beer, History

Alabama: Share The Wonder

Formed into 1817 and already surrounded by states on all of its borders, the Alabama Territory lasted just two years before becoming the 22nd state on December 14, 1819. However it would take 65 years for Alabama to see its first brewery.

In 1883, Philip Schillinger, a German immigrant, moved his family from Kentucky to Birmingham Alabama with the intent of establishing a brewery in this fast growing city. Philip already had experience as a brewer. While living in Kentucky, he and two partners created the largest brewery in Kentucky at the time, and it didn’t take long for him to repeat his success in the Magic City.

In 1884, Philip created the Birmingham Brewery and introduced fresh brewed lager to the state of Alabama, and demand of the product quickly followed. The Birmingham Brewery continued to grow until 1893, when a economic downturn combined with a coal miner strike caused the company to slip into bankruptcy. Coming out of bankruptcy as the Alabama Brewing Company, production increased until 1907 when Jefferson County, home of Birmingham voted to become a dry county, starting the battle against brewing in the state of Alabama that is still affecting the industry today.

Much like Mississippi, Alabama introduced Prohibition prior to the federal amendment, and continued to enforce the law well beyond the repeal of 18th Amendment, with some counties still dry today. The state did eventually loosen its grip on alcohol control, but it didn’t fully let go. So in 2004, the organization Free the Hops was formed to try to change the laws that restricted the making and purchasing of craft beer in Alabama.

The first challenge Free the Hops took on was increasing the legal limit for alcohol content in beer. Like many other southern states, Alabama had a law that prevented beer from having an ABV greater than 6%. And as we mentioned before, that prevents many styles of craft beer from ever entering the state. Free the Hops won, and in 2009, the Gourmet Beer Bill was passed, allowing beer up to 13.9% ABV. A huge success for the group.

After that success, they didn’t stop. There was still work to do. Alabama still had many restrictions, such as limiting bottle sizes to 16oz (changed to 25.4 oz in 2012), preventing home brewing (made legal in 2013). And many more that prevented the successful running of a craft brewery or brewpub in the state.

As the laws slowly change, brewers are also making their way back into the state after a long hiatus. And this week, we have a few selections from the state to try.

Alabama Craft Beer

Back Forty Beer Company, Kudzu Porter

The first beer we tried was Kudzu Porter from the Back Forty Beer Company. Located in Gadsden Alabama, Back Forty brewed its first production batch of beer in January 2012, and with that first batch came Kudzu Porter.

We held the Alabama tasting on Memorial Day, which was a beautiful day here in New England. While sitting in the backyard, enjoying the sun, I found the Kudzu to be a nice light porter. Nothing overwhelming in flavor department, but refreshing. Perfect for enjoying on a summer day. I continued to go back to this beer a few more times during the week, and it grew on me more each time I had it. The slogan on the bottle says Careful, It will grow on you! which is a play on the characteristics of the plant Kudzu. An invasive plant introduced to the U.S. in the late 1800s, this plant now dominates the sides of roads throughout the south, enveloping the rest of the landscape. For this beer, the slogan fits, as it did grown on me.

Another beer we tried from Back Forty was their Freckle Belly IPA. This beer also rolled off the production line in January 2012, and while very young in the beer world, this was an enjoyable IPA. Right from the opening of the bottle, we could smell the hops in this beer. It wasn’t the best IPA we have had on this project, but it was an enjoyable beer, with all but one of the tasters enjoying it.

Alabama Craft Beer

Back Forty Freckle Belly and Blue Pants Knickerbocker

Back Forty isn’t the only brewery working to fill the void in Alabama. Blue Pants Brewery out of Madison is another craft brewery helping to change the beer drinking scene in Alabama. From Blue Pants, we got our hands on a bottle of Knickerbocker Red Ale. Listed as their flagship beer, the Knickerbocker was an interesting beer. In the glass, it was dark red, almost caramel in color, and it was full of carbonation with a biting aftertaste. A little too much for my liking, but others in the party loved it. 

Alabama Craft Beer

Good People Brewery, Snake Handler

The final beer of the evening came in a can. Brewed by Good People Brewing, in Birmingham, we ended the tasting with a double IPA called Snake Handler. Printed around the top of the can, Snake Handler can says “Legally Brewed Since 2008″, a play on both the slow to change laws of the state and the notion of backwoods illegally brewed concoctions. Like the Freckle Belly before it, this beer was hoppy, and I really liked it. In the heat of the day, it went down well. The bitterness of the hops really helped to cut through the thirst. This beer was well loved across the tasting party. We could have used about 6 more.

