A pint at Straight to Ale Brewing in Huntsville, Ala.

One of the earliest craft breweries to open in Huntsville was Straight to Ale Brewing.  The brewery originally opened on Leeman Ferry Road in a former industrial area across from Joe W. Davis Stadium, then the home of the Southern League’s Huntsville Stars.  Like many things in the Rocket City over the past few years, progress led to some notable changes.  The Stars left town (and became the Biloxi Shuckers), and the craft beer scene in the city took off.

Following a massive overhaul of the former Stone Middle School property just west of downtown, Straight to Ale relocated from its original facility south of downtown to the new Campus 805.  There is much more history to the brewery than I’m going to delve into in a blog post, so I’m going to focus on the present and the brewery’s expansive space at Campus 805.

There are two entrances to the brewery: one being an entrance from the school’s former driveway and another from the greenspace in the middle of Campus 805. My wife Katie and I entered from Butler Green.

Entering from Butler Green visitors pass by the outside bar, which wasn’t busy at the time we passed through because it was just before five o’clock and partially because it was cooler outside.

A view of the outdoor bar.

Despite a small crowd at the time we passed through, the outside bar is a great place to enjoy during the spring and summer months.  After walking through the brewing facility (more on that later), visitors arrive at the taproom.

An overview of the taproom.

There are a lot of things that are unique about Straight to Ale and its facility, which I will delve into one at a time.  One of the most notable differences between Straight to Ale and many other breweries is that the brewery has a full kitchen.  When the brewery opened at its previous location, a food truck opened in the brewery’s parking lot.  The food truck did so well and was so popular that when the brewery relocated that it was logical to partner with the food truck to operate the kitchen.

Trying to describe the menu is nearly impossible because it covers a bit of everything.  It includes traditional American fare, Korean, Tex-Mex, and more.  Katie and I ordered a combination platter of  chicken wings and St. Louis-style ribs.

A plate of wings with Jerk Buffalo sauce and crispy Asian ribs covered in Mogwai Teriyaki sauce.

The ribs traditionally come covered in Mogwai Teriyaki sauce, which is delicious.  You can get other sauces, but there’s no reason to choose anything besides the Mogwai Teriyaki.  There are a lot of choices for topping the chicken wings ranging from BBQ to the mouth-burning xXxtraHot Diablo, which is a nine-pepper blend.  Katie and I opted for Jerk Buffalo upon the recommendation of Matt Cooper, who later took us on a tour of the facility.  The Jerk Buffalo sauce was outstanding as it combined traditional buffalo sauce with Jamaican jerk spices to create a deliciously, unique blend of flavors.

After finishing our dinner, we got a personal tour of the brewery from Matt Cooper.  Cooper a.k.a Coop is a sales rep covering north Alabama, and worked for the brewery in a variety of positions before recently transitioning into sales.

Before we left the taproom though, I had to snap one last picture.

A view of beer for sale and the Monkeynaut cutout.

It’s common place to see breweries selling beer to take home, but I wanted to capture the Monkeynaut cutout.  You don’t have to be a kid to enjoy a cutout.  Leaving the taproom we found some artwork.

Some artwork near the Speakeasy.

Right after the artwork most visitors will see a set of old lockers, and probably think nothing of them.  After all, you’re in a former middle school so it’s not surprising to see a set of lockers.  However, the lockers hide the brewery’s speakeasy.

Coop explains some of the history behind the Speakeasy.

As Coop explained, the Speakeasy used to be the former band room.  The lockers hide what used to be a private practice room before opening up to the huge space that used to be the band room.

The Speakeasy is truly unique.  It is designed to be like a Speakeasy during Prohibition, and is the only place at the brewery where you can order Shelta Cavern Spirits.  The available spirits are gin, rum, vodka, and whiskey.  The spirits are also brewed on site.  The vibe in the Speakeasy is purposefully quite different from the taproom.  There is a movie screen that continuously shows black-and-white films from Turner Classic Movies.

Down the hall from the Speakeasy is the game room.

An overview of pinball machines and pool tables as part of the game room.

The game room has pool tables and pinball machines, and at one point had a pinball league.  I’m not sure exactly how a pinball league operates, but it sounds like a cool idea.

The amazing thing about Straight to Ale is that so far everything I’ve written about focuses on drinking beer, eating food, sipping liquor, and playing games.  It’s almost as if they don’t brew beer on site.  Of course, that’s not the case.  So onto making beer…

After taking Katie and I to the brewery’s gigantic cold storage room, Coop took us around to the old gymnasium.  That is where Straight to Ale brews beer, and if you enter the brewery from Butler Green it is what you see before reaching the taproom.

The basketball goals are leftover from the old gymnasium, and a regular part of activities for workers at the brewery.  At the time we passed through, guys were playing a game and also tossing around a Frisbee with the movable disc golf goals.  The brewery used to have some equipment at its Leeman Ferry Road facility, but recently relocated everything and closed that location because of Alabama alcohol laws that made it more difficult to brew at two places.

Previously I mentioned Shelta Caverns Spirits, which are served in the Speakeasy.  Those are also distilled at the Campus 805 location, but technically in a distinct space different from the brewery.

A view of the still used by Shelta Cavern Spirits.

In a fenced in space with a lock is the still that head distiller Bojangle uses to produce the gin, rum, vodka, and whiskey available in the Speakeasy.  As Coop explained, the name comes from Shelta Cave, which is just north of Huntsville.  During Prohibition it was used as a speakeasy and dance hall, so when Straight to Ale decided to produce spirits it was the logical local name.

