In a conundrum over what gifts to give this holiday season? Stressed over pleasing that impossible-to-shop-for someone or those who seem to have it all?
Well, the good news is you can win hearts and score some cred with holiday gifts that are distinctively Alabama and sure to leave a good impression. There’s a wide variety of possibilities — from extreme activities to toys for boys old and young, from delectable delights to artsy stuff. And it’s all from Alabama.
Thrills and Chills
For heart-pounding excitement and the adrenalin rush of a lifetime, get on track with a gift to drive or ride in a race car around the Talladega Superspeedway at speeds up to 180 miles per hour. Drives range from six to 60 laps at prices ranging from $395 to $3, 295. All drives include an extensive driver orientation and are done in a NASCAR racer with an instructor. Customers are required to wear fire-retardant racing suits, helmets and harnesses to ensure maximum safety. Each lap is 2.66 miles long, and the curves on the track are banked at 33 degrees. A high-speed “ride-along” starts with a three-lap spin for $195. Driving or riding gifts for individuals or packages for corporate outings are available.
Not a racing fan? No problem. “Our demographic for this is not your typical NASCAR fan, ” says Josh Carden, sales and marketing manager for Racing Adventure, which leases the track at Talladega and other racing venues for these drives. “It’s more of a bucket list item we market to women for their husbands, as kind of an extreme event. Women like to do this, too. And we’ve entertained corporate clients — IBM, Microsoft, Ford and the list goes on and on.”
Carden says about 4, 000 people either drive the track or do a ride-along at Talladega each year. “And that doesn’t include the friends and family members who come along to enjoy the event, ” he says. “I’d say that this is one of the top thrills of a lifetime for about 90 percent of our customers.” For more information, visit racingadventure.com.
A similar experience is available at the Barber Motorsports track near Leeds, where a $95 annual membership includes a “hot lap” around Barber’s super-cool track in an instructor-driven Porsche. Called the “Augusta” of racing tracks, the Barber course is 2.38 miles long and has numerous turns and elevation changes. See barbermotorsports.com for information about museum membership.
A more in-depth option to navigate the Barber track is a gift to attend Porsche Sports Driving School, where you learn to drive a Porsche through classroom instruction mixed with actually driving on the Barber Motorsports track. Prices range from $1, 800 for one day to $6, 000 for three. Motor on over to porschedriving.com to learn more.
For a more relaxed time on a different kind of course, there’s the gift of golf on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. The trail, laid out at 11 sites throughout the state, includes 26 top-drawer, aesthetically pleasing courses with different looks and personalities to challenge any golfer.
The Ross Bridge course in Hoover, for example, is one of the longest courses in the world; the Highland Course at Hampton Cove in Huntsville and the Senator Course at Capitol Hill in Prattville both have a traditional Scottish links design, and the Par 3 course at Oxmoor Valley near Birmingham is a fun-to-play collection of holes that includes severe elevation changes, most of them downhill.
Most of the Robert Trent Jones golf courses have first-class lodging and dining on-site and, in some cases, soothing, body-pampering spa amenities. A gift to a Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail course is a hole-in-one for golfers who’ve never played the trail or those who’ve played only part of it. More information about each course, gift cards and group reservations is a chip shot away, at rtjgolf.com.
For something unexpected, try a breakout game. Customers are locked in a room and need to solve puzzles and riddles to win freedom. The game usually involves two to eight people and emphasizes teamwork and fun under pressure; the cost is around $22 per contestant. Don’t worry. If you don’t escape after an hour, they’ll let you out of the room. These games have popped up in different Alabama cities — Birmingham and Tuscaloosa — and more probably are on the way. To learn more, Google “breakout” and “locked in” along with your city’s name.
Other out-of-the-house activities can also be great gifts: opera in Mobile, the Alabama Shakespeare Festival in Montgomery, symphony concerts, an immersion in history at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute or the Battleship Alabama, or the state’s newest museum, GulfQuest in Mobile.
Alabamians love great food, so there are lots of home-grown gift options.
