Introducing: A new Guy! Jimmy met Tim Heller while working up in Colorado a few summers ago, and Tim's Craft fandom, smarts, and devotion to good writing make a perfect match for The Happy Hour Guys. Welcome Tim to our 'adjunct faculty' - he and his wife will be on tour in KOREA for the next six months, reporting on Craft from overseas - very exciting, and we look forward to that.
Here's his inaugural piece - something he wrote for us while working in Alabama recently:
Ok friends, here we go. T'was late April in the year 2016 when I received an email that offered me the role of Prince Eric in Disney's "The Little Mermaid" at Red Mountain Theatre Company in the lovely Birmingham, AL. I was filled with joy and did what any other person would do when they get an exciting new job: look up every brewery in the greater Birmingham area! I poured over all of the beer menus (pun intended), mapped out the journey, and after we had finished blocking and setting the show, set out on my hop safari determined to find the best brewery in the city.
I started with the first craft brewery in the city, Good People Brewing Co., because it was the closest to where we rehearsed in the heart of B'Ham. The following week I hit the other three, Cahaba Brewing, Trimtab, and Avondale. While all breweries were surprisingly stellar with the quality and variety of their brews, one stood out among the group as the true king of beer in the city and really the state.
Good People Brewing Company, founded in 2008, really seemed to capture the spirit of the city and the journey craft beer has made in Alabama. Near the end of my stay I had the privilege to have a "sit and sip" Q&A with co-founder and brewmaster, Jason Malone.
When one pulls up to their gorgeous taproom/brewhouse it is hard not to immediately feel comfortable. They have a large patio with tables and chairs that fill up on every night of the week, an outdoor stage for local musicians to come serenade the townsfolk, and vast high ceilings with couches and industrial decor for those who prefer the A/C on hot southern days. The beertenders here always were smiling, happy to fill a growler or give a small taste of a few brews if you weren't sure of what you wanted; it truly feels like you are being welcomed into someone's hoppy home.
Jason greeted me clad in his cargo shorts, flip flops, and what every male brewmaster needs... a giant beard. A firm hand shake and a couple pours later he was telling me all there was to know about his baby.
He and his business partner, Michael Sellers, first started homebrewing in the early 2000s, when homebrewing was yet to be legalized in Alabama. He explained that Alabama was actually the second to last state in the country to legalize homebrewing and that, thanks to a grassroots movement called "Free the Hops", Alabama finally legalized homebrewing and raised the legal ABV in the state from 6% to 13.9% in 2008 (thus their slogan "Legally Brewed Since 2008").
** Editor's note: We covered this back as it was happening: Click here to see! Thanks! - J
The two Auburn alums went from brewing in their homes and selling out kegs at tailgates for football games to realizing this could be an actual business for them. Jason and Michael left their jobs in software sales and banking respectively and set out to be contract brewers, to allow them to make larger batches.
But when their contracted brewery burned down they were left no place to brew. After a back and forth battle with Federal, State, and local governments they finally landed a killer deal on some old, abandoned equipment they had seen in the window of a fallen hop house, and on July 4th, 2008, Good People Brewing was born.
Now you may be thinking, "2008? That was the middle of the recession. How could you possibly sustain opening a new business at that time?" When posed with this question Jason smiled and replied that there were two key things that kept them alive during that period: 1) Everyone will always want to drink beer, no matter the economy, and 2) There wasn't anyone else in the state who was doing what they were doing in their brewery.
The same is true 8 years later. They have their staple brews such as their IPA, Brown Ale, Bearded Lady Wheat Ale, and American Pale Ale, that really established them as the first craft brewery in the state and they also have their seasonal brews like Mumbai Rye IPA, and Fatso Russian Imperial Stout. If you're into special releases (c'mon who isn't) they have a "Bearded Reserve" program that has yielded the coveted "El Gordo" Imperial Stout.
You seriously can't go wrong with any of the above beers in their repertoire but what FOR REALSIES blew my socks off were two specific brews. First, a disclaimer: I am an equal opportunity beer consumer. No matter where it is brewed, what it's brewed with, or the style of brew, I will try it twice before making a decision on it. That being said, I am not enthused with how many double, triple, and even quadruple IPA's are being churned out of breweries lately. With THAT being said, Jason Malone's "Snake Handler IIPA" is, hands down, the BEST IIPA I have ever tried and I have sampled a great many. This beer sits at a dangerously crushable 10% ABV, with a mouthfeel that feels like your tongue is being wrapped in the embrace of a long lost lover. Easily the most talked about brew in the city, this was one of two beers that I went back again and again to purchase.
The next beer that reduced me to a puddle was such a treat that, at the time it had yet to be released. I had mentioned that my favorite style of beer was Farmhouse Sours and Jason jumped up and said, "I'll be right back" and brought back a glass of one of the prettiest beers I've set my eyes upon. Now dubbed "Funk Farm" the sour blond ale, aged in french oak for 8 months with blackberries and raspberries with souring bacteria and additional yeast strains made me weak at knees. Jason and his team nailed what makes a good sour great, the "Funk." Not only was the beer sour from the bacteria with a light fruit note, but it had that farmhouse taste to it. Weighing in at a light 4.5% ABV at the time we consumed it it was a perfect summer brew to enjoy now and save one to age for later.
Obviously I could go on and on about my incredibly hospitable experience with Jason and his team in Birmingham. They have so many exciting things that are on the horizon, their new sour series, a year old barrel program that any brew master would envy, and of course continuing to water the southeast with their hoppy nectars.
When asked what was next for Good People, Jason put it simply.
"If you would've asked me that five years ago, I would have said I want to put the beer in every SEC football stadium. But right now I just really want to make really good beer. I'd rather make really good beer for a 5 states than make ok beer for 24."
Good people, making great beer, at Good People Brewing Company.
A huge thanks to Jason, Michael, and Brian-the-bartender for an incredible visit and stories.
Until next time, Tim (the Blonde Guy)