Seeing the brewing equipment and still was the end of our tour, but people wanting to tour the brewery don’t have to know someone to see all the behind-the-scenes stuff.  Straight to Ale offers free tours on Saturdays at 2 p.m.  As awesome as it was to see all the behind-the-scenes stuff, I haven’t discussed the main reason people visit a brewery’s taproom: beer.

Straight to Ale brews a variety of beers, many with humorous local-inspired names.  Monkeynaut, one of the brewery’s four year-round beers, is an India pale ale that derives its name from Miss Baker, which is the monkey that NASA launched into space.  After returning from space Miss Baker lived at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, so it made sense to name a beer after one of the city’s key industries and local legends.  Stout at the Devil isn’t named after any local legend, but is an oatmeal stout brewed with caramel coffee that was named best new stout in Alabama by Beer Guys Radio (read the full list here).

Straight to Ale has been around long enough to gain a well-earned reputation for producing great beers, but visiting a brewery’s taproom isn’t about sampling beers you can buy at your local craft beer store.  Visiting the taproom is about sampling the unique one-offs and experimental small batches.  During this visit I got to sample Pumpkin Lily, which is a one-off from the brewery’s year-round Lily Flagg milk stout.  It was smooth and malty with some great pumpkin and spice notes.  I also drank Black Kvass Ale, which is typically made with dark rye and popular in Eastern Europe.  It was quite different from other beers I’ve drank, but very enjoyable.

However, I was most excited to try the latest version of Juicy Bunny, which is Straight to Ale’s take on a New England IPA.  It didn’t look hazy and cloudy like the typical New England IPA, but it was a great combination of citrus flavors with minimal bitterness.  It was tapped in honor of Drew, one of the brewers, and his final day working at Straight to Ale.  Although the brewery had bottled and distributed the first batch of Juicy Bunny, the batch that was tapped that day has not been distributed throughout the state.

As with many larger breweries, Straight to Ale offers something for just about everybody’s palate.  So whether you like hoppy IPAs, chocolatey and coffee influenced stouts, or lighter wheat ales, you can find something to suit your beer drinking needs.  If you’re not a beer drinker, you may enjoy the spirits available in the Speakeasy.  If you don’t drink at all and you’re just hanging out with friends, you’ll still enjoy all the Straight to Ale offers when you feast on the delicious food options from Ale’s Kitchen.  Without a doubt, this is a full-service brewery.

A pint at Eventide Brewing in Atlanta, Ga.

On the edge of Grant Park in downtown Atlanta, a trio of college friends opened a brewery.  Nathan, Haley, and Geoffrey met while undergraduate students in Statesboro, Ga.  Years later they opened Eventide Brewing.

The brewery sits on the edge of a residential area, so it has a built-in clientele within walking distance.  Additionally, the brewery is not far from the Atlanta BeltLine, which is a rail-to-trail corridor under development around the center of Atlanta.  As more of the trail system is completed, Eventide will be connected to more residents who can ride their walks to the brewery.

When visitors arrive at the brewery they see this…

Main entrance to the brewery.

Due to construction across from the brewery when I visited there are very limited parking spots in the brewery’s lot, but there is plenty of street parking.  As evidenced from the above photograph, there is plenty of outdoor space with picnic tables and other gathering spots.

Inside the brewery is a slightly different situation.  When my wife Katie and I walked into the brewery it was packed, which wasn’t a surprise because it was a college football Saturday.

A view of the seating area and TV projector.

Despite the full crowd there were some open tables toward the back of the taproom, which shouldn’t have been a surprise considering that most people were focused on watching the football game on the TV.

Another view of the seating area.

Putting it all together here’s an overview of the seating area.

An overview of the seating area.

There are three tables to the left of the bar with open space before visitors get to the six high-top tables in the back.

There are two entertainment areas for visitors in the taproom.  The first is an area behind the high-top tables setup for the bimini ring game (a.k.a. ringing the bull).  It’s a game that involves swinging a bull’s nose-ring that is attached to a string with the objective of landing the ring on the hook to score points.

The other pub game is darts.

A view of the dart boards and some merchandise for sale.

However, the dart boards area serves a secondary purpose to display some of the brewery’s t-shirts available for purchase.

There are two really cool displays at the brewery.  One is not far from the dart boards, and is just outside the brewing facility.  It is a sign detailing the brewing process.

A poster detailing the brewing process outside the brewing facility.

The other interesting display is on the wall behind the high-top tables.

A collection of historic pieces detailing the Grant Park community.

The brewery’s collection of photos and old news stories about the Grant Park community bring a degree of historic preservation to the brewery.  Considering the brewery’s proximity to residences, it’s great seeing part of the community incorporated into the taproom.

Although I’ve discussed the multiple areas of the taproom, I have yet to discuss the most important aspects of my visit: the bar and the beer on tap.  Visitors clearly see the bar when they walk into the taproom.  However, on this visit the crowd made it nearly impossible to reach the bar an order a beer.  So instead, I had to capture it from the back of the taproom.

An overview of the bar.

Unlike many bars at a brewery, the bar top at Eventide does not have any stools for seating.  It is set up for people to order beer and sit elsewhere in the taproom.  Next to the bar is a cooler, which as of Sept. 1, 2017, allows visitors to purchase six-packs to take home with them.

Onto the important stuff…

A view of the bar with posters displaying the beers on tap.

Eventide usually has six to eight beers on draft.  While a price menu lists the beers and their cost per pint, there are also posters detailing the SRM (standard reference method; i.e. the color of the beer ranging from pale yellow to black), IBU (International Bitterness Unit), and ABV (alcohol-by-volume).  The posters also include a detailed description of the beer including a tasting profile so people know what flavors to expect while enjoying their beer.

