Old Black Bear Brewing, Huntsville, AL

Danny Levis & Todd Seaton

 Huntsville, Alabama is a burgeoning beer Mecca in Northern Alabama.  There are four active breweries and three currently in the planning stages.  Many of the breweries in Huntsville have been started as what is called a Nano-brewery.  That is a brewery with a small brew house that produces less than four barrels of beer at a time.  Straight to Ale and Blue Pants both started this way but have now grown into larger systems.  Old Black Bear Brewing is starting out more like a neighbor to their south, Back Forty in Gadsden, Alabama.

Old Black Bear was founded by two young entrepreneurs, Danny Levis and Todd Seaton in 2010.  The duo met on the softball field.  Danny’s wife worked with Todd and the two played on the company softball team.  They started home brewing together and the rest is history.

The original plan was to start small with local Huntsville brewery Old Town Brewery contract brewing the offerings.  Ironically on the day the contract was signed Old Town went out of business.  The duo next contacted Lazy Magnolia and went to the brewery for a visit and to hammer out specific details for the new relationship.  The meetings went well but Lazy Magnolia was in the middle of starting to plan an expansion and was brewing near to full capacity.  The deal was to add Old Black Bear after one of their current contract brewing deals moved on to their own brewery, Back Forty out of Gadsden.  Timing was critical here, as was the proximity of the new brewery in Gadsden, and the trio of breweries worked out a deal that best suited all involved.  Old Black Bear would wait for Back Forty to move into their new space and then utilize their new capacity to contract brew their beers.  Gadsden is only an hour and a half from Huntsville, much closer than the western side of Mississippi, and that would allow the brewers more hands on time with the production and packaging of the beers.

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The first brew debuted in Huntsville on Feb. 10th.  Milepost 652 ESB was that beer and it is an American take on the English-style ESB.  It is a smooth drinking beer that is brewed with nothing but west coast Centennial hops 6% ABV and 42 IBU.  The second offering is Roaming Bear Porter. This beer is brewed with copious amounts of roasted barley and is balanced with Magnum and Willamette hops to 42 IBU as well.  The beers are currently available in around 25 accounts in Huntsville on draft only with demand continuing to grow at a fast pace.  Plans are to start offering bottles in the May and introducing a third beer called Cave City Lager that will be brewed in the American Amber style.

Todd and Danny have kept their day jobs while they start the long process of growing their brand.  The focus is on brewing quality beer and offering that product to their local Huntsville market.  Eventually they plan to have their own production facility just as Back Forty does, remember BFB started out contract brewing at Lazy Magnolia them selves and have done exceedingly well.  Both Todd and Danny travel to Gadsden each week to work in the brewery with their product, weather it is cleaning kegs or brewing with BFB Master Brewer Jamie Ray.  Old Black Bear has purchased two 30 BBL fermenting tanks that are used exclusively for their beers, so right now capacity issues are non-issues.  During their 8 visits to BFB per month they are able to manage the entire brewing process.

Find Old Black Bear Brewing on the web or on Facebook

Here are some photos from their first brew also available on their Facebook page.

Milling Grain
Mash in!
Filling up!

Foothills Brewing tasting

We had three great beers brewed by Foothills Brewing recently and want to give you our thoughts on the trio.  The first is TORCH PILS, brewed in the Czech Pills or Continental Pilsner style.  It pours a deep golden color, has a medium body and very nice carbonation that complements the spicy hop aroma that is derived from the use of Saaz hops.  The first impression from the beer is the aroma, spicy and full of aromatics with a noble hop character and herbal notes.  The beer starts sweet at first taste but quickly the continental pilsner balances out with just the right amount of hops.  A great example of a European Pilsner beer being brewed right here, fresh in the American South!

 

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Next was Endo Pale Ale.  Don Richardson at the Cottonwood Brewery in Boone, NC brewed the original beer back in the 1990’s.  When Don moved on Carolina Beer and Beverage he took the recipe with him.  When Carolina decided to get out of the beer business to focus on other products, Foothills who has resurrected them at their new brewing facility purchased the brewery and the brands.  Endo pours brilliantly clear, deep golden with slight orange hues, is carbonated perfectly with fabulous legs and lacing on the glass.  Endo Pale Ale has a citrus hop aroma full of North West character from the generous use of Cascade, Magnum, and Chinook hops.  Grapefruit and floral notes jump out of the gate at your sense of smell, and the beer finishes dry with a ever so slight hint of a malt backbone to balance the hops.  This is a fabulous North Carolina IPA.

 

The third of the trio was Peoples Porter.  This beer has aromas of vanilla, hazelnut, and caramel and yet has a pleasing dryness to it.  Toffee notes and a slight roasted character comes through in the flavor but not in the aroma.  The beer has “mad legs”, incredialby the lacing in this beer hold on the sides of the glass for what seems like an eternity, the sign of a well-made craft beverage.  Peoples Porter pours a tan head and is very much an English-style Porter.  Forget the Pacific NW hoppy styles that are brewed so often by craft brewers, this one has a dark chocolate flavor, balanced by sweet mat, roast and just enough hops to make you forget that they are there at all, done perfectly.  The beer is so well balanced that all of its componets complement each other to create what I would describe as the perfect porter, for the people that is!

