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.

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

A positive sign of the growth of craft beer in any place is breweries growing and moving to new, larger spaces.  After four years operating at a location off 3rd Avenue South in the Lakeview district, Cahaba Brewing Company moved to a former industrial site in the Avondale neighborhood.  The brewery opened the new taproom on Jan. 19, 2016 in an expansive 51,000-square-foot building that used to be part of the Continental Gin.  It isn’t always easy to find the brewery when driving north on 5th Avenue South, even though a sign points visitors in the right direction.

The sign near the street directing people to the brewery.

The brewery draws its name from the longest free-flowing river in Alabama, the Cahaba, which has its headwaters near Birmingham.  So building on an nature-oriented concept, we Jump In to explore the expansive space that houses the brewery.

Main entrance to the brewery.

Immediately after entering the brewery visitors have options for where to explore.  Turning right leads people to the primary seating area of the taproom with the bar and a view into the production side of the facility.  Turning left takes visitors to a lounge area and a bank of pinball machines sure to entertain kids of all ages.

The ability to have a dimly-lit lounge and arcade space in addition to a traditional bar and taproom illustrates the size of the building.  So turning my attention to the taproom, I captured a few photos before meeting with sales representative extraordinaire Randy Bressner and production manager Jared Subock.

It was at a high-top table that my wife Katie and I shared a couple of flights to sample all of the beers currently on draft at the brewery.

The flights were created to accentuate similarity in styles.  One flight consisted solely of India pale ales while the other flight focused on maltier beers.  The malty flight had Bohemian Pilsner, American Blonde, Oktoberfest, and Irish Stout.  The IPA flight had Pale Ale, White IPA, Oka Uba IPA, and Oak-Aged Oka Uba.  With the move to its current location, Cahaba went from using a 3.5-barrel brewhouse to a 30-barrel brewhouse, so I have sampled many of their beers.  Of the eight I tried during this visit, my favorites were the Irish Stout and the Pale Ale.  The Irish stout is dry and reminiscent of Guinness while the Pale Ale was piney and hoppy like a classic American pale ale.  The American Blonde is the brewery’s benchmark beer, but according to Subock it was an accidental discovery.  It was originally brewed for Cullman’s Oktoberfest in 2011, but is not truly a lager and instead is Helles-like brew.  It has been the brewery’s most popular beer, and is a great introductory beer for people who have not tried craft beers before.

As a geographer, my favorite thing about trying a flight of beer was the flight board.  It was cool to see the brewery accentuate its location in the state of Alabama by using flight boards shaped like the state, including the unique tail of the Tennessee River that forms the state’s boundary with Mississippi.  In fact, I liked it so much that I bought a flight board and set of glasses for myself.

After finishing our beer, Jared took us on a tour of the facility.  We started with the event space immediately next to the taproom, which used to house the brewery’s barrel program and other equipment.  The barrels and equipment were relocated because too many people interfered with the barrel-aging process by removing plugs.  So after passing quickly through the event space we came into the production side of the brewery.

An overview of the brewery’s production side.

When Cahaba moved to its current location in late 2015, the brewery kept its original brewhouse and now uses it for small batches.

The brewery’s old equipment is utilized to brew small batches for the taproom.

Near the pilot system is where the brewery now stores its barrel far away from meddling guests.

Barrels are stored near the brewery’s pilot system.

Although the taproom has a cutout that allows visitors to see the production facility, it is quite awe-inspiring to be on the other side of the glass and see just how LARGE the facility really is.  Cahaba now has three 60-barrel fermenters, three 120-barrel fermenters, one 60-barrel brite tank, and one 120-barrel brite tank.  However, there is still plenty of room for future expansion.

Speaking of expansion, I got to see one of the latest additions to the production side of the facility…

A view of the canning line.

the canning line.

It does not take up a significant amount of space, but is critical because it reduces costs for the brewery.  Previously Cahaba has been canning its beer through a mobile-canning company that came to the brewery at scheduled appointments, which meant that production had to be carefully kept on time or else the company would miss its opportunity to can its beer, and have to wait before the company would cycle back around.

Not far from the canning line are two pieces that made the move from the company’s former location on 3rd Avenue South.

The original cooler and the chalkboard beer list both made their way to the new facility.  The cooler is still used, but the chalkboard is simply preserved to honor the hard work of the bartenders who had to write out the list each time it changed.

Past the production side is the brewery’s primary storage area, which really gives visitors an idea of how much space the brewery holds in its current location.

An overview of the brewery’s storage space, which contains cans, kegs, and grains.

Among all the storage space there is another cold storage facility and the brewery’s grain elevator.

There is also some office space that the brewery leases out to other businesses.

The most unique thing that I got to see on the tour was the brewery’s lab.

An overview of the brewery’s lab that helps ensure quality control of the finished product.

While most brewery should have a laboratory to ensure the quality of their product, Cahaba’s is unique because of how Subock has acquired much of the equipment for it.  Due to the brewery’s location in Birmingham and the top-rated UAB School of Medicine, Jared has purchased several pieces of equipment through the university’s surplus sales.  Most visitors who tour the brewery won’t get to see the laboratory, but if you get an offer it is worthwhile checking out.

There is a LOT to like about Cahaba Brewing’s taproom and facility.  It is a huge space with plenty of seating and several game options to entertain people whether it’s pinball or Skee-Ball.  There is also a large stage for music performances.  If visitors don’t want to be indoors there is a long, covered patio that stretches the length of the building that is a great space on days with nice weather.  Although best known for its American Blonde, Cahaba offers a variety of beers sure to please any palate.  Although removed from the hustle and bustle of the Avondale neighborhood that centers around Avondale Park, Cahaba regularly has food trucks on site serving appropriate pub grub.  So Jump In, and enjoy a pint at the former Continental Gin building.

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.