I first visited Eventide in March 2017 before Georgia breweries were allowed to sell beer direct to consumers.  My most recent visit took place nearly eight months later, after Georgia modernized its beer laws.  So on this visit I ordered the two beers I did not get to sample during my first visit.  I ordered Red Headed Haley (an American amber) and Highlander (a Scotch ale).  Both were quite enjoyable and done close to style.

During my previous visit, back when visitors had to buy tours and received six 6-ounce samples I tried most of the brewery’s year-round beers.  I had previously drank Kölsch Style Ale, Pale Ale, and Dry Irish Stout (on nitro) from Eventide’s staple of beers.  I also sampled Slam Dunkel Weisse (a dunkelweizen) and Kattegat Baltic Porter, two seasonal brews that were available at that time.  Looking back on all the beers I’ve tried from the brewery, the Kattegat Baltic Porter has been my favorite.  It was rich with chocolate and coffee notes, and a very smooth brew.

However, depending upon your taste buds and preferences you may enjoy The “A” IPA or something else more than the Kattegat Baltic Porter.  Regardless of your preferences, you’ll assuredly find a beer at Eventide Brewing that makes you feel at home in this friendly, communal tasting room.

A pint at Mill Creek Brewing in Nolensville, Tenn.

As craft beer has grown in the Southeast, Nashville has witnessed exponential growth of microbreweries across the city.  The growth has spread so far that breweries are sprouting up in the suburbs like Mill Creek Brewing Company, which is located approximately 20 miles south of downtown Nashville.  Located on the banks of Mill Creek (hence the brewery’s name), founder and former guitar teacher Chris Going wanted to open a brewery that focused on approachable beers for the average beer drinker.  Driving up to the brewery also evokes an approachable feeling with its attractive rusted sign.

Main sign at the brewery entrance.

Even the entrance to the brewery appears quite approachable with glass doors that allow visitors to see the activity inside the taproom.

Main entrance to the brewery.

As evidenced from the photo outside the entrance, the bar and the friendly bartenders immediately greet visitors to the taproom.

A view of the bar with the beer menu.

Immediately behind the bar was the merchandise stand, which offered many staples people come to expect when visiting a brewery.

Merchandise display behind the bar.

By far the most unique thing at the brewery was the food truck.  Food trucks are a staple when visiting breweries because many do not sell food and having a food truck allows people to eat and potentially stay longer.  That’s not unique at Mill Creek.  What is unique about the food truck is its location…

The Chago’s food truck permanently stationed at the brewery.

The food truck at Mill Creek is inside the brewery!  In September 2017, Chago’s Cantina partnered with the brewery to open a dedicated location at the brewery.  Chago’s is a Mexican/Latin American eatery in the Belmont Hillsboro area of Nashville, but the food truck at the brewery offers a slightly pared down menu.  However, considering that the brewery is not immediately near any eateries the food truck is a great option for visitors.

So what do visitors see when they sit down to drink, assuming they don’t just sit at the bar.  Visitors get to enjoy a taproom in a massively expansive industrial building.

The brewery’s seating area.

Although the tables in the seating area hold in excess of 50 people, there is plenty of space to add more seating or to rearrange seating for other events like corn hole.  The bar has another dozen or so seats, so seating at Mill Creek is unlikely to be an issue.

Behind the bar is something that visitors don’t typically find at taprooms…

A view behind the bar with the brewery’s tap wall and cooler.

The brewery has a large cooler behind the bar, so visitors can purchase a six-pack to take home or get their traditional growler filled with beer on tap.  My wife Katie and I opted to pick up a sixer of SunSplash, which is a seasonal tart fruit beer.  There are three varieties in the six-pack: coconut, pineapple, and strawberry.

Mill Creek also has an informational sheet detailing its four core beers.

The brewery’s beer fact sheet.

Even seasoned craft beer drinkers have to appreciate the fact sheet.  In particular, I appreciated reading about all the flavors added to the beer.  For example, while I can detect the orange peel notes, I was unaware of the coriander in Lil Darlin.  I also like seeing these fact sheets at breweries because it allows novice craft beer drinkers to expand their knowledge without the potential awkwardness of asking the bartender about each beer.

Elaborating on the beer, I had tried three of the four core beers when Mill Creek expanded its distribution to Alabama earlier in the year.  So I only ordered two beers: Oktoberfest and Woodshed.  Woodshed is a session IPA with a pretty mild hop profile.  I’m not typically an IPA drinker, but really enjoyed this beer because it wasn’t super hoppy.  I expected to like the Oktoberfest because I generally enjoy maltier beers, and especially like drinking German-style brews.  It was precisely what I expected, and very enjoyable.

Back to the taproom and the brewing facility…

The brewery occupies a huge space, so it’s easy to see the brewing facility and all the areas used for storage.  For example, the company stacks pallets of can just behind the food truck.  So visitors can see the packaging used for Landmark, Silo, and Woodshed while exploring a bit of the facility.  Naturally, people can see the fermentation tanks and other equipment used in the beer-making process.  I did not ask for a tour nor did I explore extensively, but I enjoyed the setup of the taproom.

In the Metro Nashville beer scene, Mill Creek Brewing’s taproom is farther out from most of the touristy spots.  So if you’re going to visit, you have to plan accordingly.  It is not near other breweries, so you are unlikely to stumble upon it while in Nashville.  However, the taproom has a great amenity that many breweries do not offer: a dedicated food truck on site.  It certainly helps that the food truck is affiliated with a well-known area restaurant, too.  So if you’re exploring South Nashville, it is worth the drive to Nolensville to check out Mill Creek Brewing.

Reviewing my 2017 ballpark resolutions

As 2017 comes to a close, it’s time for the annual review of my New Year’s resolutions.  Unlike people who resolve to lose weight or be kinder to others, which are all great goals, mine focus on travel and more specifically they focus on baseball travel.

