A pint at Red Hills Brewing Co. in Birmingham, Ala.

Nestled in a plaza on Central Avenue in a former A&P grocery store, Red Hills Brewing Co. may get overlooked by visitors who focus on the nearby dining establishments.  In fact, as visitors drive to the brewery they may overlook it because it is tucked into the corner of the plaza.  However, there is plenty of space to enjoy a cold beer in the shadow of Red Mountain.

A view of the brewery’s main entrance.

Once inside the building, there is no mistaking that you are in a brewery taproom.  The numerous tanks are visible in the distance the moment you walk in the door.  The bar sits in the center of the wall with two large TVs hovering around the counter top.  Additional seating is distributed throughout the remaining space, which provides guests with ample spots to relax and enjoy their beer.

As my wife Katie and I walked into the taproom, we made a bee line for the bar and sat down to order a flight.  Like many breweries in Birmingham, we have had several beers from Red Hills so we patiently took time double-checking the beers we had drank according to Untappd before ordering our flight.  We got A New Tella Porter, Geoffrey the Graff, Hipster’s Delight, and Nitro Hipster’s Delight.  We also shared a taster of Redtails.  A New Tella Porter is a chocolate and hazelnut porter.  Geoffrey the Graff is a blend of cider and gluten-free beer.  Hipster’s Delight is an espresso latte imperial stout made with Higher Ground coffee, which is a coffee company in Vestavia Hills that sells fair-trade coffee.  Redtails is an American amber brewed with peanuts.  Of the five brews we had during our visit, the Nitro Hipster’s Delight was the best beer.  It had noticeable chocolate and coffee notes and was smoother on nitrogen than the CO2 version.

After finishing the flight, I took advantage of a fairly quiet opening period on this Saturday to take a few more pictures of the taproom.  The mural over the bar is the most notable piece at the brewery.

An overview of the bar area.

While the mural primarily focuses on the fermentation tanks used in brewing and the chemistry of different components used in the beer, the most notable part of the mural is to the right near the hallway.

Artwork depicting the Vulcan statue and a Red Hills salamander.

The right side of the mural features one of Birmingham’s most visible symbols, the statue of Vulcan that sits atop Red Mountain.  Taking a unique twist on incorporating Vulcan, the mural shows his posterior as that is the portion of the statue that faces the Homewood neighborhood.  Next to Vulcan is a Red Hills salamander, which is the namesake of the brewery and Alabama’s official state amphibian.  Despite the brewery’s location near Red Mountain, the Red Hills salamander is not native to the area, but instead resides in the Gulf Coastal Plain.

Not far from the mural down a hallway is another homage to the brewery’s namesake amphibian.

The “Salamander Crossing” sign in the back hallway.

On top of the bar counter is a setup displaying the brewery’s merchandise along with some unrefrigerated beer for sale.

A view of some merchandise for sale.

In a display of typical Southern hospitality, there is a painted sign above the doorway as people leave.

A view of the artwork above the doorway encouraging people to visit again.

With its location in a bustling shopping area, it is very likely that visitors to Red Hills Brewing will come back again.  Like many taprooms, the beer select offers something for just about everyone.  The mural is humorous and delightful.  The space is eclectic and relaxed.

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

Nestled in the area that formerly housed the Birmingham Zoo is a budding restaurant and brewery district.  The district lends its name to one of Birmingham’s earliest craft breweries, as Avondale Brewing Co. opened its doors in 2011.

With its location in the heart of the Avondale neighborhood, the brewery lacks significant parking as it sits near the intersection of 4th Avenue South and 41st Street South.

Main entrance to the brewery.

The building has a long and interesting history that has been incorporated into the brewery’s beers.  It was originally built in 1885 and served as a bunkhouse for railroad workers.  It was later used as a bank, a candy company, and a saloon.  The front facade was rebuilt before the brewery’s taproom opened in November 2011.  The building looks huge from the outside, but has a much more intimate feeling once you get through the front door.  You’re almost immediately greeted by the bar in front of you with the brewing equipment to the left and some seating to the right.

