Alabama

Hops in Heaven: Interstellar Ginger Beer & Exploration Co. in Alabaster, Ala.

In a craft beer scene getting more and more crowded, it is getting difficult for newcomers to make their mark on the landscape.  So when Shane Kelly and Daniel Sims decided to open a brewery, they decided to differentiate themselves in the marketplace by brewing ginger beer.  The duo settled on a location south of Birmingham in Alabaster off Interstate 65 near the Shelby County Airport in order to sell their product to an under-served population.  So the first thing visitors see when coming to the brewery is its signage at the entrance to an industrial park.

Signage at the entrance to the industrial park.

The building that houses the brewery is at the end of a cul-de-sac on the right-hand side of the street.

Main entrance to the brewery.

There are several parking spots in the lot or on the side of the street.

Visitors walk immediately into the seating area with the bar in the back of the building.  The seating area has an area setup for live music, which happens about once a week at the brewery.  The coolest feature of the seating area is the nook tucked with two small couches.

Some indoors seating.

Just a few steps beyond the seating is the bar, which is usually staffed by the owners or a volunteer.

The tap list is written out on a whiteboard behind the bar with details explaining what flavors were added to make each ginger beer.  So if you’ve never tried ginger beer before or are unfamiliar with the options, you’ll be well informed when making your selection.  When my wife Katie & I arrived, we opted for two flights.  So the beertender set us up with two flights covering all the brews on tap.  We each got the staples with a little variety, too.

A flight of beers.

Each flight had the brewery’s two staples: First Contact and Space Mule (both of which I’ve had at beer festivals in the area).  Additionally, my flight had Ginger Colada, Ginger Sour, and Martian Mojito.  Katie’s flight also had Ginger Colada along with Andromeda Ambrosia and Blue Nebula Ginger Tonic.  For first time ginger beer drinkers, if you don’t try a flight I’d suggest ordering First Contact or Space Mule.  They are the most approachable and consist of flavors people typically find in other beverages.  First Contact combines ginger and lemon flavors while Space Mule has ginger and lime flavors.

If you’re a bit more adventurous and enjoy coconut, then you should try Ginger Colada, which tastes like its inspiration – a piña colada.  It is big on coconut, so be warned.  Ginger Sour is the brewery’s take on a whiskey sour.  Andromeda Ambrosia is a blend of hibiscus and bitter along with orange peel and ginger.  It is a vibrant pink brew, and very tasty.  Although I failed to capture a good photo, Blue Nebula Ginger Tonic glows in the dark and tastes like a gin and tonic.  So if you enjoy that hard liquor drink, you’d enjoy this ginger beer.  My favorite beer was Martian Mojito, which is a combination of ginger and mint flavors.  Based on its name, it tastes a lot like a mojito.  If you order a full pour of the Martian Mojito you will received it with a lime garnish, which is a nice compliment to the flavors in the brew.

Shortly after finishing our flights, Shane offered to take us on a tour of the facility.  Interestingly, the first stop was much closer than I expected as we walked into the cooler immediately behind the bar.  And what did I see?

A trio of movable fermentation tanks the cooler.

I saw a trio of fermentation tanks along with a few kegs.  Shane uses the coolers to drop the temperature of the ginger beer immediately after brewing it.  So instead of working with large, immovable equipment, Interstellar Ginger Beer & Exploration Company utilizes smaller, movable fermenters.

In a room just beyond the bar is where the brewing and kegging of the beer occurs.

Shane Kelly explaining the process of brewing ginger beer.

In the background, is the tank used at the brewery to move beer into kegs.  Although there are no scheduled tours, Kelly explained the process of brewing ginger beer to a rapt group of people who were also making their first visit to the brewery.  All their beers start as a simple water and sugar boil before the addition of yeast and any additional flavors as the wort is put into the movable fermenters.

The ginger used at the brewery is imported from China, and then cleaned and chopped up using a modified kitchen garbage disposal in another space.

A view of the ginger extractor used at the brewery.

In the third suite of the building Interstellar rents is where Kelly hopes to bottle their beer for distribution.

An overview of the bottling line.

Kelly bottled a small amount of the company’s flagship beer, First Contact, by April 5.  In the Star Trek universe, First Contact commemorates the first time humans had interaction with the Vulcans.  Star Trek and other science fiction materials have influenced the theme of the brewery, but Kelly explained that his real interest was just in outer space and setting the brewery apart from others in the area.

The space at the taproom is intimate, but visitors will not feel crowded as the seating extends into the parking lot to provide a lot of options for visitors.  If you’re a fan of science fiction and/or space, you’ll relish the decor of the taproom that evokes exploration.  The brews are not what many people expect when visiting a brewery taproom because they brew ginger beer, but the flavors are out of this world.  To truly appreciate and enjoy the taproom experience, visitors should set aside their preconceptions about a brewery and just focus on the flavors in the beers.

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Categories: Alabama, craft beer

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