Wednesday, June 11, 2008

At last, good things are brewing in Bama again

Pitcher This: At last, good things are brewing in Bama again


After a long, thirsty year, Alabamans can again wet their whistles with beer brewed in their home state.

Just in time for the Magic City Brewfest a week and a half ago, Birmingham's Good People Brewing Co. started filling kegs and brought some of its brand-new brown ale to the festival.

This came just shy of a year since Alabama's previous lone brewery, Huntsville's Olde Towne, burned last July. The company is rebuilding in an all-new facility in South Huntsville. Before the festival, Olde Towne founder Don Alan Hankins said if everything remains on track the new plant could be shipping out bottles by mid-July.

That would make this a good summer indeed for beer in Alabama, especially after last year's blaze and the flaming defeat for a bill in the Legislature that would have made legal beer with more alcohol, and thus more of the beer styles brewers across the country are crafting for a public that apparently is thirsty for diversity. This year's version of the bill didn't become law either, but it did pass the House before stalling, along with everything else in the Senate. Count that a moving in the right direction.

Now with Olde Towne's impending revival and the emergence of Good People, there are tangible successes to toast in Alabama.

The small sample of Good People's brown ale I tasted in Birmingham was a well-balanced treat.

I sipped it while talking with Jason Malone, who described himself as the company's brewer, as well as an electrician, drywall hanger and painter in the effort to complete its small Southside-Birmingham facility. Trying to keep costs down, the small company did much of the work itself, all while clearing the red tape required by various levels of government and keeping an eye on the quality of their product.

Like many small brewers (and a number of big ones, too), Malone and his partners got their start brewing at home, he said. Eventually, they had enough people asking for their creations they figured they could turn it into a business.

While he's proud of the beers Good People is bringing to market, Malone itches for the creativity making beer in one's kitchen allows, which can result in "funky, interesting things."

"But at the end of the day I have to remember I'm not a homebrewer anymore," he said.

Good People plans to roll out pale and amber ales along with its brown, plus an India pale ale or hefeweizen as it distributes kegs to Southside-area restaurants in these first few weeks. Bottling may come later, Malone said, by contract since there's little room for the equipment where they operate now.

As Malone, red-bearded and baseball-capped, spoke, a Good People T-shirt hung from the canopy behind him. Its logo, a beat-up old pickup, was a fitting choice for a hard-working company pulling itself up by its bootstraps.

It's also not a bad image for the state's tiny brewing industry as a whole. Despite long odds and tough breaks, and some even tougher laws, thing are finally beginning to pick up speed.