A guide to Hank Williams sights in Montgomery

The death of legendary country music star Hank Williams is shrouded in mystery.  However, there is no mystery behind visiting some of the most notable sights associated with Williams in his adopted hometown of Montgomery, Alabama.

In 1937, Hank, his mother, and his siblings moved to Montgomery from nearby Georgiana.  It was in Montgomery that 13-year-old Hiram Williams started using “Hank” as his stage name.  After winning a local talent show and landing a twice-weekly, 15-minute radio show, Hank dropped out of school in 1939 and began touring with The Drifting Cowboys.

He eventually moved to Nashville as his career gained momentum, but Montgomery remained close to his heart.  He regularly visited his mother’s boarding house, and stayed with her briefly following a spinal fusion surgery in 1951.  Hank also visited town in late 1952 before embarking upon what would be his final concert tour.

Montgomery has changed since Williams’s death in 1953, so many sights have changed since his death.  Fans expecting to see places preserved with original pieces and reflecting the 1950s will be disappointed.  However, there are still plenty of sights connected to the country legend to fill an entire day.

Here are the five key spots that every Hanks Williams fan should visit in Montgomery:

#1: Oakwood Cemetery Annex (1304 Upper Wetumpka Road)
Any visit to Montgomery to see sights connected to Hank Williams has to start with his final resting place.  His grave is in the Oakwood Cemetery Annex, which is about a five-minute drive from downtown.

The signage for the Oakwood Cemetery Annex highlights the Hank Williams Memorial.

Fans wishing to pay their final respects to the legend can to follow the aptly-named Hank Williams Memorial Circle to the grave site.  The best parking spot for photographs is on the right-hand side just as you spot the bright artificial grass of the grave site.  If you want to take pictures of the back of the monuments erected to honor Hank and his first wife Audrey, you should park before the grave site so that your car is not in the photograph.

The graves of Hank and Audrey Williams.

#2: The Hank Williams Museum (118 Commerce Street)

The Hank Williams Museum sits in the center of downtown Montgomery.

After paying your respects at his grave, fans should head downtown to visit The Hank Williams Museum.  It houses the largest collection of memorabilia associated with the star.  The museum contains many of his suits made by Nudie’s of Hollywood, his 1939 high school yearbook, and most notably his 1952 Cadillac.  The baby blue Cadillac is notorious for being the vehicle that Hank died in while being driven to a concert in Canton, Ohio.

#3: Hank William Statue (216 Commerce Street)

The statue of Hank Williams sits at the intersection of Commerce and Tallapoosa streets.

Just one block from The Hank Williams Museum is a life-size statue of the country music legend.  It stands in the median of Commerce Street about a block from the city’s River Walk.  It originally stood on North Perry Street across from city hall, which is where his funeral service was held in 1953.   According to a historic marker near city hall, Hank Williams Jr. commissioned Texas sculptors Doug and Sandra McDonald to create the statue.  However, the statue did not attract the crowds city leaders expected, so it was relocated to its current location in 2016.

#4: Municipal Auditorium (103 North Perry Street)

Municipal Auditorium opened in 1940, and served as the city’s primary music venue for many years.

There was only one venue in Montgomery large enough to host Williams’s funeral.  Municipal Auditorium was city’s primary concert venue, and seated 3,000 people.  According to newspaper reports at the time, another 20,000 people lined the street outside the venue to pay their final respects.

After nearly 30 years of neglect, the venue was renovated in 2011.  Since then it has been used as the city council’s chambers.  There is a historic marker across the street from the building that details Williams’s funeral.

#5: Elite Café (121 Montgomery Street)

Hank Williams’s final public performance was an impromptu performance.  On Dec. 28, 1952, Williams was asked to sing during an American Federation of Musicians holiday party at the Elite (pronounced E-light) Café.  The Elite opened in 1911, and was a Montgomery institution before it closed in 1990.

In 2016, D’Road Café opened in the former location of the Elite Café.

After several years of vacancy, D’Road Café filled the the former spot of the Elite in 2016.  The current establishment seats up to 50 people and serves Latin American fare.  So much has changed from when Hank last visited this spot, but the new restaurant allows visitors to sit in the place where he last performed.

Getting Around Town

After starting a tour with a stop at Oakwood Cemetery Annex, it is best to find a parking spot along Commerce Street and walk to the other four sights in downtown.  There are a handful of public lots, but metered parking along most streets costs $1 for two hours.  Many parking spots along Commerce Street now feature digital meters that accept credit cards in addition to coins.

