Where to Drink in Birmingham, Alabama
Birmingham takes its history as seriously as it takes its beer. For example, Trim Tab Brewing Co. created the seasonal Pale Ale Rescue Ship to honor the self-proclaimed Batman of Birmingham, Willie Perry. A citizen hero known for his acts of kindness in the 1970s and 80s, Perry “dressed up in a full, super-fly costume, he tricked out this 1971 Thunderbird, [the aforementioned Rescue Ship] and he would go around town helping people,” explains Trim Tab founder Harris Stewart. “If someone was out of gas, he’d give them gas. He broke up robberies. He helped old ladies cross the street.”
These days, many Birmingham residents would argue that locally produced beer is what’s rescuing the city, bringing much needed economic development, community building and beverage culture to Birmingham. The repeal of restrictive beer laws, starting with raising the ABV cap from 6 percent to 13.9 percent in 2009, resulted in a boom of local beer production. So much so, in fact, that Birmingham’s sales from craft breweries as a percentage of total beer volume increased more in the past year than any other city in the US, according to a Nielsen study. At an increase of 63.1 percent, Birmingham experienced more than double the growth of the second-leading city, Cincinnati.
Credit is due in part to Birmingham’s four production breweries—Avondale Brewing, Good People Brewing, Cahaba Brewing and Trim Tab Brewing, plus a couple of contract breweries—which have worked to provide comfortable spaces for their customers to enjoy their beers, along with a healthy dose of local beer education.
The oldest brewery in Alabama, Good People Brewing Co. started brewing in 2008, a year before the ABV cap was lifted. From its newly renovated taproom across the street from Birmingham’s minor league baseball park, patrons enjoy the classic Brown and Pale Ale as well as hard-to-find releases like Snake Handler Double IPA and El Gordo Imperial Stout.
Breweries are leading the revitalization of some Birmingham neighborhoods, too. Since Avondale Brewing Co. launched in a historic building in the Avondale neighborhood in 2011, more bars and restaurants have opened, too, bringing a second life to the area. Its Belgian-style beers and Saisons celebrate local history, including Miss Fancy’s Tripel, named for a beer-drinking circus elephant from the 1920s.
And later this year, Cahaba Brewing Co., which opened with a tiny 3.5-barrel brewhouse in 2012, will move to a 30-barrel brewhouse in a renovated cotton gin up the road from its current brewery and taproom. (The signature skeeball lanes will be making the move, too.) The brewers put an experimental beer on tap every Friday, and once it’s gone, it’s gone. Cahaba is the place to go for fans of German styles as well, with its traditional and creative seasonals like Kiwi Kolsch and Oktoberfest Beer.
Birmingham’s newest production brewery, Trim Tab Brewing Co., has created a loyal following for its flagship IPA and its Pillar and Post Rye Brown Ale since opening in February 2014. In an effort to build community, founders Harris and Cheri Stewart host a variety of events, from recurring BYO vinyl nights to a TEDx salon, in their funky, airy “tasting gallery” filled with local art for sale.
Across the street from Avondale Brewery is the Saturn [saturnbirmingham.com], a music venue with an adjoining coffee shop and bar called the Satellite that radiates a midcentury modern vibe. Both spaces offer beer from local breweries like Good People and Trim Tab on draft and in the can or bottle.
In addition to the Cahaba and Trim Tab breweries, the Southside district is home to Hop City, the city’s hugely popular bottle store and taproom. With the area’s biggest selection of packaged beer from near and far, Hop City also fills growlers, sells homebrewing supplies and has a patio area where customers can enjoy beers from its more than 60 taps.
Several blocks south, locals pair food with beer at Slice Stone Pizza & Brew [slicebirmingham.com]. Don’t worry if you’re stumped by the options—there’s a recommended beer for each pie. Try the Soul Pie topped with turnip greens, black-eyed peas and hickory-smoked sausage from Alabama’s Conecuh Sausage Company with a pint of Old Black Bear Brewing’s Cave City Lager.
Carrigan’s Public House opened in 2013 with a focus on Alabama beers and craft cocktails. The bar and restaurant is beloved for its rooftop patio and expanding beer cocktails menu. A tap system built into the shell of a pale green Land Rover dispenses beers like We Ain’t Afraid of No Göse from Fairhope Brewing on the Gulf Coast and Drafty Kilt from Atlanta’s Monday Night Brewing.
South of downtown, Garage Cafe is a cash-only, old-school dive bar in (you guessed it) a refurbished garage. Bartenders chat with the longtime regulars under strings of glowing lights, swapping stories while serving hard-to-find offerings like Bell’s Hopslam and Founder’s Kentucky Breakfast Stout. In nice weather, retreat to the tranquil patio garden with a beer, a build-your-own sandwich and cup of soup.
In Five Points South, a neighborhood adjacent to the University of Alabama at Birmingham, The J. Clyde has been serving imports and domestic craft since 2007. The first bar dedicated to promoting better beer in Birmingham, this cozy pub serves comfort food and beer from Europe and the United States—especially Alabama—from 60 taps and two beer engines.
Just up the road and around the corner is a very different place, Dave’s Pub, a laid-back neighborhood bar with live music that’s been open since 1995. Settle in under the dim lighting at the long wooden bar and order anything from Trim Tab’s Raspberry Berliner Weisse to Blue Pants’ Candy Bar Pinstripe Stout.
Also nearby is 5 Point Public House and Oyster Bar, a cozy restaurant with several varieties of southern oysters on the half shell and 30 beers on tap—at least half coming from Alabama breweries. Order a pint or a growler for the table and munch on fried pig tails while trying Brother Joseph Belgian Dubbel from Huntsville’s Straight To Ale, or Go-Devil Golden Ale from Ghost Train, one of Birmingham’s newest breweries. ■