As I learned later, the mash ton tanks were imported from Germany and are capable of brewing 15 barrels at a time.  So brewing at the facility usually takes two shifts to completely fill a fermentation tanks.

After taking a few pictures of the bar area, my wife Katie and I ordered a flight of beers as we waited to meet up with my contact at the brewery.  Avondale’s beers are widely available around Alabama, so we had a tough time selecting a flight to ensure we tried something new.  However, we were able to put together four brews we’d never had at Avondale Brewing before.

A flight of beers.

The four brews we chose were the Hazy IPA, Mexican Lager, Warning Shot Double IPA, and Farmhouse Cider.  We did not realize that the beer labeled “Mexican Lager” was not actually an Avondale beer, but instead Good People Brewing’s Muchacho (Good People and Avondale are now under the same umbrella, so visitors to the taproom will find a few Good People beers at Avondale and a few Avondale beers at Good People).  So we’d actually had that beer previously without realizing it when ordering.  It’s a very solid, light lager that honestly does go better with a lime.

The Hazy IPA is a New England-style IPA that needs a bit more orange.  However, it’s not overly bitter and is quite smooth.  I don’t typically order double IPAs, but Warning Shot is a great representation of the style.  It has a big floral nose and a slightly bitter finish.  The Farmhouse Cider may have been the best among the quartet.  It was light and crisp, but with a dry finish.  So it was not overly sweet, as can be the case for many ciders.

Shortly after finishing our flight, we were met by sales representative Dallas Henderson, who gave us a tour of the facility.  We started our tour of the facility by going outdoors to the brewery’s huge entertainment space.

An overview of the brewery’s extensive outdoor entertainment space.

Part of the expansive outdoor area includes the brewery’s grain mill, a performance stage, an outdoor bar, and plenty of paved space for food trucks.

Walking back toward the brewery and taproom, visitors see images that connect Avondale Brewing Co. to the history of its surrounding community.  As visitors walk toward the taproom, they see the company’s logo, which includes noted Avondale Park resident Miss Fancy.

There are a lot of stories about how Miss Fancy ended up in Birmingham, but the crux of all stories is that she ended up at the Birmingham Zoo when it was located in Avondale Park.  The commonly-believed myth that inspired the use of Miss Fancy as part of the brewery’s logo is that she enjoyed drinking confiscated alcohol during Prohibition to sooth her stomach ailments.  In addition to being part of the company’s logo, a painting recreating a famous photograph of Miss Fancy with her caretaker John Todd.

The upstairs of the brewery is a unique entertainment space that people can rent, and is utilized on Sundays for community yoga.

Tucked behind the bar in the event space is the photograph that inspired the painting on the side of the building.  If you’re fortunate enough to see the event space, you’ll notice two photographs behind the bar.

A photograph of Miss Fancy in the brewery’s event space.

After seeing the brewery’s event space, we journeyed back downstairs where I captured a few more photos of the taproom and some of the unique decor on its walls.

After getting a detailed tour of the taproom and brewery, Katie and I each ordered a Long Branch Scottish Ale to honor one of the building’s former owners.  At one point the place was known as the Long Branch Saloon, and fortunate visitors may spot his business card tacked to a shelf just behind the bar.  The brew is a bit smoky, but a great representation of the style.

Steeped in history and local culture with a variety of brews, Avondale Brewing offers visitors an intimate indoor drinking environment and differentiates itself from its competitors with a gigantic outdoor entertainment space that is typically filled to the brim on weekends during the warmer months of the year.

A pint at Interstellar Ginger Beer & Exploration Co. in Alabaster, Ala.

In a craft beer scene getting more and more crowded, it is getting difficult for newcomers to make their mark on the landscape.  So when Shane Kelly and Daniel Sims decided to open a brewery, they decided to differentiate themselves in the marketplace by brewing ginger beer.  The duo settled on a location south of Birmingham in Alabaster off Interstate 65 near the Shelby County Airport in order to sell their product to an under-served population.  So the first thing visitors see when coming to the brewery is its signage at the entrance to an industrial park.

Signage at the entrance to the industrial park.

The building that houses the brewery is at the end of a cul-de-sac on the right-hand side of the street.

Main entrance to the brewery.