My first resolution for 2017 was…

While attending the American Association of Geographers (AAG) Annual Meeting in Boston in April, I organized a field trip to see the Portland Sea Dogs and got to meet Josh at the game.  It was great getting to talk baseball and our travel experiences during the game.  I wrote about my experience at Hadlock Field, too (read it here).

In addition to attending a Sea Dogs game, I also made it to a New Hampshire Fisher Cats game during the AAG Annual Meeting.  Josh did not join me at the game in Manchester, but it was still a great visit.  I stopped at Stark Brewing before going to the game, and got to watch a doubleheader because of bad weather that canceled the previous night’s game (read about it here).

It’s easy to assess whether I accomplished my first resolution, which is a resounding yes.

My second resolution for 2017 was…

Although I did not blog about my trips, I did attend a few Birmingham Barons games this past season. My first visit was in April to celebrate my bachelor party with some friends. I also attended a game later in the season with my now wife Katie. Unfortunately, I was unable to make it to Mobile or Montgomery for a baseball game. So I can clearly acknowledge that I did not accomplish this resolution.

My third resolution for 2017 was…

When I made the resolution to see the Biloxi Shuckers with Katie, I had no idea when I was going to make that trip. However, Katie and I were both intent on making it happen because we had planned to visit in 2016 to celebrate her birthday, but we had to cancel those plans at the last minute.  But this year, we made the trip to Biloxi in mid-July after returning from our honeymoon to Southeast Asia.  We spent a long weekend on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and visited a number of breweries in addition to attending a Shuckers game.  I blogged about my brewery visits (here) and wrote about my visit to MGM Park (read it here).  So clearly I accomplished this goal.

My fourth resolution for 2017 was…

Following the trip to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Katie and I visited family in Atlanta and made it to an Atlanta Braves game.  Although we spent several hours exploring The Battery Atlanta and having drinks at the Terrapin Taproom & Fox Brother BBQ, we did not get to explore much of the ballpark because of an extensive rain delay.  So I have opted not to blog about my visit to the ballpark because I feel like it was an incomplete visit.  However, I firmly feel that I accomplished my resolution to attending a Braves game at SunTrust Park.

Recapping the Resolutions
Unlike previous years, it is pretty easy to determine the success of accomplishing my 2017 resolutions.

#1: See a New Hampshire Fisher Cats or Portland Sea Dogs game with Josh Pahigian.  Goal accomplished.
#2: See all three Alabama MiLB teams (Birmingham Barons, Mobile BayBears, and Montgomery Biscuits).  One of three stadiums visited.  Goal unaccomplished.
#3: See a Biloxi Shuckers game at MGM Park with Katie.  Goal accomplished.
#4: See an Atlanta Braves game at SunTrust Park.  Goal accomplished.

On a grand scale, I accomplished three of four resolutions (0.750).  If I measured each individual component of my resolutions, I accomplished four of six objectives (0.666).  Either way, I feel good about upholding my resolutions for the past year.

A pint at Slowboat Brewing in Laurel, Miss.

A town of less than 20,000 people in rural Mississippi wouldn’t strike many people as being a community with a craft brewery.  If you haven’t heard of Laurel, Miss., then let me introduce you to that town of less than 20,000 people in rural Mississippi with its own craft brewery.

Main entrance of the brewery.

Slowboat Brewing Company is owned by Kenny and Carrie Mann, a husband and wife team who spent many years as homebrewers before opening Slowboat in 2015.  The brewery aims to be a community gathering space, which is clear from its open layout about multiple seating spaces.  However, before life as a craft brewery the building served many purposes from a car dealership to a mechanic shop to a radio station, specifically it housed WAML (1340 AM).

Offices for the brewery with a list of upcoming musical acts.

Although the building’s history as a radio station plays a big role in the brewery, the name for the brewery originates in Kenny Paul’s former job working with oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.  Supposedly, a “slow boat” is a nickname for the tugboat working with an oil rig.

The brewery’s role as a community gathering spot is clear when you see the several communal-style tables inside the taproom and the picnic tables in the courtyard behind the taproom.  Additionally, there is a long table that allows visitors to stand while having their beer.  The brewery regularly brings in local food trucks.  BackRoad Bistro is one that regularly sets up next to the brewery.

While the taproom layout promotes people staying for more than just a few drinks after taking a tour, the brewery only renovated the space in the weeks leading up to Mississippi beer laws changing on July 1 that allowed breweries to sell directly to consumer on site.

One constant has been the bar though.

The bar with beer menu.

The bar, of course, features the beer menu, but also a large supply of board games that customers can use.  Another great aspect of the bar setup is seeing the brewery’s logo prominently displayed, which incorporates a 45 rpm adapter.  In an era dominated by downloadable music, the logo incorporates the common design of a 45 rpm adapter that hearkens back to when music was played on vinyl records like WAML used for decades.  The brewery’s beer series also evoke this nostalgia with beers being part of the 33 1/3 rpm, 45 rpm, or 78 rpm series.

Regarding the beer, the brewery’s website says it focuses on farmhouse, spontaneously fermented wild ales, Belgian-style, and the evolving collection of American craft beer styles.  During my visit, I order a half-pint pour of IV (a.k.a. four) and sampled my wife Katie’s pour of Wayward Son, which is a farmhouse IPA.  However, we were most impressed by the brewery’s milk stout, Dairy of a Madman.  We were so impressed with the beer that we ordered a 32-ounce crowler to take with us.