A Minor League Baseball road trip through Alabama

People who enjoy baseball, and especially Minor League Baseball, regularly plan their summer vacations around visiting ballparks.  These trips are often based around individual goals, whether it’s to visit new states or new ballparks or to watch top prospects or even the most ambitious goal of seeing all 159 active, affiliated Minor League baseball stadiums.

With good timing, visiting all of the Minor League ballparks in Alabama can be done in a matter of four days.  I undertook this adventure earlier this summer with my wife Katie.

THE BASICS
Currently, Alabama has three Minor League Baseball teams: Birmingham Barons, Mobile BayBears, and Montgomery Biscuits.  From north-to-south, the drive from Birmingham to Mobile is about four hours (266 miles).  The drive between Mobile and Montgomery is about two-and-a-half hours (172 miles), and the drive from Montgomery to Birmingham is about one-and-a-half hours (90 miles).  So for any baseball fan, this is a really easy drive whether you start in Alabama or begin your trip in a neighboring state.

THE PLANNING
Planning this trip is a bit more difficult because a few years ago the Southern League, the Double-A league all three Alabama teams play in, switched from the traditional structure of three-game series to five-game series.  So when one of the Alabama teams hosts another team from the state it can be difficult to visit all three ballparks in quick succession.  Everybody has their own method for organizing schedules to create travel plans.  I am a BIG fan of putting everything into an Excel spreadsheet so I can look at what teams are at home side-by-side.

A spreadsheet showing home games for the three Minor League teams in Alabama for the end of May.

I was fortunate that my goal of seeing all three teams play at home came together over Memorial Day weekend.  Once the dates were settled, then I started working on planning hotels in each of the cities and what other sights my wife Katie and I could see along the way.

PLAY BALL!
As we lived in Tuscaloosa when planning the trip, we headed south to Mobile and worked our way north to see each of the teams.  Due to the Southern League having an off-day on Monday, May 28 (Memorial Day), we were unable to see all three teams on consecutive nights.  However, if schedules align it is quite feasible.  So instead of trying to cram three ballparks into consecutive nights, we added a few extras days to spend in Mobile, Gulf Shores and Montgomery.

GAME ONE: MOBILE BAYBEARS
We visited two breweries (Fairhope Brewing Co. and Serda Brewing Co.) and checked into our hotel in downtown Mobile before heading to Hank Aaron Stadium west of downtown near the junction of Interstate 10 and Interstate 65.  I had previously attended a Mobile BayBears game in 2015, but this was Katie’s first visit to the stadium.

The entrance to Hank Aaron Stadium, home of the Mobile BayBears.

The stadium is located on reclaimed marsh land and is surrounded by a variety of shopping plazas, so there are plenty of parking spots at the ballpark that opened in 1997.  The stadium is named after Mobile-native and Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, but a plaque outside the park honors all of the city’s native sons who have been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.  The plaque notes that Satchel Paige (Class of 1971, Willie McCovey (Class of 1986), Billy Williams (Class of 1987), and Ozzie Smith (Class of 2002) are also enshrined at Cooperstown alongside Aaron (Class of 1982).

After walking under the gate that proclaim “Hank Aaron Stadium,” fans are immediately greeted with a dose of the team’s history.

The gate to Hank Aaron Stadium.

Many fans may overlook the BayBears Hall of Fame because it is on the left-hand side of the entrance to the ballpark, but it is worth checking out in addition to the banners highlighting former players who have achieved notable levels of success in Major League Baseball.

The stadium has a unique design because the luxury suites are not elevated, as they are at most ballparks.  Instead, the luxury boxes are on the field level and infield seating for the general public is elevated about 20-feet above the field.  So the view for spectators is quite different from what fans experience at other baseball games.  With luxury suites underneath the general seating area, concession stands face the luxury suites.

A view of a concession stand at the Mobile BayBears stadium.

Each concession stand carries the same items, so fans don’t have to go in search of specialty items available at only one stand (as can be the case at some Minor League stadiums).  Fans will find all the typical ballpark items at the concession stands ranging from sunflower seeds and peanuts to hot dogs and hamburgers.  The most unique items with local connections are a foot-long Conecuh sausage and Conecuh jambalaya.  As I had ordered the Conecuh sausage on my previous visit, I opted for the jambalaya.

A view of the jambalaya at Hank Aaron Stadium.

The best sight lines in the stadium are in Sections 106 or 107, which are immediately behind home plate in the seating bowl above the luxury suites.  My seats down the first base line were enjoyable, but the view of home plate was cut off by the luxury suites.  So my recommendation for buying seats would be to find something in either 106 or 107, assuming you actually want to watch the game action.