There are several parking spots in the lot or on the side of the street.

Visitors walk immediately into the seating area with the bar in the back of the building.  The seating area has an area setup for live music, which happens about once a week at the brewery.  The coolest feature of the seating area is the nook tucked with two small couches.

Some indoors seating.

Just a few steps beyond the seating is the bar, which is usually staffed by the owners or a volunteer.

The tap list is written out on a whiteboard behind the bar with details explaining what flavors were added to make each ginger beer.  So if you’ve never tried ginger beer before or are unfamiliar with the options, you’ll be well informed when making your selection.  When my wife Katie & I arrived, we opted for two flights.  So the beertender set us up with two flights covering all the brews on tap.  We each got the staples with a little variety, too.

A flight of beers.

Each flight had the brewery’s two staples: First Contact and Space Mule (both of which I’ve had at beer festivals in the area).  Additionally, my flight had Ginger Colada, Ginger Sour, and Martian Mojito.  Katie’s flight also had Ginger Colada along with Andromeda Ambrosia and Blue Nebula Ginger Tonic.  For first time ginger beer drinkers, if you don’t try a flight I’d suggest ordering First Contact or Space Mule.  They are the most approachable and consist of flavors people typically find in other beverages.  First Contact combines ginger and lemon flavors while Space Mule has ginger and lime flavors.

If you’re a bit more adventurous and enjoy coconut, then you should try Ginger Colada, which tastes like its inspiration – a piña colada.  It is big on coconut, so be warned.  Ginger Sour is the brewery’s take on a whiskey sour.  Andromeda Ambrosia is a blend of hibiscus and bitter along with orange peel and ginger.  It is a vibrant pink brew, and very tasty.  Although I failed to capture a good photo, Blue Nebula Ginger Tonic glows in the dark and tastes like a gin and tonic.  So if you enjoy that hard liquor drink, you’d enjoy this ginger beer.  My favorite beer was Martian Mojito, which is a combination of ginger and mint flavors.  Based on its name, it tastes a lot like a mojito.  If you order a full pour of the Martian Mojito you will received it with a lime garnish, which is a nice compliment to the flavors in the brew.

Shortly after finishing our flights, Shane offered to take us on a tour of the facility.  Interestingly, the first stop was much closer than I expected as we walked into the cooler immediately behind the bar.  And what did I see?

A trio of movable fermentation tanks the cooler.

I saw a trio of fermentation tanks along with a few kegs.  Shane uses the coolers to drop the temperature of the ginger beer immediately after brewing it.  So instead of working with large, immovable equipment, Interstellar Ginger Beer & Exploration Company utilizes smaller, movable fermenters.

In a room just beyond the bar is where the brewing and kegging of the beer occurs.

Shane Kelly explaining the process of brewing ginger beer.

In the background, is the tank used at the brewery to move beer into kegs.  Although there are no scheduled tours, Kelly explained the process of brewing ginger beer to a rapt group of people who were also making their first visit to the brewery.  All their beers start as a simple water and sugar boil before the addition of yeast and any additional flavors as the wort is put into the movable fermenters.

The ginger used at the brewery is imported from China, and then cleaned and chopped up using a modified kitchen garbage disposal in another space.

A view of the ginger extractor used at the brewery.

In the third suite of the building Interstellar rents is where Kelly hopes to bottle their beer for distribution.

An overview of the bottling line.

Kelly bottled a small amount of the company’s flagship beer, First Contact, by April 5.  In the Star Trek universe, First Contact commemorates the first time humans had interaction with the Vulcans.  Star Trek and other science fiction materials have influenced the theme of the brewery, but Kelly explained that his real interest was just in outer space and setting the brewery apart from others in the area.

The space at the taproom is intimate, but visitors will not feel crowded as the seating extends into the parking lot to provide a lot of options for visitors.  If you’re a fan of science fiction and/or space, you’ll relish the decor of the taproom that evokes exploration.  The brews are not what many people expect when visiting a brewery taproom because they brew ginger beer, but the flavors are out of this world.  To truly appreciate and enjoy the taproom experience, visitors should set aside their preconceptions about a brewery and just focus on the flavors in the beers.