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Dispatches from the road: Birmingham

by Nick Trougakos Published: July 8, 2014
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I remember writing a blog post a few years ago where I took a couple shots at the state of Alabama because they had just passed legislation to relax rules on the strength of their beer. Those poor saps in Alabama, I opined, just now catching up with the rest of country.

Well, look who’s laughing now. Hint: It’s Alabama. The second leg of my summer vacation/beer road trip was a stop in Birmingham, and I came away thoroughly impressed with the beer culture there and wishing we could replicate it here in Oklahoma (although I feel Prairie might be on the way there, but more on that another day).

Upon arriving at our hotel in the city’s Five Points District, we headed out for lunch. We were just a short walk away from a Mellow Mushroom branch, so that’s where we went. If you’ve never been to a Mellow Mushroom, I can tell you the pizza is great and the beer selection always follows suit.

I sampled a Victory Hop Devil (good), a Terrapin Maggie’s Peach Farmhouse Ale (nice peach character), a Bearded Lady Pale Wheat/Witbier from Birmingham’s Good People Brewing (lacked some punch), a Cucumber Saison from Trimtab Brewing Co. (excellent!), a Magic Hat #9 (good), a Terrapin Tree Hugger altbier (good) and a Snake Handler Double IPA from Good People (quite good).

At that point, I was pretty impressed with the chance to try a wide variety of stuff I hadn’t had before. But that was really just the beginning of Birmingham’s beer magic.

Later in the afternoon, we headed out for a tour at Avondale Brewing Co. Where to begin? How about, I can’t say enough good things about Avondale Brewing. What started as a formal 30-minute walk-through of the brewery with a pint in hand led to an afternoon on the patio with one of the brewery’s co-founders and a sampler of Avondale’s complete lineup. People talk about southern hospitality and beer camaraderie — both were on full display at the brewery.

The brewery is a reclaimed brick warehouse that has been through numerous iterations in its history — including a bordello, post office and firehouse — that also serves as a fully functioning brewpub/bar. Alabama law allows breweries to serve/sell their own beer (although they still have to sell bottles/cans to distributors for resale to liquor/grocery stores), and Avondale was jumping on a Friday night. Co-founder Hunter Lake — whose background is in commercial development and rehabilitation — snapped up some adjacent property, so the brewery also features a huge patio/yard area with an outdoor concert stage and a spacious outdoor tap room. The brewery hosts concerts, parties and public events, and as far as I could tell, half the town of Birmingham was showing up for a pint or two. Named after the district of Birmingham it sits in, Avondale’s founders are especially proud of the sense of community promoted by their brewery. Lake said crime in the Avondale area decreased substantially when they opened shop. It may sound weird, but you could feel the sense of community as if it were floating through the air — the people in Birmingham clearly have embraced Avondale as a community meeting place. (Let’s let breweries in Oklahoma sell their own beer — there’s a model in place in Alabama! — and I know we could get the same thing going here.)

Funny thing, I haven’t even started talking about the beers yet!

The highlight was getting to sample a Brett version of their Spring Street Saison — and I’m not even generally a sour fan. Other favorites were Miss Fancy’s Tripel, Battlefield IPA and Long Branch Scottish Ale. Each of the beers has a very specific story as well, generally based off the history of the Avondale area and the brewery building. You could easily spend several minutes online reading about the history behind each brew, but sufficed to say, it’s clear much thought is put into all the details at Avondale. The beers, and the place itself, really felt like they had a soul to them.

If I were you, and you were in Birmingham, I would call ahead and book a tour at Avondale. Can I gush any more? Yes! When I asked the guys at Avondale where I could go to pick up a couple of their bombers, they sent me down the street to a liquor store called Hop City. Calling Hop City a liquor store is actually doing the place a little bit of an injustice. Not only does Hop City have beer, they have a huge selection of awesome beer (I snapped up stuff from Cigar City, Westbrook, Oskar Blues, 21st Amendment and more). And they also have a craft beer pub in the same building. And they also have a homebrew supply store — yes — in the same building! Mind = blown.

I walked into Hop City and saw this…

… and I immediately texted Mrs. Beagle — who was waiting in the car — and had this exchange:

Me: O

Me: M

Me: G

Mrs. B: (Seven laughy/crying-face emoticons)

Me: Greatest beer store ever

Mrs. B: Come back!

Mrs. B: (Laughy/crying-face emoticon)

So, let’s get this straight: Breweries can sell their own beer by the pint at the brewery and liquor stores can sell beer by the pint and get tons of awesome breweries we don’t get in Oklahoma — plus sell homebrew kits and supplies?

Laugh away, Alabama.

Pints and Pins

-Don’t think you can write a blog post about Little Rock without the folks at the Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau knowing about it. The bureau’s John Mayner sent me a nice note this morning informing me about several beer/alcohol destinations in Little Rock. (In my defense, I was only there for a few hours, so didn’t have a chance for a proper tour of the city.) Here’s what Mayner passed along, for those interested:

“I also wanted to share with you some additional information regarding our brew pubs and spirits scene — part of our burgeoning craft and artisanal food scene here that is garnering national acclaim (Little Rock was recently named one of “Five Secret Foodie Cities” by Forbes Travel Guide).  Besides Boscos, we have several other award-winning locally owned breweries and a distillery that are doing some fantastic things here (to learn more, go to our website at http://www.littlerock.com/things-to-do/breweries/, all which are located in, or near downtown), and we have another large brewery, Lost 40, that is also scheduled to be opening in our downtown area (learn more at http://www.arkansasbusiness.com/post/96659/big-orange-owners-plan-downtown-brewery).

“Also, our Rock Town Distillery is winning some crazy national and international accolades for its spirits, including awards/accolades for it bourbons/moonshine, gin and vodkas, and its distillery tour was recently named among the Top 25 in the country by TheDailyMeal.com.”

Local beer fan and man-about-town Doug McNiven also pointed out on Facebook yesterday that he visits The Flying Saucer when in Little Rock. So there’s that, too.

-Marshall Brewing is having a beer dinner on Thursday. From their FB page: “Make reservations now for an amazing meal offered by our friends at The Chalkboard Tulsa this Thursday, July 10th. Four expertly paired courses for only $40. Call (918) 582-1964 for reservations. Cheers!”

-Prairie is unloading some wine barrels for $50 each. Cash only, today until 6 and tomorrow until 7 p.m.

by Nick Trougakos
Local Editor
Local Editor Nick Trougakos has been with The Oklahoman since 2002. Trougakos covered the military, federal agencies and courts before becoming an editor in 2005. Prior to joining The Oklahoman, Trougakos was a reporter for the Oklahoma City...
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