In the end, it is nice to see how much the beer scene in Alabama has changed since we had our wedding there in 2001. At that time, all we could get for the reception party were flavorless beer made by big national brands. There was no craft beer scene at that time. But things are changing for the better and we had the privilege to try three different breweries that are working on putting Alabama on the craft brewing map.

Next week, check back for Maine, and a huge milestone for 50 states of beer.

 

 

 

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beer, History

Mississippi : Feels Like Coming Home

For most of the country, prohibition lasted for 13 years. From January 17, 1920 until April 7, 1933, the sale, production and transportation of alcohol was prohibited across the nation. However for some states, this period lasted much longer. Mississippi was one of a handful of states that enacted prohibition in 1907, a full 13 years prior to the national ban. And it didn’t end there. After the passing of the twenty-first Amendment, Mississippi still enforced prohibition laws until 1966. As the last state to repeal prohibition, Mississippians lived under prohibition laws for lengthy 59 years.

Even with the repealing of prohibition, it would take another 37 years for a brewery to operate within Mississippi. As Mississippi’s first brewery in almost 100 years, Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company, started in 2003, is also Mississippi’s oldest brewery.

We however only had to get 20 weeks into this project to experience Lazy Magnolia as Mississippi joins the United States as the 20th state in December 1817.

As mentioned previous on this blog, the federal prohibition decimated the brewing industry in the U.S. While some brewers scratched by making near beer or producing malt extract, most could not sustain viable income to endure the 13 years. But when it ended, most states started to see a slow come back to their brewing industry. One by one, craft brewers started bringing back old favorites, and developing new products for a growing consumer base. And while the craft beer explosion was occurring, during the 1980’s and into the 1990’s, beer lovers in Mississippi did not have a brewery to call their own.

Thanks to Lazy Magnolia that has now changed. As they went about blazing this path through the brewing frontier, Lazy Magnolia has kept their southern roots in check with our first sample of the week: Southern Pecan.

Mississippi Craft Beer

Lazy Magnolia

There are items that elicit memories of the southern U.S., and the pecan is high on that list. A species of hickory native the south-central North American, pecan means a nut requiring a stone to crack in Algonquian. Typically known as the key ingredient in Pecan pie, Lazy Magnolia used this nut as the key ingredient for a beer. Listed as the first pecan nut brown ale in the world, this beer was a fun find.

Much like a good Pecan pie, this beer was sweet. Even the color exuded a sweetness, with its deep red hues. But the sweetness wasn’t overwhelming. The beer was enjoyable. And while it didn’t have the distinct pecan taste, there was definitely a nutty taste that made this an enjoyable beer. It would have been interesting to try it with some good cheese that would complement the sweetness.

One of the tasters loved the diner menu, vintage look to the label on this beer. It definitely had a nice clean look to it, unlike many of the labels we have encountered so far on this project.

When Mississippi lifted prohibition in 1966, that wasn’t the end of the story for slow to change alcohol related laws in the state. In fact it wasn’t until March of this year that Mississippi legalized home brewing. And while that law had a tangential effect on the states brewing industry, another recently changed law had a much larger impact. From the time prohibition was lifted in the 60’s, until July of 2012, brewers in the state were not allowed to produce a beer with more than 5% ABW. To put that into perspective, only 7 of the 89 beers sampled so far on this project were less that 5%.

Mississippi Craft Beer

Lazy Magnolia

Expecting this law to change, Lazy Magnolia had our next beer, Timber Beast queued up and ready to roll on June 30th. Coming in at 9% ABV, at the time of its brewing, the Timber Beast was an illegal beer. However with the change of an old law, this beer was allowed out into the world, and we were fortunate enough to get our hands on some.

This beer was very enjoyable. Using Zythos hops, an IPA style hops blend, Lazy Magnolia went with a recipe inspired by the complex and beautiful flavors of Mississippi. This hops led to an interesting taste that I had not experienced in other IPAs over the course of this project. This hops had a more bitter characteristic that was enjoyable. While the bitterness hung around long after the beer was gone, this wasn’t a bad thing. Everyone tasting this beer really loved it.

With Mississippi, we have seen the craziest alcohol laws to date for this project. However we have also seen how a company like Lazy Magnolia can overcome those obstacles to create an enjoyable product.

Tune in next week for Illinois

 

 

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