Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Today's column: A new arrival and heralded return

Beer lovers will have to wait just a little longer to get Alabama brew in bottles, but in the meantime there is a suitable substitute newly available from just a little farther north.

Things are finally brewing again up in Huntsville, as Olde Towne Brewing Co. gets back in business after a fire in July 2007. Founder and brewmaster Don Alan Hankins reports the company is finally filling kegs at its new plant, and Olde Towne is now available from tap handles around the Rocket City.

Meanwhile, Nashville's Yazoo Brewing Co. made its entrance into the state this summer, with six-packs on sale in the Birmingham and Huntsville areas.

Hankins says Olde Towne is preparing for a grand re-opening party Saturday at Huntsville's Lowe Mill, complete with live music, lots of food, and of course the beer.

"This is kind of our payback to the city from us," Hankins said, in recognition of the support local beer fans lent the brewery after the fire. There were community-sponsored fundraisers including a concerts, and lots of e-mails and phone calls from folks eager to learn when Olde Towne would return.

Hankins says the company is filling keg orders through distributors in the Huntsville area first, and plans to follow that with the return of their draft product to Birmingham soon. A hefeweizen, amber ale and pale ale are already available, and a pilsner should make its return this weekend.

Olde Towne's new bottling equipment is expected to arrive by the end of the month. Hankins said the bottled brew will go to Huntsville first sometime in September, and then out to other markets where it was available before the fire, perhaps in November. That would include Calhoun County.

Meanwhile, you'll have to drive to Birmingham or Huntsville to get it, but Yazoo has a hefeweizen, a pale ale and what they bill as a Mexican-influenced version of a German altbier, basically an amber ale, labeled "Dos Perros Ale."

The pale is a bit sweeter than other versions of this style, and has a nicely bitter hops finish. Dos Perros is a hearty brown, with nice mellow malts sure to be enjoyed fans of beers like Newcastle Brown Ale and Lazy Magnolia's Southern Pecan.

As for the future, Olde Towne's Hankins says a series of seasonal brews — draft only — will follow the four standbys. That will likely start this fall with a pumpkin ale, and then something new for the winter, a coffee-and-tea-flavored stout.

For now, both these brands will require some driving for Anniston-area folks to acquire. But be sure to ask the staff at your favorite shops and haunts to stock the beers you'd like to try.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Olde Towne's back, at least in its hometown

Looks like Huntsville's Olde Towne Brewing Co. is back in business. The brewery's Web site says they produced the first keg in their brand-new facility at the end of July. The company is in the midst of a series of Huntsville-area celebrations now. Here's a list from the site:
  • Olde Towne Tasting at 801 Franklin, Wednesday 6-8 p.m.
    801 Franklin, Huntsville, AL; $20 per person. For more details and reservations call 256-519-8019.
  • Olde Towne Brewing Company's Grand Re-Opening Party, Aug. 23 5-11 p.m.
    Lowe Mill, corner of Seminole & 9th Avenue, Huntsville, AL
    Live music & more. Admission is free, donations to be split between the Lowe Mill's Art Endeavors and Free the Hops.
  • Olde Towne Pint Night at the Brick, Aug. 29
    112 Moulton Street East, Decatur, AL
    The Brick Deli is proud to welcome back Olde Towne Brewing Company to Decatur! Join us at the Brick for great food, Rollin' in the Hay on stage and Olde Towne Beer.
Old Towne's original facility burned in a fire last July. They've spent the last year or so finding a site, desigining the new building, buying equipment and getting things rolling. Congrats to 'em, I say!

The Web site lists a number of Huntsville-area restaurants and bars where you can get Olde Towne's stuff. Looks like the retail selection is limited so far. Here's hoping they'll be available statewide soon.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Today's column: The quest for beer with food from wine country


They're lands of long, hot and dry summers tempered by breezes from the sea.

And they're lands of incredible food — dishes dominated by intensely-flavored herbs, meats and cheeses.

Ah, the sun-soaked shores of the Mediterranean, where the olive trees don't offer a lot of shade, but do provide plenty of oil to flavor the cooking.

The arid, sunny climate that is the source of so much good cooking might inspire one to reach for a cool brew, but finding the right beer to pair with these powerful foods can present a challenge.

Plus there's the fact that the Med is the cradle of Europe's wine culture. It was wine, not ale after all, that Odysseus used to outwit the giant Cyclops and while sailing that dangerous sea centuries ago.

But that doesn't mean the right brew isn't out there, waiting to be discovered and enjoyed alongside a heap of hummus or a load of grilled lamb skewers.

When selecting a beer to enjoy with a meal there are at least a couple different strategies: pick something brewed in the region that inspired the food, or go with something that plays off the food's unique flavors, regardless of where it's brewed.

That second approach is suggested by the beer-food pairing guide published by the Brewers Association, a trade group of American craft brewers. Lamb figures more prominently in Mediterranean meals than other meats. Its stronger flavor is a good match for the higher-alcohol content and robust bitterness of double or imperial India pale ales, according to the pairing guide. There's also British old or strong ales, with bold flavors that some describe as fruity or raisiny. Then there's Scotch ale, also called "wee heavy," with sweeter, maltier characteristics. (Creativity in procurement may be called for, as all of the above styles tend toward higher alcohol contents that are outlawed in Alabama). Lacking any of those, a sweet amber lager like Flying Dog's Old Scratch or a somewhat bitter pale ale like Sierra Nevada's ubiquitous offering might do the trick. Both are available locally.

The other tactic would be to pick a brand name brewed in the country that supplied your feta-festooned salad or chickpea puree. Italian dishes could call for a Peroni Nastro Azzuro, a standard pale lager on local shelves. Finding something brewed under any other Mediterranean flag is a tall task, though. The good news is that pale lagers are the dominant style in much of Europe, and one of the most popular here, as well. That leaves plenty of suitable substitutes, such as Stella Artois, Grolsch, Steinlager or Harp among the imports, or just about anything on the shelf from the well-known domestic brands (Sierra Nevada's seasonal Summerfest Lager is a fine alternative, and was still on some local shelves last week).

Of course, if you have the means and the vacation time, there's the option of going straight to the source, trying the local food and the local beer on an odyssey of your own. Like the ancient Greek hero, you never know where the journey might lead you.