Am I crazy, or is Mobile awash in great beer all of a sudden? Actually, don’t answer that first bit; I know there’s a padded room waiting somewhere with my name above the door. Nonetheless, Mobile is awash in great beer right now and I hope you’re not missing out.
Mobile’s inaugural Great Firkin Fest at Moe’s Original Bar B Que was hopping (pun intended) when I dropped by April 5. Ten microbreweries each supplied a firkin of one of their more-special brews, setting up a range of flavors sure to energize bored palates. The breweries included eight from Alabama — Blue Pants Brewery (Madison), Back Forty Beer Company (Gadsden), Cahaba Brewing (Birmingham), Druid City Brewing (Tuscaloosa), Fairhope Brewing Company (Fairhope), and Yellowhammer Brewing, The Brew Stooges and Rocket Republic Brewing (Huntsville, Huntsville and Huntsville) — plus Southern Prohibition Brewing (Hattiesburg, Miss.) and Tallgrass Brewing (Manhattan, Kan.).
One brew was accented with granny smith apple slices, and another with black peppercorns. Colors ran the spectrum from pale-gold pilsner to black-night stout. It was the perfect chance to conduct an in-depth new-brew investigation without investing in a six-pack of the unknown.
Did most folks even know what a firkin was before this year? Now these little kegs are everywhere. Cottage Hill Package Store tapped a firkin from Tallgrass at a recent Firkin Friday, virtually spewing beer faster than folks could drink it (which is pretty amazing, if you’ve hung out with the expert drinking clientele at Cottage Hill). The beer was Tallgrass Oasis Ale, a dry-hopped Imperial ESB (extra-special bitter) brewed with Centennial hops and orange peel, so you know it was a sharp, dry, citrusy bonanza. It also was a bit cloudy, but that’s the nature of the firkin — fear not, it’s only natural. (7.2 percent ABV, also available in cans.)
So if we’ve had our first Firkin Fest, are there more festive firsts on tap for Mobile? Indeed, there are! The inaugural Port City Brew Fest will take place on Saturday, May 3, featuring more than 200 beers at Cooper Riverside Park in downtown. The beer list isn’t quite ready for prime-time publication, but watch this space and visit http://portcitybrewfest.com for more. A little birdie tells me there will be specialty and cask beers that have never graced Mobile Bay’s shores before — and may never come again.
Beyond festivals, the everyday drinking scene continues to soar in our quiet town. I slipped seamlessly from the Firkin Fest to the LoDa Bier Garten (always a favorite) to see what was new on tap, and found the Oskar Blues Brewing Company (Brevard, N.C.) comfortably ensconced — with four drafts on offer. I dove into a glass of Deviant Dale’s IPA and made it disappear. Dry and hoppy without being citrusy, Deviant Dale’s has a solid structure and malt flavors to match wits with the hops.
It goes great with a German-style wurst and potato salad. (I can’t write about food, but if I could I’d comment on the Bier Garten’s knockout warm potato salad. Maybe I could say more if it had beer in it, but somehow I’ve forgotten … Anyway, the important news is that the Bier Garten has conspired with Abita to whip up some fine main courses with beer-infused sauces — so if you haven’t visited lately, stop wondering what’s for dinner and go.)
The Bier Garten also highlights Lasso India Pale Ale from the Great Divide Brewing Company (Denver, Colo.) among its new beers on tap. This brew is noticeably lighter than Deviant Dale’s IPA (5 percent ABV in contrast to Dale’s 8 percent), with striking citrus hop aromas and a whiff of banana and yeast. There’s a hop hit on the palate — you don’t need to be told it’s an IPA — but not a hop overload. Its citrus-pith finish grips your uvula (look it up, if you dare) and hangs on down your gullet; malt makes up the background of this beer. You can also find Lasso in bottles and it goes well with a range of homey foods — chili to corn chips to chocolate-chip cookies.
Now not to ignore wine, I’d like to give a quick shout out to the folks at Ed’s Seafood Shed for their new and improved wine list! Ed’s now offers a baker’s dozen of white wines by the bottle, and another of reds, with about half of each available by the glass. And the selection is pretty wide — ranging from Aussie Shiraz to Washington state’s Chardonnay, with numerous offerings from California’s well-known vineyards. If it were me, I’d rebalance the list just slightly by eliminating some of its six Chardonnays and introducing some noteworthy alternate whites. The Chardonnays do hail from different regions, though, bringing distinctive flavor profiles to the table.
I tried the Red Diamond — no relation to the coffee — Chardonnay 2009 and was pleasantly surprised. Although my first sip didn’t thrill me, I give major kudos to whoever figured out how well this wine from Washington state would work with Ed’s seafood. Some wines are just more food-friendly than others, and Red Diamond absolutely glowed with Ed’s shrimp bisque and his grilled Caribbean shrimp. This wine, like most on Ed’s list, costs $7 for a nice-sized glass, not a measly 4-ounce pour — thanks to the bartender’s generosity, too. (And if you’d rather have a beer, Ed’s is serving the New Belgium line in bottles. Fat Tire and the other New Belgium siblings have taken Mobile by storm for good reason. Excellent!)
And for one last look at festivals, there’s been a date change for the Mobile area’s first homebrew festival and competition — Best of the Bay Burgers & Brew — originally slated for May 3. It is now scheduled for Nov. 1. With an extra six months to experiment, I expect home brewers to hone and refine their skills. Watch this space for more information on how you can enter to compete and attend to enjoy — and support local charity, too.