A view of game action from the first base line.

There are a lot of reasons to attend a Minor League Baseball game, and attending a game at Hank Aaron Stadium offers a particularly unique reason.

A view of the Hank Aaron Childhood Home & Museum on the grounds of the Mobile BayBears stadium.

In 2010, the City of Mobile relocated the childhood home of Hall of Famer Hank Aaron to the ballpark’s site and restored it as a museum (read more here).  Visiting Aaron’s childhood home and museum should be on the must-see list for any baseball fan.  The museum is open to visitors Monday through Friday on non-gamedays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Admission costs $5 for adults, and $12 for children under 12 years-old.  However, the museum is open during ALL games and admission is free.

Final: Biloxi 3, Mobile 11
Box Score

GAME TWO: MONTGOMERY BISCUITS
After seeing some sights in Mobile, Katie and I headed to Montgomery for the second game of our road trip.  Due to the Southern League’s schedule, we would not get to watch a baseball game until Tuesday evening.  So we enjoyed a couple of days in town seeing some of the city’s historic sights, and some of its newer sights.

Montgomery had a long history of supporting Minor League teams before the Biscuits arrived in 2004, but the last affiliated team to call the city home, the Southern League’s Montgomery Rebels, left in 1980.  So a downtown ballpark built that incorporated part of an old train shed was welcomed by the community.

An overview of the former train shed and entrance to Riverwalk Stadium.

The downtown location of Riverwalk Stadium means there is limited parking, but it is great if you’re visiting from out-of-town.  Depending where you stay in downtown, walking to the ballpark takes between five and ten minutes.  If you aren’t staying in downtown there is parking on streets around the stadium, but there is are dedicated surface parking lots explicitly for the stadium.

When Katie and I arrived the team’s mascot, Big Mo, was just inside the gate greeting fans.  So we quickly stopped to get our photo with him.

My wife Katie and I with Montgomery Biscuits mascot Big Mo.

Big Mo may look like an aardvark or anteater or some other real or imagined animal, but he is NONE of these.  The Biscuits call him simply, “A Biscuit Lovin’ Beast.”

Regarding biscuits there is NEVER a problem finding them at the park because there is a portable concession stand right behind home plate that sells biscuits, of course!

A concession stand selling solely biscuits, of course!

Maybe if for some unbelievable reason a fan doesn’t like eating biscuits, but instead wants to wear some biscuit paraphernalia then the team store is the place to go.

A view of special Greenbow Biscuits gear available at the Montgomery Biscuits team store.

On the night I visited, I found some special “Greenbow Biscuits” gear for sale.  The team did a special promotion and renamed themselves the “Greenbow Biscuits” in honor of the fictional hometown of Forrest Gump.  However, I was more impressed by the biscuit-shaped “hat” you could purchase that was on display next to the Greenbow Biscuits jerseys.  Naturally, there is a LOT of other team gear available in the store, too.

Like most Minor League baseball stadiums built since 2000, visitors to Riverwalk Stadium enter on the main level and walk down to the seating bowl.  The concourse wraps around the ballpark, so Katie and I explored a bit before settling in to watch some of the game.  The concession stands offer a variety of food options from the common ballpark fare like hot dogs and chicken tenders to the more unique like chicken wings (a special on Tuesday nights) and, of course, biscuits.

We didn’t get food on our first trip around the ballpark, but did find a great selection of craft beers.  Down the right field line there is a bar with a large entertainment stage.  The Club Car Bar is a full-service bar that offers liquor drinks and wine in addition to beer.  There are over a dozen beers on draft in addition to several in cans and bottles.  There is a solid representation of Alabama craft beers as well with brews from Fairhope Brewing, Ghost Train Brewing, Back Forty Beer, and Goat Island Brewing on draft when we visited.

A portable stand by home plate also had a solid selection of craft beers with offerings from Alabama breweries like Back Forty, Fairhope, Folklore Brewing, Ghost Train, and Goat Island.  Seeing these selections shows how much the craft beer industry has grown in Alabama over the past five years, as beer drinkers can support local breweries at the ballpark.

After picking up a beer at the Club Car Bar, Katie and I took our seats behind home plate and settled in to watch some of the game.

A view of the field at Riverwalk Stadium from behind home plate.

The design of the stadium is conducive to great sight lines everywhere, but it is particularly fun watching the trains pass by left field wall.  The luxury suites are elevated above the seating bowl with six built into the old train shed and the remainder in a newer structure down the third base line.