Due to the brewery occupying a former radio station, many of the beers feature names related to albums, songs, or musical acts.  Dairy of a Madman draws its name from Ozzy Osbourne’s 1981 album Diary of a Madman.  The farmhouse IPA Wayward Son draws its name from the 1976 song by Kansas titled “Carry on Wayward Son.”  I won’t detail every beer and its musical inspiration, but the connection between beer and music helps create a unique connection between the past and the present of the building that houses Slowboat Brewing.

The nostalgia of music and beers is attractive, but the brewery produces some excellent beers.  In addition to Dairy of a Madman and IV, I had previously drank Into the Mystic, which was a hibiscus wit.  It paired quite well with the pulled pork sandwich I had previously when I visited Pig & Pint in Jackson, Miss.

Five things to do on the Mississippi Gulf Coast besides beaches and casinos

When many people think of the Mississippi Gulf Coast as a vacation destination they likely think about the beaches and casinos.  However, there’s a lot more to do on the Mississippi Gulf Coast besides spending time on the beaches or trying to hit it big at the casinos.  Here’s five things you can do on the Mississippi Gulf Coast besides beaches and casinos.

#1: Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art (386 Beach Boulevard, Biloxi, MS 39530)
Known as the “Mad Potter of Biloxi,” George E. Ohr created ceramic works that clashed with the aesthetics of 19th century American ideals.  However, Ohr was eventually recognized for his genius when the Metropolitan Museum of Art included some of his pieces in a next permanent exhibit that opened in 2009.  A year later the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art opened in his hometown with three buildings.  The last building opened in 2014.  Noted architect Frank Gehry designed the five building campus to blend into the live oak trees on the site.

Out-of-town visitors may come to enjoy the buildings and the exhibits, but the museum also offers a variety of classes for visitors of all ages.  Local residents home schooling their children sign up for an exclusive program designed just for home-school children.  Kids between 6 and 13 years-old can sign up for a kids pottery wheel class that lasts two-and-a-half hours where kids will create two pots to keep, and the pots can be mailed to those who live out-of-town.

Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art.

#2: Beauvoir (2244 Beach Boulevard, Biloxi, MS 39531)
A former home of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, Beauvoir was built in 1848 and purchased by Samuel and Sarah Dorsey in 1873.  Following her husband’s death, Sarah Dorsey learned about the financial difficulties of Davis and invited him to live in a cottage near the main house in 1875.  Davis eventually received the property after Sarah Dorsey bequeathed it to him in her will.  The house is preserved as a historic home with many original pieces retained from the time Davis lived at the home.  There is also a Civil War museum and presidential library dedicated to Davis on the property.

Beauvoir, former home of Jefferson Davis.

#3: Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum (115 East 1st Street, Biloxi, MS 39530)
One food item has to come to mind when people think of the Mississippi Gulf Coast: seafood!

There are a ton of great seafood restaurants along the coast, so take your pick of where to eat.  However, you can also take some time to learn about the history of the seafood industry and its role in the region at the Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum.  The museum has an array of exhibits dedicating to shrimping, oystering, wooden boat building, and notably hurricanes.  If you want a hands-on experience you can sail on one of two Biloxi schooners that museum operates.

Main entrance to the Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum.

#4: Biloxi Lighthouse (1050 Beach Boulevard, Biloxi, MS 39530)
With only 44 miles of shoreline on the Gulf of Mexico, Mississippi is not well-known for its lighthouses.  However, the state has one prominent light in Biloxi.  Completed in 1848, the Biloxi Lighthouse is still operational as an aid to private navigation.  The light was electrified in 1927 and automated in 1941.  It has survived numerous hurricanes, including Hurricane Katrina that struck the region in 2005.  Inside the tower, the high water marks from each hurricane are marked with paint.

The tower is 65 feet tall from its base to the top of the weather vane.  If you want to tour the lighthouse, you need to be prepared to climb 57 stairs on a spiral staircase and then an eight-rung ladder to reach the light room and the panoramic views.  On clear days, you can see out to Ship Island.  During the summer months, tours of the lighthouse are often limited to the morning hours (typically 9, 9:30, and 10 a.m.) because it gets too warm to comfortable trek the 57 stairs to the top.

A view of the Biloxi Lighthouse from U.S. 90.

#5: INFINITY Science Center (1 Discovery Circle, Pearlington, MS 39572)
When people think about space exploration they probably think of Houston and mission control or Cape Canaveral in Florida, where NASA launched its space shuttle program.  Most people do not think about the Mississippi Gulf Coast, but if you’re focusing on the future and NASA’s latest goal of reaching Mars then this is the place to visit.  INFINITY Science Center is the public visitor center that is part of the John C. Stennis Space Center, which is NASA’s largest rocket testing facility.

In addition to a 30-minute bus tour of the Stennis Space Center, the INFINITY Science Center has a variety of interactive exhibits relating to multiple aspects of space.  There is also a full-sized International Space Station module and a model of the Orion spacecraft, which is under development for exploration of Mars.  There are an array of education programs, too, such as Homeschool Mondays, Science Exploration classes for school field trips, and Science Saturday classes for families.

The eagle sculpture at INFINITY Science Center (photo by flickr.com/dos82).

How to See the Sights
The best part about all the adventures beyond the beaches and casinos is that they are part of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Attractions Pass.  The pass is $32, and includes admission to the five places listed above plus three other sights in the area (Walter Anderson Museum of Art, Lynn Meadows Discovery Center, and Pascagoula River Audubon Center).  The pass saves visitors $14 compared to paying admission to each of the eight sights included in the pass.

Maybe you came to Biloxi and the Mississippi Gulf Coast because of the beaches and casinos, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do more.  Regardless of your age or interests, there is something fun to do on the Mississippi Gulf Coast besides just laying in the sand or playing games at a casino.  Visitors can learn about the history and culture of the seafood industry, enjoy the arts at the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art, learn about history at Beauvoir, see the Mississippi Sound and more from the Biloxi Lighthouse, or learn about the future of space exploration at the INFINITY Science Center.

