Let’s talk about beer. (It’s something I do often!) Like many people, I started off easy, with Bud Light. I had no idea what I was doing, but it tasted OK to me. I stuck to Bud Light and Mic Ultra for a long time.
Then one night in April 2007, I wandered into the J Clyde. I was reporting a story about Birmingham’s beloved bars and the newcomers on the scene. The JC had been open for a few weeks, and a friend had told me it must be part of my story.
I had no idea how my tastebuds were going to be rocked.
Although Alabama then had the nation’s most restrictive beer laws, the J Clyde’s owners and staff were passionate about beer and educating people about it. During that visit and my next several, the place was so empty that I’d sit at the bar because I felt badly for the bartender. Though that’s no longer the case (some nights, it’s impossible to find a table!), I’m grateful that my beer education began at that bar.
I quickly learned that, even though the state was then restricted to beer with alcohol by volume of 6 percent or less, there were quite a few craft brews that packed far more flavor than what I was accustomed to. I’ve always been someone who drinks for the flavor more than the buzz, and this was a revelation to me. Beer was so much more than I thought.
Thanks to Free the Hops, a lobbying group that pressed for laws that would open up the beer market to allow for higher-gravity beer, larger container sizes, more local breweries and tap rooms in breweries, Alabama’s beer scene has been revolutionized. Restaurateurs are beginning to carry gourmet beers to complement their gourmet food. (And y’all, we know Birmingham is a food town!) Breweries are bringing new life to neighborhoods and creating one more reason for people to get to know the city.
The event, held at Dave’s Pub, began with Dave’s employee Mudd offering a lecture about beer’s long history. (A fun tidbit: Did you know there was a time when, in some cultures, a woman was considered married to a man if he offered a sip of his best and she accepted? I would be in big, big trouble!) before Prohibition in 1919, America was home to 2,400 breweries, but the scene took a nosedive when those laws changed. This is also believed to be when the American palette changed, which I’d like to read more about. (If that’s what we have to blame for American macro brews, well.)
Avondale Brewing introduced its beers in summer 2011, and the tap room opened in November. The owners are passionate about the neighborhood (which you can read more about in the September issue of Birmingham magazine). Sure enough, since the brewery opened, the neighborhood has experienced an awful lot of change, with additional retailers, restaurants and pubs moving in.
Brewmaster Craig Shaw explained the brewing process before the gathered “students” began sampling his wares. Salesman Reeves explained the names of Avondale’s beers, all of which honor the neighborhood’s history, before brewer Ben described each beer.
The Streetcar Kolsh is the brewery’s lightest beer, at 4.3 percent ABV, and the hardest to brew because it’s so clean and light that it’s easy to taste any imperfections. Spring Street Saison is unusual because it’s about double the ABV of most beers of its style. Tripels are a bit different in the brewing process because the brewer begins with the high alcohol content and works backward to hide the taste of the alcohol. It’s also traditionally served in a slightly smaller glass.
Avondale’s Vanillaphant Porter uses Madagascar vanilla bean. The No Joka Moka Stout is a brand-new beer, which some of the Avondale staff hasn’t yet tried, and which smells strongly of coffee. The Battlefield IPA is heavily hopped, with dry hops added to the fermenter at the end of the process.
If you missed this week’s event, go ahead and save Aug. 25 for a little beer tasting. The second Beer Saturday, which will take place from 1 to 3 p.m. at Dave’s, will highlight Good People Brewing Company. And if you want to learn more about Avondale’s brews, head over to 41st Street South. The staff is always excited to talk about their craft.