Like my previous visit to Riverwalk Stadium in 2012 (read it here), it was a great time at the park.  The stadium is beautiful with a great downtown location that makes it easily accessible to local fans and visitors alike.  The promotions are unique, and fun.  The food and beverage choices are diverse, and most importantly reflect location connections and options.

Final: Jackson 6, Montgomery 3
Box Score

GAME THREE: BIRMINGHAM BARONS
If you ask baseball fans what’s the oldest stadium in America many of them are likely to say either Fenway Park in Boston or Wrigley Field in Chicago, and both answers would be wrong.  The oldest professional ballpark in the United States is Rickwood Field in the West End neighborhood of Birmingham, Ala.  It opened in 1910, two years before Fenway and four years before Wrigley.

Despite being the old professional baseball stadium in America, Rickwood Field hasn’t hosted a regular tenant since 1987 when the Birmingham Barons relocated to suburban Hoover.  However, since 1996 the Barons and Friends of Rickwood have hosted a throwback game at the stadium.  The game usually takes places during the Barons’ first homestand in late May or early June immediately after Memorial Day weekend.  I previously attended the 20th Rickwood Classic in 2015, but Katie badly wanted to attend the game so it was incorporated into our road trip plans.

Really ambitious baseball fans can attend a Barons’ game at Regions Field, which opened in 2013, in downtown Birmingham, and attend the Rickwood Classic on consecutive days.  Usually the Barons’ schedule has them hosting a game at Regions Field the day and after the Rickwood Classic, so it is possible to see all four Minor League ballparks in Alabama within a relatively short time frame.

Stories say that Rick Woodward, who owned the Birmingham Coal Barons in the early 1900s, used Philadelphia’s Shibe Park and Pittsburgh’s Forbes Fields as the models for his new ballpark.

My wife Katie and I in front of Rickwood Field.

Attending the Rickwood Classic is really like attending a game from another era.  The starting lineups are written in chalk on a board shortly after entering the park.

The lineup for the 2018 Rickwood Classic between the visiting Chattanooga Lookouts and host Birmingham Barons.

Beyond the chalk-written lineups, the game lacks many of the elements of a modern Minor League game.  There are no promotional contests between innings and no walk-up music for batters or music between innings.  The only music is played by a live band behind home plate that plays music fitting each year’s theme.  The 2018 Classic celebrated the “Fabulous Fifties” when the Barons were affiliated with the New York Yankees (1953-56).

The game usually starts at 12:30 p.m. with gates opening at eleven o’clock, so visitors are provided ample time to wander around the ballpark and bask in its history.  It is been painstakingly restored, including the manually-operated scoreboard in left field and the advertisements on the outfield walls that feature vintage-style ads of current companies and one dedicated to Woodward Iron Co. paid for by descendants of Rick Woodward.

After exploring the park, Katie and I settled into our general admission seats near home plate under the roof that was added to the ballpark in the 1920s.

A view of Rickwood Field during the 2018 Rickwood Classic.

One possible short-coming of attending the Rickwood Classic is the lack of unique food items at the game.  The most “unique” items available would be the Polish or Italian sausage available at a tent outside the seating bowl where a grill cooks up a variety of encased meats.  That’s not to say the food is bad because it is quite delicious, but fans will not find as many options at the Rickwood Classic as they would attending a Barons’ game at Regions Field.  One modern convenience is that fans can regularly find personal-sized pizza from Papa John’s at the park.  Beer choices are limited to either Miller Lite or Yuengling, so sadly none of Birmingham’s delicious craft beers are available at the game either.

None of these limitations should affect the enjoyment of the game because the purpose of attending the Rickwood Classic is to bask in the essence of “old timey” baseball before technology became integrated into our enjoyment of the contest.  Watching a baseball game in America’s oldest professional ballpark is about watching the sport in virtually its purest form.

Perhaps the greatest aspect of attending the Rickwood Classic is that fans are allowed onto the field after the game.  At most Minor League stadiums only kids are allowed onto the field to run the bases after certain games, or if people of all ages are allowed onto the field it is only on rare occasions.  As part of being a “living museum,” fans are allowed onto the field to play catch, run the bases, take home some of the infield dirt, or just lay down in the grass and reflect on the history that has occurred at the ballpark.

