From the mountains to the prairies to the oceans, Americans delight with foam. According to data posted by the National Beer Wholesalers Association, the U.S. beer industry sold 208.6 million barrels of beer in 2021, the equivalent of nearly 3 billion cases.
That is approximately 70 billion bottles of beer on the wall.
An increasing number of those bottles are filled not with mass-produced beer from a brewing behemoth, but with carefully concocted creations from one of the numerous smaller craft breweries that have proliferated throughout the country over the past decade. There were fewer than 1,800 breweries in the U.S. in 2010. Now that number is closing in on 9,000, and craft brew accounts for more than 13% of the overall beer market.
Alabama has tapped into this trend as well. The state has added an average of four new breweries each year since 2008 and is now home to 54. According to 2020 data from the Brewers Association trade organization, Alabama produces more than 80,000 barrels of craft beer annually, and the state’s breweries create an annual economic impact of $858 million.
The success of these suds is being driven by lager heads who revere hops and malts the same way wine enthusiasts glorify the grape. For them, beer drinking is an experience that should be explored and savored, not merely a contest to see who can consume the most cans.
Danner Kline summed up the sentiment. One of the founders of the Free the Hops organization that helped change Alabama’s alcohol laws to make craft brewing feasible, Kline said: “I don’t like to eat the same thing over and over again, and I don’t like to drink the same thing over and over again either.”
Thanks to the work of Kline and others, Alabama now boasts breweries in every corner of the state, offering a wide variety of choices for whatever ales you.
Here is a 10-pack of options:
Good People Brewing
(Birmingham) — By the early 2000s, Alabama was one of the few states that still prohibited the sale of beer with an alcohol content greater than 6% by volume, even though other spirits with considerably higher alcohol content flowed freely. As a result of this restriction, most craft brands from the U.S. and Europe were forbidden from local shelves.
Kline and the Free The Hops organization worked for five years to garner legislative support for a bill increasing the allowable alcohol-content level to 13%. The bill finally passed in 2009, making thousands of beers newly available to the state. That was followed two years later by the passage of the Brewery Modernization Act, which eased many restrictions on operating a brewery in Alabama. Combined, those two actions turned brewing beer into a viable business.
Good People was the first to take advantage of this shift in the laws. In fact, owners Jason Malone and Michael Sellers anticipated it, tapping their first keg on July 4, 2008, nearly a full year before the legislative changes began.
So when it comes to breweries in Alabama, sipping a trademark Snake Handler IPA at Good People provides a taste of history.
Back Forty Beer Company (Gadsden) — Back Forty was close behind Good People, releasing its first offering in June of 2009. That initial beer was the Naked Pig Pale Ale, a colorful name that quickly became a merchandise favorite.
The fact that the state’s second brewery opened in a mid-sized city instead of one of the Big Four was not lost on founder Jason Wilson. After all, the name Back Forty refers to the old agricultural term referring to the 40 acres of land situated farthest from the barn, a parcel that is often overlooked.
Now, with a second location in Birmingham and the status of being one of Alabama’s founding frothers, Back Forty isn’t about to be overlooked.
Big Beach Brewing (Gulf Shores) — Surf, sand and suds are an ideal combination. So, it certainly makes sense that Alabama’s beach area would have a brewery.
What makes Big Beach Brewing a bit different is the way it started. Jim and Julie Shamburger are self-described “avid craft beer drinkers” who received a Mr. Beer brewing kit as a present from their daughter.
What began as a hobby conducted in the basement of their home turned into an actual business, as Big Beach opened near Gulf Shores’ intercoastal waterway in 2016.
Campus 805 (Huntsville) — This plot of land was the home of several schools over nearly a 60-year span, with Stone Middle School being the final occupant before closing in 2009. A half-dozen years later it was redeveloped as Campus 805, named in recognition of being located in the 35805 zip code.
There are more than 20 businesses within the 13-acre development, anchored by the Yellowhammer Brewing and Straight to Ale breweries. In the middle of it all is an expansive greenspace with outdoor seating. School was never this much fun.
Fairhope Brewing (Fairhope) — It took the end of the world for Fairhope to open a brewery. Actually, it was the predicted end of the world, by the Mayans, whose centuries-long calendar famously ended on Dec. 21, 2012.
That was the day Fairhope Brewing produced its initial barrel of beer. “Fortunately for all of us, the world kept on spinning and our first batch of ale kept on fermenting,” the brewery happily declares on its website.
Today, Fairhope Brewing is an established part of the community, regularly supporting local causes and holding charity events, including the popular Guest Bartenders of Christmas.
Folklore Brewing and Meadery
(Dothan) — Folklore Brewing is not exactly Medieval Times. While there, you are more likely to hear a banjo than a lute, and there is no mutton or pheasant on the menu (just an owl as a logo).
What you will find at Folklore is mead, a wine made from fermented honey instead of grapes that was the drink of choice during the Middle Ages.
“A lot of people don’t necessarily like beer, but they like wine,” Folklore’s Angela Sellers says. “So, this gives them something different to try.”
Goat Island Brewery (Cullman) — The deadly tornado outbreak that hit Alabama in 2011 damaged nearly 900 homes and 100 businesses in Cullman. Recovery took years, and during that time partnerships were developed among four old high school friends that led to the opening of Goat Island Brewery in 2015.
The name comes from nearby Goat Island, a well-known landmark on Smith Lake. It also led to perhaps the best / worst brewery slogan in the state, “Life is too short to drink baaad beer!”
Iron Hand Brewery (Mobile) — Breweries often find homes in renovated historic structures. For example, the recently opened Coldwater Mountain Brewpub in Anniston is located in an old L&N Railroad freight building.
Likewise, Iron Hand is filled with history. First, the brewery is housed in a century-old building that originally was a Baptist church located in Mobile’s De Tonti Square Historic District. In addition, the name Iron Hand is in honor of 18th-century explorer Henri De Tonti, who lost a hand in battle and replaced it with an actual metal hook. As long as he could still pick up a beer.
Railyard Brewing (Montgomery) — Railyard Brewing combines a love of history with modern touches. The brewery opened in 2012 in the old Teague Hardware building, which was built in the 1890s and was used by GM&O Railroad to store heavy equipment.
In 2017, Dreamland BBQ took over part of the space for a new restaurant but kept the brewery intact. So, Railyard’s production of beer keeps chugging along.
Tin Town Brewing (Oneonta) — Finally, for evidence that breweries truly are spreading into all areas of Alabama, look no further than Tin Town. This compact, 2,500-square-foot facility opened last year in a city with a population of barely 6,000.
Such a small local customer base actually works well for owners Barry and Lisa Kennamer, because they can’t make much brew at one time. Tin Town has a lone production barrel, good for approximately 30 gallons of beer, which is sold along with offerings from other breweries.
Cary Estes and Laura Levie are freelance contributors to Business Alabama. Both are based in Birmingham.
This article appeared in the June 2022 issue of Business Alabama.