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.
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.
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.
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.
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.