Final: Chattanooga 1, Birmingham 7
Box Score

WRAP-UP
So after an extended weekend, Katie and I got to see all three of Alabama’s Minor League Baseball teams play at home.  It took us five days to see all three teams, but the additional days provided us the opportunity to see and experience a bit more in each city.  Whether you’re from Alabama or visiting from out-of-state there is a lot to see and do in each city, even if you’ve been to the cities before there is something to explore in each downtown area.  There are several craft breweries and award-winning restaurants in Mobile, Montgomery, and Birmingham, along with a bevy of historic sights and contemporary museums to keep baseball fans of all ages engaged on a road trip to see Alabama’s Minor League teams.

Touring Hank Aaron’s childhood home in Mobile

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

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

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

A sign displaying the restoration of the historic home.

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

Items from the Aaron family home including a china cabinet.

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

A view of the kitchen.

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

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

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

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

Lockers reflecting the career of siblings Hank and Tommie Aaron.

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

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

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

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

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

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

An overview of the brewery from the street.

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

A view of the entrance.

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

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

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

A collection of merchandise available for purchase.

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

So onto the beer…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A view of the main entrance.

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

Entrances to the taproom and production facility.

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

The beer menu is to the right of the bar.

The beer list.

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

An overview of the merchandise available for sale.

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

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

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

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

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

An overview of Food Truck Alley.

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

An overview of outdoor seating.

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

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

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

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

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

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

An overview of the brewery’s taproom.

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

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

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

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

The brewery’s mash tuns.

Immediately in front of the brewhouse are the fermenters.

An overview of the brewery’s fermenters.

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

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

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

A glimpse of the brewery’s taproom brewhouse system.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alabama Memorial Day weekend road trip preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fairhope Brewing Co. in Fairhope

Serda Brewing in Mobile

Big Beach Brewing Co. in Gulf Shores

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is here that my visit began.

The brewery’s main signage.

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

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

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

The main entrance to the brewery.

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

DJ Sex Panther helping create the vibe.

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

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

A flight of beers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An overview of the courtyard.

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

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

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

The main entrance to the brewery.

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

An overview of the production side.

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

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

A glimpse into the lab.

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

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

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

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

An overview of the bar.

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

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

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

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

A flight of beers.

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

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

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

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

A pint at Ghost Train Brewing Co. in Birmingham, Ala.

Within a year of brewing and distributing its beer, Ghost Train Brewing Company went from a startup brewing contracting its production to opening its own brewery and taproom in the Lakeview district of Birmingham.  The husband-and-wife team of Taylor and Paige DeBoer began operations in 2015 brewing their beer at a facility in Mississippi before moving into the former home of Cahaba Brewing Company off 3rd Avenue South in Lakeview in 2016.  The brewery sits in the shadow of U.S. 280 as it heads out to the Birmingham suburbs, which is where my visit began.

An overview of the building.

The brewery’s space is quite compact, but despite its size there is a lot inside the building.  I visited on a Friday evening, so there was a band performing and it seemed as though every seat in the taproom was filled.

A band performs at the front of the taproom.

The bar sits in the back of the taproom, so my wife Katie and I navigated our way through the crowd to find a pair of seats at the bar to order some beers.  We have drank many of Ghost Train’s beers because they are widely available in our area, but there were a few on draft that we had never tried before.  So we ordered a flight to split that included all of these beers.

A flight of beers.

We ordered the Shamrock Kiwi Wheatgrass Sour, Train Wreck Pale Ale, Judge Juicy (a New England IPA), and Craft Lager.  All were very well done, but my favorite was the Shamrock Kiwi Wheatgrass Sour.  It had a good pucker with noticeable kiwi flavors.  Craft Lager was my other favorite because it was tasty unto itself, but just a bit better with the lime squeezed into it.

After finishing our flight, Katie and I explored the brewery a bit so I could capture the rest of the landscape.

Like many brewery taprooms, the equipment is surrounded by seating.  So it was difficult navigating the crowd to take pictures of the canning line and fermenters.  The most interesting space I found was the game room in the back.

An overview of the game room.

A collection of pinball machines accompany a pool table and Foosball table to offer visitors additional entertainment options.  The game room was noticeable quieter than the taproom with the band performing, and provided a nice respite from the crowd.

Birmingham’s history as a stop for seven railway companies led the DeBoers to draw from the city’s former Birmingham Terminal Station, which was the city’s main train station until the 1950s, to incorporate a railroad theme into the name of the brewery and ultimately a beer named after the station.  A ghost train is a phantom locomotive that grew in American folklore has etched into popular culture in a variety of ways.  Visitors will notice the railroad theme in the brewery’s logo.

The taproom seemed like a busy train station the night I visited with tons of people coming and going.  Visitors may not find the namesake Terminal Station Brown on draft at Ghost Train Brewing, but are sure to find a unique collection of beers to enjoy.