A pint at Chandeleur Island Brewing in Gulfport, Miss.

Like many commercial brewers, Cammack and Cain Roberds started as homebrewers before making the jump to professional brewing.  In 2012, after Mississippi changed its law to increase the permissible ABV level from 6.25% to 10.1%, the Roberds decided it was time to open their brewery.  After finding a historic building in downtown Gulfport, Chandeleur Island Brewing Company opened in 2014.

View of the brewery from the street.

Despite the brewery’s location in Gulfport, its name comes from the Chandeleur Islands (pronounced: “shan-duh-leer”), which are a set of barrier islands along the coast of Louisiana (actually the easternmost point in the state).  The Chandeleur Islands are a well-known sport fishing area and part of the Breton National Wildlife Refuge.

Shortly after entering the brewery my wife Katie and I were greeted by the general manager, Corey.  We sat down at the bar and started talking about beer and almost immediately began sampling beers.  Before getting too comfortable discussing and drinking beer, I captured some shots of the taproom’s layout.

There are two areas where visitors can sit: the bar and an area with high-top tables.

Since Mississippi allowed direct-to-consumer sales starting in July 2017, the brewery added a video game and ping-pong table.  Corey suggested that more games may be added in the future.  There is a setup for corn hole outside.

Near the front is the brewery’s merchandise display, which included a long-sleeve, dry-fit shirt.  It is an item that my wife loves using, and is a clothing item not typically found at breweries.  So kudos to Chandy for producing a unique and really useful item.

A collection of merchandise for sale at the Bait Shop.

Also near the entrance were some of the brewery’s barrels that were being used for aging beer.

Some of the barrels being used to age beers.

The greatest benefit of Mississippi modernizing its beer laws to allow direct to consumer sales is that breweries are now incentivized to brew and offer a wider variety of beers in their taprooms.  The menu at Chandeleur Island Brewing reflects this change.  According to Corey, the brewery offered six new beers on the first day they were allowed to sell directly to consumers.

A view of the beer menu.

The brewery offers five year-round beers, most of which I’ve drunk because Chandeleur Island Brewing distributes to Alabama.  So I focused on sampling the taproom-only offerings like Blueberry Sour, Saison, Belgian Wit, and Raspberry Lambic (see more of my ratings on Untappd).  I had two year-round beers, but for different reasons.  Before my visit to the brewery I had not seen Lil’ Miss Sour, which is a tangerine-flavored sour ale.  It was tart, but not mouth-puckering, and quite refreshing.

I hesitated at first, but Corey convinced me to try Curlew’s Coconut Porter on nitro.  I’ve previously drank Curlew’s Coconut Porter, and despite my general dislike of coconut flavors, I really enjoyed the beer.  So my hesitation wasn’t because of my enjoyment of the beer, but because it was warmer when I visited I wasn’t sure that I wanted to drink a porter.  However, Corey prevailed upon me to try it because they offered it on nitro.  Without a doubt I can say that Corey was right about the beer being different on nitrogen.  It was a bit sweet and smoother than compared to the standard Curlew’s Coconut Porter.

Whether you’re a craft beer novice or an avowed beer geek, Chandeleur Island Brewing offers a beer for your palate.  The year-round brews, especially the Freemason Golden Ale, are a great introductory beers.  The taproom-only beers like the Belgian red offer something more complex that avowed beer geeks will appreciate.

Although Katie and I didn’t order traditional flights, the brewery has mats for those who order them.

The flight setup.

As a blogger and someone who loves social media, I especially enjoyed seeing the brewery’s social media accounts listed at the bottom of the mat.  It’s a great way to interact with people as they sip their beers.

Chandeleur Island Brewing Company offers a great atmosphere to enjoy craft beer.  The staff is knowledgeable and friendly.  The brewery is on the western edge of downtown Gulfport, but easy walking distance to the heart of downtown along 25th Avenue.  The taproom offers a variety of entertainment options, and the beers are great.

A pint at Lazy Magnolia Brewing in Kiln, Miss.

There isn’t a long history of current craft beer in Mississippi, but it all starts with Mark and Leslie Henderson.  After Mark served an apprenticeship at Crescent City Brewhouse in New Orleans, the couple opened Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company in rural Kiln in 2005.  The brewery temporarily closed following the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast, but the brewery was up and running within a month.

Since its opening Lazy Magnolia has fought an uphill battle to brew and distribute craft beer within the state.  However, the changes in Mississippi’s beer laws wouldn’t have happened without Mark and Leslie opening Lazy Magnolia.  Given the brewery’s role in Mississippi craft beer history it was especially exciting to visit the brewery after the state changed its laws to allow direct-to-consumer sales.

Entrance to the brewery.

The brewery’s location in Kiln means if you’re visiting the Mississippi Gulf Coast that you’ll have to make a trek to visit it.  However, there are a handful of billboards and plenty of signage advertising the brewery’s exit off I-10.  The brewery building doesn’t have any glaring markers, but it’s easy to spot after passing Hancock High School (alma mater of Pro Football Hall of Famer Brett Favre).  Like many breweries, the exterior is very unassuming, but given Lazy Magnolia’s founding as a packaging brewery that is not surprising.

Immediately inside the brewery is an enclosed area that serves as the taproom.

The bar with its digital menu.

In addition to the bar with a digital menu there are about a half dozen tables with seating for approximately four to six people at each table.

Seating area with wall for guests to sign commemorating the change in Mississippi beer laws.

And naturally, there is also a merchandise display, too.

A display of merchandise available for purchase.