Mamie’s Famous Cheese Wafers — mouthwatering, slice-and-bake Cheddar cheese wafers made by Spring Hill Kitchens in Mobile since 2003. Not less than 35 percent real cheese by weight, each package yields 42-48 delectable wafers in 12-15 minutes. For a different punch to the palate, try Mamie’s Tuscan Wafers, which feature Romano cheese and sunflower seeds. Mamie’s Wafers are available at all Fresh Market locations and at various other food markets. mamieswafers.com.
Conecuh Sausage Co. — hickory-smoked sausages, ham, turkey and bacon are a must in many Alabama specialty dishes. Founded in Evergreen in 1947, the company has some updated products, including MSG-free hickory-smoked sausage that has no nitrates or nitrites. conecuhsausage.com.
Friends and families nuts about pecans are sure to love the variety at Louisville Pecan Co. in Barbour County. Founded in 1946, the company offers a wide assortment of pecan products — everything from unshelled pecans to halves, pieces, logs, tarts, pralines and pecan cheese straws. Among the most popular items are pecan halves dipped in milk chocolate, dark chocolate and white chocolate. louisvillepecan.net.
Amazin’ Raisins, a newcomer in Fort Payne, makes raisins infused with natural fruit flavoring — orange, peach, sour lemon, sour pineapple and strawberry flavors. They’re fat free, gluten free with no added sugar, kosher certified and contain no genetically modified organisms. They meet all federal school lunch and snack requirements, and parents who need a bit more dearth of the girth might like these tasty treats, too. amazingfruitproducts.com.
Toys for Boys (and Girls) — Of All Ages
Speaking of golf (again), Brewton-based Level3Golf makes putters that are known for their overall balance and lines to help golfers align their putts. The company also makes wedges.
Another option for knocking the little white ball in the hole is putters made by T.P. Mills Co. of Tuscaloosa. More costly than average and with an average wait time of a month from order to delivery, this company’s putters have been in the hands of Arnold Palmer, Chi Chi Rodriguez, Lee Trevino, Ben Crenshaw, Phil Mickelson and others.
More than one catchy gift idea comes from Foley-based Brunson Net and Supply, founded in 1946, which makes a variety of nets that can be used for fishing and other sports. Examples: batting and golf cages for the family and kids to improve their swings; lacrosse and soccer nets for the newer generation of athletes; and a line of marine products that include gear for both novice and professional fishermen, from nets to knives to inclement weather attire.
Speaking of fishing, consider a Humminbird fish finder, depth sounder, marine radio or GPS system, designed and made in Eufaula since 1971.
Hunters who want a leg up will appreciate a Cougar Claw tree stand, which, according to the Foley-based Tournament Grade Manufacturing’s website, features a premium grade, welded aluminum frame; the thickest foam seat available; a solid shooting rest; foot rest; and more under-seat storage than any other tree stand.
Jacksonville-based Bear and Son Cutlery has carved its niche as a manufacturer of high-quality “functional and collector” knives, all made in-house, from building the blanking dies to heat treatment, grinding and assembly and hand-finishing the products. The company, begun in 1991, makes 1, 000 to 1, 400 knives a day, all of them touched by human hands between 80-90 times during the production process.
So much to choose from, so little space. But let’s start with Tom Jones Pottery in South Alabama. In business for more than 30 years, the pottery offers an enchanting lineup of great gifts for holidays — cool-looking Halloween witches, jack-o’-lanterns and owls; nativity angels; Easter bunnies, and more — as well as dinner wear and lamps. Tom Jones Pottery sells its products exclusively at its Clay City shop, seven miles from Fairhope, but will ship anywhere in the United States.
Mary Beth Greene of Montrose is offering colorful options with her array of mb greene bags — small and large zips, totes, train cases, jewelry clutches, duffels and cross bodies. Made with a waxed-cotton finish that extends their new look, mb greene bags are available at 250 retail outlets in the Southeast, as well as Neiman Marcus stores.
Florence-based Alabama Chanin works with 100 percent organic cotton jersey fabric along with other sustainable, organic materials to make a distinctive line of clothing, accessories and other products for the home.
Charlie Ingram is a freelance contributor to Business Alabama. He is based in Birmingham.
Text by Charlie Ingram