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