McIlroy and friends built on his land in Catoosa, about 15 miles east of Tulsa, Okla.  From fellowship fostered at the cabin, Austin McIlroy and Ryan Arnold realized the potential of their joint homebrewing endeavors.  Their passion and skills led to Austin and his wife Lisa and Ryan opening Cabin Boys as a placed “craft for community.”

Visitors to the brewery will notice the distinct Cabin Boys logo that Lisa designed as they come to the intersection of Utica Avenue and 7th Street.

A view of the brewery from the intersection of Utica Avenue and 7th Street.

There is parking immediately behind the brewery with additional parking across the street.  So visitors do not enter the brewery by the beautiful artwork, but through a more nondescript door.

Main entrance to the brewery.

After entering the brewery through a door adjacent to the loading dock door, visitors see a display of merchandise on the right.

A selection of merchandise available at the brewery.

Around the corner from the merchandise area is the bar and a large, custom-built picnic-style table.

An overview of the taproom.

Although the picnic-style table and bar are primary seating options in the taproom, there are a few barrels distributed around the room for standing-room usage.  In addition to seating in the taproom, there is additional seating on the production side of the brewery.

In addition to a set of tables the additional seating includes games like table tennis and cornhole.  Due to the large space, Cabin Boys has hosted swing dance classes on this side of the brewery.  Depending on when you visit the taproom, you may see someone working on the production side, which I captured while taking a few photos.

With the lay of the land established, let’s talk about beer.  When I visited, Cabin Boys had six beers on tap plus kombucha and cold brew.  So there was something for everyone.  One would think that having only six beers on draft would make it easy to put together a flight, but that’s not quite the case.  Cabin Boys offers something unique that I had never heard of nor seen before visiting their brewery.  At the taproom you can have a red, hot iron inserted into your beer of choice in a German process called Gustungling.  So with only four beers on a flight, my wife Katie and I had to decide which beers to put on the flight, and which two we wanted to try Gustungling style.  After some input from the beertenders, we built our flight and decided which beers we’d try Gustungling.

A flight of beers.

The advice we received about Gustungling is that it works best with darker beers, so we put together out flight featuring the lighter beers on tap.  So we ordered Cast-a-Line Kolsch, Cornerstone Saison, Whittier Wit, and Huntman IPA.  Of those four, I enjoyed Whittier Wit the most.  It was light and refreshing like a typical wheat beer.  The Cornerstone Saison was also an excellent representation of its style.  It was light, crisp and had a hint of pepper.

After finishing our flights, Katie and I each ordered the beer we wanted to Gustungling.  Inserting the red, hot iron is supposed to caramelize the flavors of the beer.  The process changes the flavors, so customers who order a Gustungling receive two pours: a 10-ounce pour with the red, hot iron inserted for the Gustungling process and a sampler of the same beer without the hot iron effect.  Katie opted for Felix et Tenebris (an American stout) while I chose Bearded Theologian (a Belgian quad).  If you haven’t seen the Gustungling process it is definitely a great part of the experience, unfortunately I had a difficult time capturing it on video.  However, I did capture the result in a photograph.

The final results of a Bearded Theologian undergoing the Gustungling process (left) and a sample of the original (right).

Both beers were great after under going Gustungling.  Bearded Theologian was a solid Belgian quad whether you heated it or not.  I particularly enjoyed the Gustungling version because the hot iron brought out marshmallow flavors and a little bit of sweetness.  Felix et Tenebris had hints of orange and chocolate, and was equally delicious whether as originally brewed or whether its flavor profile was changed through Gustungling.  The beertenders at Cabin Boys will Gustungling any beer a customer orders, but I can agree that the best beers for Gustungling are the darker options.

The origins of the brewery’s name are clear-cut, and the name really carries over into the atmosphere at the taproom.  The color scheme creates a cozy feeling and the bark on the edge of the bar top reinforces the cabin setting.  The large picnic-style table has the same design as the bar top.  The seating structure creates a place that lives up to the text on the glassware, “crafted for community.”

A pint at Marshall Brewing Co. in Tulsa, Okla.

As craft beer was already experiencing a boom on the West Coast, Eric Marshall opened a production brewery in Tulsa, Okla.  Considering the laws governing alcohol in the state, it was a potentially risky proposition given that distribution regulations heavily favored the major beer producers.  However, Marshall Brewing Company found a niche of loyal drinkers and has grown since starting production in 2008.

When Oklahoma began to modernize its alcohol laws, taprooms became more popular with customers because breweries could serve beer stronger than 3.2 alcohol-by-weight.  I visited Marshall Brewing because the company took advantage of the new beer laws and had its inaugural “Dark Side of the Taproom” event to coincide with the winter solstice.

