We live in the golden age of craft beer. With more than 3,000 breweries in the U.S. alone, we expect to find good local beers wherever we go. And for some, it even factors into planning a vacation. While much of our country’s best craft beer can be found in Northeast and Western states, Alabama—a relatively new player—is quickly catching up with the country’s demand for craft beer and evolving into one of the next great destinations for it.
On a recent trip to the Alabama Gulf Coast, I was surprised to learn about all of the beer that the state is brewing up. I happened to visit during the annual Oyster Cook-off and Craft Beer Festival, which is held every November at The Hangout, a popular beachfront venue in Gulf Shores. The weekend brings together brewers and chefs, both local and nationwide—and for anyone ready to drink local beer, it’s a time to sample some of Alabama’s finest.
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The craft beer boom in Alabama was slower to take off due to laws on beer production and consumption. Until 2008, craft beer makers were prohibited from selling beer over 6 percent ABV. (It’s now 13.9 percent.) On-site tap rooms weren’t permitted until 2010, either. In 2013, the state approved selling 22 ounce beers and also lifted a ban on home brewing. These changes have had a tremendous economic impact on Alabama—they’ve created hundreds of new jobs and brought a surge of craft beer tourism to the state.
Some local brewers see Alabama’s late entry into the industry as an advantage. For them, it’s presented an opportunity to ask questions and share ideas with national frontrunners, which has helped them perfect their beer in a shorter time.
The rise of craft beer has influenced many year-round festivals that celebrate local food, music, and, of course, craft beer in Alabama. Here are some of the state’s best:
- Rocket City Brewfest (May; Huntsville, AL)
- Magic City Brewfest (June; Birmingham, AL)
- Top of the Hops Beer Fest (August; Orange Beach, AL)
- Dauphin Street Beer Festival (August; Mobile, AL)
- PorktoberQue (September; Dothan, AL)
- Cask and Drum Beer Festival (October; Birmingham, AL)
- Alabama Festival of Flavor (October; Foley, AL)
- Oyster Cook-off and Craft Beer Festival (November; Gulf Shores, AL)
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Today there are roughly 30 craft breweries in Alabama, and that number is steadily growing. Below are some of Alabama’s most noteworthy:
- Avondale Brewing Company (Birmingham, AL)
- Back Forty Beer Company (Gadsden, AL)
- Blue Pants Brewery (Madison, AL)
- Cahaba Brewing Company (Birmingham, AL)
- Druid City Brewing Company (Tuscaloosa, AL)
- Fairhope Brewing (Fairhope, AL)
- Good People Brewing Company (Birmingham, AL)
- Railyard Brewing Company (Montgomery, AL)
- Straight To Ale (Huntsville, AL)
- TrimTab Brewing Company (Birmingham, AL)
- Yellowhammer Brewing (Huntsville, AL)
While most of Alabama’s beer is sold locally, the state is getting national recognition for its innovative collections. Earlier this year, two of Alabama’s beers were featured in Men’s Journal‘s list of 101 Best Beers: Straight to Ale‘s bourbon barrel-aged ale, Unobtanium; and Good People Brewing‘s Snake Handler, a Double IPA.
It’s only the beginning for Alabama. Local breweries are hoping to tap into out-of-state markets and make a larger impact in the national craft beer scene.
Will Alabama be on your destination list?
Olivia Briggs visited Gulf Shores and Orange Beach for a three-day trip hosted by the Alabama Tourism Department. Follow her on Twitter @Olileibri.
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- Europe’s Best Beers
(Photo: Beer Flight of Eight Sampling Glasses of Craft Beer via Pyzata/Shutterstock.com)