After checking out the digital menu, my wife Katie and I decided to split a flight of beers.  Due to Lazy Magnolia is widely available where we live in Alabama, so instead of sampling the brewery’s staples we opted to try some of the taproom-specific brews.  We order the Lazy Saison, Me & the Dev-Ale (a strong ale), Bramblin’ Man (a blackberry wheat ale), and Gulf Porter.  I also ordered an individual taster of Molé Olé (a brown ale with peppers) for myself.  All were delicious, as I expected.  The Molé Olé was especially interesting because I’ve typically found that breweries add peppers to stouts or porters, and cannot say that I’ve seen many breweries willing to experiment by adding peppers to brown ales.

A flight of beers with complementary pretzels.

After finishing our flights, we waited to chat with Lazy Magnolia’s marketing assistant Anna Claire.  While she wrapped up some responsibilities, Katie and I headed upstairs to check out more of the taproom.

A pool table and bar setup upstairs provide additional entertainment space.

Upstairs is a large entertainment space that includes a stage for live music, a pool table, and bar.  It also provides an awesome overview of the brewery.

After exploring upstairs, Anna Claire took us on an impromptu tour.  I say impromptu because while Mississippi law no longer restricts breweries to selling tours and offering free samples of beer, Lazy Magnolia still runs tours (read more here).  I also say impromptu because a group had just finished a tour before we arrived, so Katie and I got a “private” tour.

The tour is like most brewery tours we have done previously.  We learned about the brewing process, saw where the grain was delivered, etc.

Supplies and brew tanks.

What is unique to the tour at Lazy Magnolia is a pair of old ovens that Mark and Leslie bought from Popeyes years ago.  While it may not seem like anything special, the ovens are critical to the history of Lazy Magnolia because it is in these ovens that they toast the pecans used to make Southern Pecan.  It is a nut brown ale and is the beer that helped put Lazy Magnolia on the map.

Ovens bought from Popeye’s that are used to toast the pecans used in the brewery’s Southern Pecan beer.

In addition to the ovens, there is also a giant papier-mâché airplane hanging from the ceiling.  The story goes that it was used as part of a Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans, and instead of being discarded (as is usually the case) Mark decided to bring it back to the brewery to display.

After living as part of a Mardi Gras float, the airplane made its way to the brewery.

The tour was great, and as someone who enjoys history it was really cool getting to see the ovens used to toast pecans for Lazy Magnolia’s best-known beer.  It may be a bit of a drive from the rest of the Mississippi Gulf Coast to visit Kiln, but it’s definitely worthwhile.  The brewery hosts a First Friday event, the first Friday of each month, that includes live music and a special pint glass with food on-site for purchase.  All proceeds from First Friday events go to a designated charity, too.

The drive from Biloxi to Lazy Magnolia takes about 40 minutes, but the experience is well worth it.  Visitors get to see a piece of Mississippi craft beer history and drink some great craft beer.

A pint at Southern Prohibition Brewing in Hattiesburg, Miss.

Mississippi: The final frontier… of craft beer.

Maybe it’s a bit of an exaggeration to claim that Mississippi is the final frontier of craft beer, but it’s that attitude that the folks at Southern Prohibition Brewing channeled when starting the brewery in 2013.  A sentence on their website describes the reasoning behind their name because “our name is a daily reminder of the hurdles that exist as a craft brewery located in South Mississippi.”

Despite some of the hurdles that exist to brewing craft beer in the American South, Southern Prohibition has cleared many of them to create a widely-known regional brand and more importantly, a fun and enjoyable taproom in a college town.  However, the brewery and taproom can be difficult to find unless you trust your gut when you see a large building fenced off by the railroad tracks.  As I drove through Hattiesburg with my wife Katie giving directions from Google Maps, we wondered if we’d found the brewery when it said he had arrived as the destination, but neither of us saw any signage marking the facility as Southern Prohibition Brewing.  We made an assumption that Google Maps was correct, parked near the other cars and found our way inside.

However, the view of the outside is very disarming.

Entrance to the brewery.

The door leads directly into the taproom, where we met taproom manager Adam Bockelman.

A view of the bar seating and the beer menu.

After meeting with Adam, we got a brief tour of the production area.  The brewery only offers tours on Saturdays, so plan accordingly if you want to see more than just the taproom.

As Mississippi had only changed its laws to allows breweries to sell on-site to consumers early this summer, Adam was eager to show off the changes the brewery had made.  One of the most visible changes is the setup of the courtyard people pass through before entering the taproom itself.

The courtyard showing off picnic tables, corn hole boards, washers toss, and soccer pool in the background.

The courtyard has numerous picnic tables and includes several classic beer-drinking games like washers toss and corn hole.  However, the coolest game is nestled against the fence farther away from the entrance: soccer pool.

The soccer pool setup occupies one corner of the courtyard.

The concept of soccer pool is simple.  You play pool, but on a larger scale.  However, players use their feet to kick the cue ball instead of using a pool stick.  I didn’t get to play against Katie, but it’s definitely something on my to-do list when we stop by next.

In addition to the games, which Adam admitted were designed to keep people there, a food truck is now on site Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.  One of the regular food trucks is Mercury Pizza Co., which was named the 2017 “Best Pizza” in the Pine Belt according to Signature Magazine.

Inside the taproom, Southern Prohibition had made changes to keep customers around, too.  The brewery relocated its barrel-aged projects to the production side and installed an arcade with a decor that Adam described as “’80s gym chic.”

View of the game area.

The arcade features old, orange booths with a pool table and video games like Cruis’n USA and Terminator Salvation.  So there are plenty of options to extend your stay at the brewery.

