Alabama

Hops in Heaven: Straight to Ale Brewing in Huntsville, Ala.

One of the earliest craft breweries to open in Huntsville was Straight to Ale Brewing.  The brewery originally opened on Leeman Ferry Road in a former industrial area across from Joe W. Davis Stadium, then the home of the Southern League’s Huntsville Stars.  Like many things in the Rocket City over the past few years, progress led to some notable changes.  The Stars left town (and became the Biloxi Shuckers), and the craft beer scene in the city took off.

Following a massive overhaul of the former Stone Middle School property just west of downtown, Straight to Ale relocated from its original facility south of downtown to the new Campus 805.  There is much more history to the brewery than I’m going to delve into in a blog post, so I’m going to focus on the present and the brewery’s expansive space at Campus 805.

There are two entrances to the brewery: one being an entrance from the school’s former driveway and another from the greenspace in the middle of Campus 805. My wife Katie and I entered from Butler Green.

Entering from Butler Green visitors pass by the outside bar, which wasn’t busy at the time we passed through because it was just before five o’clock and partially because it was cooler outside.

A view of the outdoor bar.

Despite a small crowd at the time we passed through, the outside bar is a great place to enjoy during the spring and summer months.  After walking through the brewing facility (more on that later), visitors arrive at the taproom.

An overview of the taproom.

There are a lot of things that are unique about Straight to Ale and its facility, which I will delve into one at a time.  One of the most notable differences between Straight to Ale and many other breweries is that the brewery has a full kitchen.  When the brewery opened at its previous location, a food truck opened in the brewery’s parking lot.  The food truck did so well and was so popular that when the brewery relocated that it was logical to partner with the food truck to operate the kitchen.

Trying to describe the menu is nearly impossible because it covers a bit of everything.  It includes traditional American fare, Korean, Tex-Mex, and more.  Katie and I ordered a combination platter of  chicken wings and St. Louis-style ribs.

A plate of wings with Jerk Buffalo sauce and crispy Asian ribs covered in Mogwai Teriyaki sauce.

The ribs traditionally come covered in Mogwai Teriyaki sauce, which is delicious.  You can get other sauces, but there’s no reason to choose anything besides the Mogwai Teriyaki.  There are a lot of choices for topping the chicken wings ranging from BBQ to the mouth-burning xXxtraHot Diablo, which is a nine-pepper blend.  Katie and I opted for Jerk Buffalo upon the recommendation of Matt Cooper, who later took us on a tour of the facility.  The Jerk Buffalo sauce was outstanding as it combined traditional buffalo sauce with Jamaican jerk spices to create a deliciously, unique blend of flavors.

After finishing our dinner, we got a personal tour of the brewery from Matt Cooper.  Cooper a.k.a Coop is a sales rep covering north Alabama, and worked for the brewery in a variety of positions before recently transitioning into sales.

Before we left the taproom though, I had to snap one last picture.

A view of beer for sale and the Monkeynaut cutout.

It’s common place to see breweries selling beer to take home, but I wanted to capture the Monkeynaut cutout.  You don’t have to be a kid to enjoy a cutout.  Leaving the taproom we found some artwork.

Some artwork near the Speakeasy.

Right after the artwork most visitors will see a set of old lockers, and probably think nothing of them.  After all, you’re in a former middle school so it’s not surprising to see a set of lockers.  However, the lockers hide the brewery’s speakeasy.

Coop explains some of the history behind the Speakeasy.

As Coop explained, the Speakeasy used to be the former band room.  The lockers hide what used to be a private practice room before opening up to the huge space that used to be the band room.

The Speakeasy is truly unique.  It is designed to be like a Speakeasy during Prohibition, and is the only place at the brewery where you can order Shelta Cavern Spirits.  The available spirits are gin, rum, vodka, and whiskey.  The spirits are also brewed on site.  The vibe in the Speakeasy is purposefully quite different from the taproom.  There is a movie screen that continuously shows black-and-white films from Turner Classic Movies.