The “Dark Side of the Taproom” event featured ten of the brewery’s darker beers with options to choose individual beers or pre-organized flights.  We’ll get to the beer in a moment because that’s not the first thing visitors see when walking into the taproom.

An overview of the taproom.

Actually before visitors see the seating, you see a bevy of merchandise for sale.

Some of the merchandise available at the brewery.

Once visitors move past the shuffleboard table, you get a better overview of the seating in the taproom.  There are a handful of couches and a wooden table with benches.

An overview of the seating area in the taproom.

The production area of the brewery is usually blocked off from guests, but because of the enormity of the event guests were able to sit at tables around the brewing equipment.

My wife Katie and I debated what flights to get because the brewery offered multiple vintages of El Cucuy and Black Dolphin in addition to a selection of stouts.  We decided to focus on El Cucuy and Black Dolphin because they are two of Marshall Brewing’s best beers.  We decided to split the flights, so I ordered the Black Dolphin flight and Katie ordered the El Cucuy flight.

We ended up staying longer than initially planned, so we ordered the stout flight as well.

A flight of stouts.

Between Katie and I we shared nine beers.  The Black Dolphin flight consisted of 2015 Black Dolphin, Black Dolphin with chocolate and cherry, and Black Dolphin with vanilla.  Per my conversation with brewery founder and brewmaster Eric Marshall (more on that later), Black Dolphin was inspired and initially released to celebrate Black Friday, the gigantic sale day after Thanksgiving.  It is a Russian imperial stout that is aged in whiskey barrels.  It is an outstanding beer, and it was great having the ability to compare the 2015 vintage to other variants.  The chocolate and cherry version tasted a lot like a chocolate-covered cherry while the vanilla version was very mild.  Among the three, I liked the 2015 vintage the best because it was a big beer, but not overly boozy.

The El Cucuy flight consisted of bourbon barrel-aged El Cucuy, red-wine barrel-aged El Cucuy, and rum barrel-aged El Cucuy.  According to the brewmaster himself, El Cucuy was developed for distribution in time with Halloween.  It is an India-style black ale, so it checks-in at 8.6% ABV with 80 IBUs.  It is one of Katie’s favorite beers, which is why she opted for that flight.  Before my visit, I had never had any variants of the beer.  In hindsight, I cannot say that I liked one of the three beers more than the others although they all taste dramatically different.  The bourbon barrel version has distinct bourbon aroma, but it did not taste particularly boozy.  The red-wine version had very subtle win notes and cut down on the hoppiness of the beer.  The rum version was the booziest of the trio and was a bit sweet.

The stout flight consisted of Belgian Stout, Belgian Stout with cacao nibs, and 2017 Black Dynamite (a blend of Black Dolphin and Big Jamoke Porter).  The Belgian Stout was a solid beer, but I preferred the version with cacao nibs.  The chocolaty notes made the stout more enjoyable to me.  For me, the 2017 version of Black Dynamite was overly boozy, which covered up all the other flavors.

THE STORY BEHIND THE BEER
While finishing our flights, I saw founder and brewmaster Eric Marshall pouring beers.  I asked if he had some time to discuss the history of the brewery and the event.  As Katie and I finished our flights, he stopped by our table and I got to talk to him about how he got into brewing beer and some upcoming changes to the brewery.

Eric grew up in town and attended the University of Tulsa where he majored in international business and German.  As he was finishing his formal education, he participated in a study abroad program in Germany.  It was in Germany that he realized it was possible to drink “good, fresh, local beer.”  When he looked at the beer scene in Tulsa, he saw a need and opportunity and spent a year apprenticing in Germany before working at Victory Brewing in Downington, Pa.

After the brewery started production in 2008, Marshall partnered with another native Tulsan to brew a beer just for that establishment.  “It is a tip of the hat,” said Marshall, when describing the production of McNellie’s Pub Ale.  For Marshall it is his way of acknowledging the importance of McNellie’s Pub to the revitalization of downtown Tulsa.  It also spawned another partnership, as Marshall Brewing oversees the brewing process at Elgin Park, which is the McNellie’s Group’s brewpub.

The partnership between Marshall Brewing and McNellie’s Pub also inspired a unique poster hanging above a doorway in the production side of the brewery.

A glimpse into the brewery’s storage area with a banner honoring the rating of their McNellie’s Pub Ale by Beer Advocate magazine.

As the beer business continues to grow in Oklahoma, Marshall expressed interest growing, but maintaining the company’s identity as a small, regional brewery.  The biggest thing on tap is the construction of a purpose-built taproom in the brewery’s existing space.  The goal is to open the new space in the summer of 2018.