However, the primary reason come is for the beer, which is excellent.  Southern Prohibition offers four year-round beers: a blonde ale, an imperial India pale ale, an imperial red ale, and a breakfast IPA.  The brewery offers a variety of other beers with a regularly changing menu, which you can consult using the Untappd app or read it here.  In addition to the extensive draft list, the brewery has selection of beers customers can purchase to take home.

Speaking of beers, I had a pair of tasters while sitting at the bar and taking in the newly re-designed taproom.  I ordered Mississippi Fire Ant, an imperial red ale that is part of their year-round series, and Sleeper Agent, a Russian imperial stout.  Mississippi Fire Ant was a very hop-forward beer, but a great choice for those who consider themselves hop heads.  Sleeper Agent is a great representation for its style and very smooth, although I opted for the non-barrel-aged version, which is less boozy than Barrel Aged Sleeper Agent that is part of the Wild & Wood Series.  Katie opted for the Barrel Aged Sleeper Agent, Mango Ignition (a wild American ale), and Soul Glo (a funky farmhouse ale).  Naturally, we shared our tasters, so we each got a sip or two of each beer.

Regardless of what type of beer you drink, you are likely to have a great time at revamped Southern Prohibition taproom.  SoPro brews great beers, and now has a taproom that offers a variety of entertainment options to keep customers around.

Five great places to drink craft beer in Oklahoma City

There are a lot of great reasons to visit Oklahoma City.  Many visitors think about dining at Cattlemen’s Steakhouse, exploring the history at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, or watching the NCAA’s Women’s College World Series at the OGE Energy Field at the USA Softball Hall of Fame Complex.  There are countless other things people think about when they consider visiting OKC (see a full list here).

When people think about destinations to visit for craft beer, Oklahoma City probably isn’t on that list.  However, considering recent changes in the state’s beer laws and the growth of breweries in the city, Oklahoma City should be on beer drinkers’ list of must-visit cities.  There are a number of craft beer bars in the city and a dozen breweries to visit, but if you want to get the best beer visitors should go directly to the source.

Anthem Brewing Co. (908 SW 4th St., Oklahoma City, OK 73109)
After relocating to its current location in 2014, Anthem Brewing has gradually become one of the state’s premier breweries.  The brewery’s four core beers cover the bases for novice and experienced craft beer drinkers.  Arjuna and and Golden One are both lighter-body beers that are less hoppy, which makes them great choices for newcomers to craft beer.  For people who enjoy hops and heavy-bodied beers, Anthem offers an IPA and Uroboros, an American stout.  The taproom is incorporated into the brewery, so visitors have the opportunity to watch the brewing process while enjoying a freshly-tapped brew.

A flight of beers.

Coop Ale Works (4745 Council Heights Rd., Oklahoma City, OK 73179)
One of the earliest craft breweries in the state, Coop Ale Works helped pave the way for the growth of craft brewing in Oklahoma.  Coop offers eight year-round beers, so no matter your tastes in beer you will find something that suites your palate.  Among the core, you find an amber, a blonde, a brown, an IPA, and a wheat.  My favorite beer name is hands down the F5 IPA, which plays off the state’s history as part of “Tornado Alley” and the scale that measures the intensity of tornadoes.  To me, the name epitomizes the localism movement that The brewery’s location west of downtown Oklahoma City provides it with more entertainment space.  So visitors can visit the backyard and play bocce, cornhole, or horseshoes in addition to lounging at the picnic tables.

Cans of F5 IPA lined up in the brewery. (Photo courtesy of the Oklahoma City Convention & Visitors Bureau)

Prairie Artisan Ales (3 NE 8th St., Oklahoma City, OK 73104)
One of the most recent additions to the craft beer scene in Oklahoma City is Prairie Artisan Ales.  Prairie began in Tulsa, and opened its new brewery and taproom in Oklahoma City as the anchor tenant of a mixed-use development in Automobile Alley.  Prairie is best known for Bomb!, which ranks among the top-100 beers according to BeerAdvocate and RateBeer), and its many variations.  If you don’t like heavier beer like stouts, Prairie also brews some amazing farmhouse ales, which are a great choices for people who want something lighter but also flavorful.

Stonecloud Brewing Co. (1012 NW 1st St., Suite 101, Oklahoma City, OK 73106)
Oklahoma-native Joel Irby spent nine years working in the Colorado craft brewing industry before returning home and opening Stonecloud Brewing.  The brewery has 19 taps that feature a variety of beers, and other fermented beverages.  For example, people who don’t drink beer could have Stonecloud’s peach seltzer water or kombucha from Oklahoma City’s Big Oak Kombucha.  One of the brewery’s benchmark beers (seen below) is Turtlehead, which is a coffee imperial stout that checks in at 11.0% ABV.

A glass of Turtlehead Stout. (Photo courtesy of the Oklahoma City Convention & Visitors Bureau)

Twisted Spike Brewing Co. (1 NW 10th St., Oklahoma City, OK 73103)
One of the first breweries to open in the state specifically with the objective of taking advantage of the state’s more progressive beer laws was Twisted Spike Brewing, which opened in Automobile Alley.  Bruce Sanchez spent over twenty years as a home brewer before opening Twisted Spike in 2016.  The brewery offers Dirty Blonde and Crew, which are great beers for first-time craft beer drinkers.  However, there are also more complex options like Two Bean or Not Two Bean, which is a vanilla coffee porter.  The taproom is an elongated building, so there is plenty of space to hang out and enjoy eats from the occasional food truck that visits the brewery.

A view of the bar area from the counter top.

Regardless of what brings you to Oklahoma City, there are some excellent breweries for the experienced and novice beer drinkers to enjoy while exploring town.  Additionally, many of the breweries are in the Midtown Oklahoma City, so visitors can sample several beers at different breweries.