Down the hall from the Speakeasy is the game room.

An overview of pinball machines and pool tables as part of the game room.

The game room has pool tables and pinball machines, and at one point had a pinball league.  I’m not sure exactly how a pinball league operates, but it sounds like a cool idea.

The amazing thing about Straight to Ale is that so far everything I’ve written about focuses on drinking beer, eating food, sipping liquor, and playing games.  It’s almost as if they don’t brew beer on site.  Of course, that’s not the case.  So onto making beer…

After taking Katie and I to the brewery’s gigantic cold storage room, Coop took us around to the old gymnasium.  That is where Straight to Ale brews beer, and if you enter the brewery from Butler Green it is what you see before reaching the taproom.

The basketball goals are leftover from the old gymnasium, and a regular part of activities for workers at the brewery.  At the time we passed through, guys were playing a game and also tossing around a Frisbee with the movable disc golf goals.  The brewery used to have some equipment at its Leeman Ferry Road facility, but recently relocated everything and closed that location because of Alabama alcohol laws that made it more difficult to brew at two places.

Previously I mentioned Shelta Caverns Spirits, which are served in the Speakeasy.  Those are also distilled at the Campus 805 location, but technically in a distinct space different from the brewery.

A view of the still used by Shelta Cavern Spirits.

In a fenced in space with a lock is the still that head distiller Bojangle uses to produce the gin, rum, vodka, and whiskey available in the Speakeasy.  As Coop explained, the name comes from Shelta Cave, which is just north of Huntsville.  During Prohibition it was used as a speakeasy and dance hall, so when Straight to Ale decided to produce spirits it was the logical local name.

Seeing the brewing equipment and still was the end of our tour, but people wanting to tour the brewery don’t have to know someone to see all the behind-the-scenes stuff.  Straight to Ale offers free tours on Saturdays at 2 p.m.  As awesome as it was to see all the behind-the-scenes stuff, I haven’t discussed the main reason people visit a brewery’s taproom: beer.

Straight to Ale brews a variety of beers, many with humorous local-inspired names.  Monkeynaut, one of the brewery’s four year-round beers, is an India pale ale that derives its name from Miss Baker, which is the monkey that NASA launched into space.  After returning from space Miss Baker lived at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, so it made sense to name a beer after one of the city’s key industries and local legends.  Stout at the Devil isn’t named after any local legend, but is an oatmeal stout brewed with caramel coffee that was named best new stout in Alabama by Beer Guys Radio (read the full list here).

Straight to Ale has been around long enough to gain a well-earned reputation for producing great beers, but visiting a brewery’s taproom isn’t about sampling beers you can buy at your local craft beer store.  Visiting the taproom is about sampling the unique one-offs and experimental small batches.  During this visit I got to sample Pumpkin Lily, which is a one-off from the brewery’s year-round Lily Flagg milk stout.  It was smooth and malty with some great pumpkin and spice notes.  I also drank Black Kvass Ale, which is typically made with dark rye and popular in Eastern Europe.  It was quite different from other beers I’ve drank, but very enjoyable.

However, I was most excited to try the latest version of Juicy Bunny, which is Straight to Ale’s take on a New England IPA.  It didn’t look hazy and cloudy like the typical New England IPA, but it was a great combination of citrus flavors with minimal bitterness.  It was tapped in honor of Drew, one of the brewers, and his final day working at Straight to Ale.  Although the brewery had bottled and distributed the first batch of Juicy Bunny, the batch that was tapped that day has not been distributed throughout the state.

As with many larger breweries, Straight to Ale offers something for just about everybody’s palate.  So whether you like hoppy IPAs, chocolatey and coffee influenced stouts, or lighter wheat ales, you can find something to suit your beer drinking needs.  If you’re not a beer drinker, you may enjoy the spirits available in the Speakeasy.  If you don’t drink at all and you’re just hanging out with friends, you’ll still enjoy all the Straight to Ale offers when you feast on the delicious food options from Ale’s Kitchen.  Without a doubt, this is a full-service brewery.

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