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JailHouse Brewing, Hampton, GA

Glenn Golden, Owner/Head Brewer

JailHouse Brewing is located in Hampton, Georgia just South of Atlanta and west of I-75 and McDonough.  Glenn Golden and his wife Melissa founded JailHouse Brewing, in 2008 when they jumped ship from the family business and decided to start out on their own adventure.  And what an adventure it has been for the couple that just celebrated the birth of their second child this past year.  It all started when Glenn attended Belmont University in Nashville, TN where he was introduced to great craft beers like those from Yazoo Brewing and Blackstone Brewing.  Glenn studied music, business, and marketing at Belmont before graduating and eventually made his way back to his hometown of Hampton, GA.  After collage Glenn worked for the family business doing sales, marketing, and graphic design work.  Glenn picked up the hobby of home brewing along the way, and after years of working with the family business and home brewing on the side for fun, he had the opportunity in 2008 to purchase the old Atlanta Buckhead Brewery equipment as well as the old jail house building in Hampton.  The equipment was a 15 BBL Pub Brewing system with four 15 BBL fermenters and three 15 BBL brite tanks.  The equipment was just the right size for the old Hampton Jail house that was located in downtown Hampton, waiting to be purchased and renovated into something new.

Every home brewer at one point dreams of making that perfect pint for more than just the friends and relatives that come over to the house to share their creations.  For Glenn the question was “Do I try to do this every day and make a dream a reality and make a business out of beer or do I ruin a perfectly good hobby?”  Well the dream has become a reality and the hobby has not been ruined.  Glenn and his team at JailHouse are making great beers that are available in the Atlanta market.  After deciding to make brewing his career Glenn enrolled in the American Brewers Guild and did a five-week internship at Yazoo Brewing in Nashville.  After purchasing the old jail in downtown Hampton that has been home to a firehouse, mason lodge, courthouse and sandwich shop, and getting renovations underway he had to purchase equipment.  That came from the defunct Buckhead Brewery in Atlanta that was stared by Gary Essex.  Once the equipment was purchased and moved in to the newly renovated space the brewery came to life and has been moving forward and growing ever since.

JailHouse beers are available on draft in the Atlanta market and in bottles.  When the brewery first opened they offered draft only but in November of 2010 they began to bottle in 22 oz bombers using a self-designed bottle machine that they had fabricated at a local machine shop.  The original line was run for six to eight months and required everyone to be involved on bottling day.  By hand the team could package around 60 cases a day with their personal record being 1 bottle every 8.23 seconds!  Since then JailHouse has upgraded to a Maheen line that is more automated and will allow for greater distribution.

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JailHouse has four beers that they offer year-round.  The first is Slammer Wheat, brewed in the American-style.  This beer is brewed using Sterling hops to 15 IBU, and is 12 Plato brewed with malted pilsner and wheat malts.  Glenn describes Slammer Wheat as being low in phenols, with slight citrus notes, light bodied, and it pours a slightly hazy pale golden color.  It is designed for the new craft beer drinker in mind, or for the seasoned veteran that wants to enjoy something that they can drink over and over in a session without going overboard on the alcohol or heaviness of many of the newer craft offerings.  Next is the Mugshot IPA 6.7 ABV 50 IBU and 14 P.  Mugshot is brewed using Two-row barley, Munich, Carmel and Special Roast malts from Briess and is hopped with Warrior, Chinook, Cascade and Sterling hops.  This is one of the original home brewing recipes Glenn started out brewing and says that the recipe has changed ever so slightly over time.  He describes it as a “Southern-style IPA”, not a hop bomb but yet still bitter enough to satisfy the IPA lover.  It is bright and full of citrus flavors, has a hint of malty biscuit flavor but finishes dry.  Breakout Stout is the third year-round offering from JailHouse. Brewed in the American-style to 7.8 ABV it is full bodied.  Malts are simple in this one, just two-row, carmel, chocolate and roasted barley with Chinook and Cascade hops.  Just added to the lineup is Misdemeanor Ale, medium-bodied, amber in color with earthy and floral hops notes from Willamette and Liberty.

JailHouse also makes a special series of beers that are brewed one time only called the Solitary Confinement Series.  The first beer in this series was released in 2011 and was very well received with JailHouse fans clamoring for more to be produced.  That beer was called Midnight Special, an Imperial Black IPA. The beer was dry hopped with five pounds of Centennial hops, making a total of 15 pounds of hops in the 15 BBL batch after bittering additions with Warrior and Centennial to more than 80 IBU.  The second beer released in 2012 is Hop Riot Double Imperial Pale Ale (not IPA) 8 % ABV.  This beer is malty, full of big American hops, and stands up to any other 2X IPA on the market.

So what’s on the horizon for JailHouse?  Well they have three new 30 BBL fermenters on the way that will be in place in early 2012 and that will allow the brewery team of John Pierce, Assistant Brewer, and Ben Bishop, part timer brewer, to expand capacity.  JailHouse is working to grow their footprint in the Atlanta market while bringing attention to their hometown of Hampton.  Glenn believes that the people of Hampton see his brewery as an “eye-opening experience” to local business.  Who would have thought that a small brewery could do such big things for a small town like the one they choose to build their brand in.  Glenn is proud to own and operate his brewery in Hampton, and to bring positive press and attention to the growing business community he calls home.  JailHouse is not only creating the story as they go but they are doing it their own way as well!