For the past 25 years or so, as craft breweries began dotting the American landscape they brought about urban renewal as well. As brewers sought out cheap real estate, they often gravitated to old, often abandoned warehouses in blighted sections of town — if you’re just brewing beer, it didn’t really matter.
However, as taprooms emerged as an essential part of craft breweries, these often out-of-the-way locations soon became destinations for beer lovers, creating an economic mix of both manufacturing and tourism. As a result, other businesses began to spring up in those areas, spearheading urban revival.
For a whole host of reasons — state laws, mainly — the South in general, and Alabama in particular, lagged behind in the development of a craft beer industry and the subsequent economic side benefits local breweries bring with them. However, that has certainly begun to change in the past decade. Look no farther than the way sections of Birmingham, such as Avondale, have been revitalized by its breweries, and the resulting restaurants, bars and other entertainment that have grown up in their wake.
Mobile has been late to the craft beer party, but over the past year we have seen the emergence of two local breweries that have followed this model of taking blighted buildings and turning them into thriving destinations. Serda Brewing, which just celebrated its one-year anniversary a couple of weeks ago, is housed in a former Goodyear tire shop on Government Street. Owner John Serda has turned what was once an eyesore into a fantastic indoor/outdoor space to meet friends, have a beer and even enjoy a meal from one of the food trucks that are regularly on-site. It’s probably no coincidence that our new Lagniappe offices are located just a few doors away, also part of the revival of downtown Mobile.
Less than a mile away, just off Canal on Monroe Streets, Keith Sherrill took the old Crystal Ice House and turned it into the Haint Blue Brewing Co. While only opened in November, the ice house has already become a favorite spot for Mobilians to have a beer and relax, often to the accompaniment of live music.
If 2018 saw the development of breweries south of LoDa, 2019 promises to be the year craft breweries open in the area just north of Dauphin Street (NoLoDa?).
Iron Hand Brewing held its soft opening last week (with food only, no beer yet), and plans to host its official grand opening — with its own beer — sometime in January. Located on State Street in the DeTonti Square neighborhood, owners Rebecca Williams and Ben Ross have renovated the old Waterfront Rescue Mission into a traditional English pub. Unlike Serda’s and Haint Blue, Iron Hand is a restaurant with a full kitchen. However, because of state laws, the beer they brew on-site can only be sold in the brewpub.
Just a couple of blocks from Iron Hand, two more breweries are set to open later in 2019, both along the old “Automobile Alley” on St. Louis Street.
David Nelson, a former brewmaster at Lonerider Brewing Co. in Durham, North Carolina, recently moved to Mobile when his wife took a faculty position at the University of South Alabama. After searching for the right location to open his own brewery, he’s in the process of renovating the ground floor of the old Mobile Register Building — originally a Chevrolet dealership in the early 20th century — at the corner of St. Louis and Hamilton as the Braided River Brewing Co.
Just up the street, owners Chad Marchand and John Minton are preparing to open Old Majestic Brewing Co. Unlike the renovations for Braided River, Old Majestic will be housed in a 1920s Mississippi cotton warehouse that was dismantled brick-by-brick and rebuilt in Mobile. While updated with modern amenities, “the main architectural features, including the ironwork, bricks, windows, etc., will remain authentic from the original warehouse,” according to Marchand. “This approach gives a modern facility while still incorporating the restored feeling of the other buildings on St. Louis Street.”
The new year certainly promises to be an exciting one for the continued development of the craft beer industry in Mobile.