After losing their government contract jobs Todd and Dawn Seaton turned to a rather unconventional choice by opening a craft brewery. After starting by contract brewing their beer, the couple finally realized the dream of opening a production facility of their own in 2015. The pair went all in when they opened 7,000-square-foot facility that includes a restaurant. So when people visit Old Black Bear Brewing Company in downtown Madison, you get much more than just beer.
The brewery occupies two buildings in the corner of revitalized strip mall. So there is a building that houses the production side and another building houses the taproom and restaurant. In addition to the brewery and its taproom, visitors will find a variety of boutique shops along this stretch of Main Street.
Although the taproom is clearly labeled, sometimes visitors do wander into the production building looking to eat and drink. So if you’re visiting Old Black Bear for the first time, the cream-colored, brick building is the production facility and the red, brick building is the taproom.
Due to the building’s previous history as a restaurant, OBB’s taproom has a dedicated waiting area that is filled with comfortable couches and games to keep people entertained while waiting for a table.
There are a LOT of seating options at the taproom. Visitors can dine at the bar or at one of the high-top tables in that bar area.
People hoping for a more traditional dining experience may prefer the back room, which features a mix of tables built around old barrels and standard, square four-top tables.
Regardless of where you sit, visitors will find an extensive food menu complimented by a solid selection of beers. Sunday brunch is by far one of the most popular times at the taproom with a mix of lunch sandwiches and breakfast items. In addition to beer with brunch, Old Black Bear also serves mimosas and a variety of mixed drinks because the taproom has a full bar.
I opted for a chicken sandwich this time, but have previously eaten the waffles that are delicious. The sandwich I ordered had pesto spread on the ciabatta bread with a roasted red pepper and slice of provolone cheese on top. It paired nicely with the shoestring fries.
My wife Katie and I split a flight of beers to ensure that we sampled the most recent offerings at the brewery.
The four beers were ordered were 256 Extra Pale Ale (an American pale ale), Bavarian Hefeweizen (a traditional German hefeweizen), Buzz Light Bear (a German pilsner), and Roaming Bear (an American porter). Of the four beers I had during my visit, I enjoyed Roaming Bear the best. It was quite smooth and had some good coffee notes, and checked in at 5.5% ABV. My other favorite was the Bavarian Hefeweizen, which had solid banana and clove notes. It’s a great beer for warm Alabama days at only 4.6% ABV. While it wasn’t on draft the day we visited, my all-time favorite beer from OBB is Black Bear’s Delight, which is an imperial stout that checks-in at 9% ABV with some delicious coffee and chocolate notes.
If you’re wondering why there are so many bear themed beers at the brewery you have to know about the brewery’s name. On the OBB’s website, it states that people are rewarded as a product of their hard work. Black bears, in addition to being the state mammal of Alabama, are “diligent, intense, and resolute workers.” So many beers feature names as an homage to nature or local connections, such as the 256 Extra Pale Ale. As anyone who has lived in northern Alabama knows, 256 is the area code for Madison and much of the surrounding area.
After finishing our food and drinks, we got a tour of the production side from head brewer Eric Tollison.
Until talking with Eric, I did not realize that Old Black Bear also distilled vodka for use at the taproom’s bar. The brewery hopes to expand its spirits offerings to include whiskey as well. Eric only recently started working at Old Black Bear, but has worked in Alabama’s craft beer industry for a number of years. The majority of beers brewed at OBB are German style ales as evidenced by the hefeweizen and pilsner on draft when we visited.
If you’re going to OBB to tour the brewhouse you may be disappointed because the brewery does not offer regularly scheduled tours. If you visit during the week you may be fortunate enough to find Eric or others working in the brewhouse and you may get to look around.
In addition to the taproom space, Old Black Bear has an extensive outdoor space that is ideal for spring and summer. There is a stage for live music surrounded by picnic tables, and a game area for people of all ages.
Regardless of whether you prefer to sit indoors or outdoors, eat breakfast or lunch, drink beer or spirits, Old Black Bear Brewing Company has you covered. The taproom is perfect for a family enjoying Sunday brunch or for a group of guys drinking beers at the bar. The pinball games, cornhole set, and bocce courts are perfect for keeping young children entertained, and for adult-sized kids who want to have a fun time.