Marshall gives credit for events like “The Dark Side of the Taproom” was the idea of taproom manager Kyle Johnson, who stored a variety of kegs with the intent of offering them together at some undetermined point.  Marshall relayed the problem of himself and other staff members wanting to put certain kegs on tap, but Johnson having to hide them in the back of cold storage so they would not get drank.  Similar events will be announced throughout the year.

With a tradition of German brewing and innovative American recipes, Marshall Brewing has brought unique craft beer to Tulsa for over a decade.  The beer reflects the Tulsa spirit and the artistry involved in producing quality beer.  “The Dark Side of the Taproom” was a special opportunity for me to try some beers that are not usually on tap at the same time, which for out-of-town visitors is a great way to sample more difficult to find brews.  For locals, the taproom offers a particularly intimate setting with a variety of mismatched seats, a shuffleboard table, and a bevy of board games to enjoy while sipping some of the city’s best beer.

A pint at Rocket Republic Brewing in Madison, Ala.

There are two notable industries in the area surrounding Huntsville, Ala.: space and craft beer.  When you bring the two industries together you get Rocket Republic Brewing Company in the suburb of Madison.

Eric and Tatum Crigger along with business partners John and Lynn Troy launched (no pun intended) Rocket Republic in 2013, and eventually opened their own brewhouse and taproom in 2015.  Like many professional brewers, Eric started as a homebrewer before taking a course on opening a brewery, and eventually realizing that dream.  The taproom came to fruition after the brewery’s initial success with contract brewery and the aid of an Indiegogo campaign.  So onto the taproom…

Visitors are inundated with the rocket theme because of Huntsville’s nickname as the “Rocket City” and its role in helping the United States land a man on the moon (read this piece for more details).  Through Redstone Arsenal and related businesses, the Huntsville area still employs a lot of people in the sciences.  So the name Rocket Republic is an homage to one of the industries that helped build Huntsville.

The brewery used to be a warehouse, which is the perfect location for a brewery and taproom because there is plenty of space for equipment and seating for guests.  Visitors to the brewery immediately walking into the seating area, which is primarily to the right of the door.

An overview of the seating area near the bar.

To the left of the door inside the taproom is the bar.

An overview of the bar.

So sitting down at the bar, my wife Katie and I ordered a flight.  We have drank a few beers from Rocket Republic, but wanted to take advantage of being at the brewery and the opportunity to sample some taproom-only beers.  We opted for a six-pour flight.  Naturally, the flight tray was shaped like a rocket.

An aerial view of a flight of beers.

We ordered some of their standards like AstroNut Brown Ale (an American brown ale), Mach One IPA (an American IPA), Apollo Amber (an American amber) along with some specialty beers like the Russian Imperial Stout, Solar Sour Blood Orange, and Solar Sour Dry Hopped.  Brown ale fans should definitely get the AstroNut Brown.  It was smooth with nice roasted flavors.  The Mach One IPA is a West Coast-style IPA, so it was big on grapefruit notes.  The Apollo Amber was a less hoppy than the typical American amber, and was much more mellow and smooth.

When we visited, there were four versions of the Solar Sour on draft.  We could have chosen the original, blood orange, raspberry, or dry-hopped version.  We opted for the dry-hopped and blood orange variants.  The Solar Sour Blood Orange was a bit sweet and kind of tangy from the orange.  The sour was spot on, but the orange was a bit too powerful for my tastes.  The Solar Sour Dry Hopped has a great mouthfeel and tartness with just a hint of citrus from the Citra and Falconer’s Flight hops.  The Russian Imperial Stout was very smooth and not at all boozy despite it 8.1% ABV.

We did not  opt for more beers, but not surprisingly there were plenty of other options on draft on the day we visited.

There is obviously much more to the brewery and taproom than the bar area.  So I explored more of the expansive former warehouse and captured pictures of the brewing equipment and other seating areas.

An overview of some seating with empty kegs in the background.

Much of the decoration around the brewery relates to the space and rocket theme, so visitors can see that in the cold storage area with rockets on top of the structure and space scenes in the “portholes.”  Just beyond the storage space is the brewing equipment.

An overview of the fermentation tanks and kegs.

Although there were no special events or food trucks at the taproom when Katie and I visited, there are numerous events and live music performances at the brewery each week.  Food trucks are usually on site Mondays through Saturdays as well.  An up-to-date list of events and food trucks can be found online.

Whether you’re into rockets and space or just trying to find good beer, visitors should be pleasantly pleased with their visit to Rocket Republic Brewing Company where you don’t have to choose between rockets and beer.  Instead you have blast off for a good time with an AstroNut Brown Ale or discuss the inner workings of the Milky Way Galaxy while sipping on a Cosmic Cookie.