We’ve got new craft beer in the Mobile market, with the arrival of brews from the Blue Pants Brewery last month, and I’ve just made a pilgrimage to check out the source. Hey — some people trek to Lourdes to take the waters; I drive to the northern fringes of Alabama’s longest Interstate to drink the beer.
Blue Pants Brewery opened the doors to its tap room in Madison, Ala. earlier this year, started selling six-packs in April, and claims to make “unreasonably good beers.” One of the owners told me their goal was to put their own special twist on any beer style they make, like using American hops in their — typically Irish — Knickerbocker American Red Ale. I went to the taproom planning to try one or two, tried two, then rounded up friends and went back the next night for more. (Actions speak louder than words, doncha know.)
Blue Pants makes a wide range of styles and there were 10 on the chalkboard when I arrived — such as the Breeches Extra Special Bitter and the Slip Rose Strawberry Saison. Most of the beers are named for pants styles, which makes for an interesting theme (although you do wonder how many beers they can brew before they exhaust the category and have to branch out to Loincloth Lager or Pantyhose Pale Ale). Anyway, I started with the Spare Pair Pale Ale, which the owner says is a blend of two pale ale styles and I say is almost an IPA. It’s bitter and hoppy, and just a bit grassy. At 6 percent ABV it’s still very refreshing and food friendly — a great burger beer.
The Breeches ESB is decidedly more malty tasting and more golden colored than the Pale Ale, with less bitterness and more yeast. It’s medium bodied and dry, definitely not wimpy, with 5 percent ABV. There’s a hint of wood shavings from somewhere, with a long, dry finish. It and the Workman Common Lager (also 5 percent ABV) are two beers you can drink all night, although they taste nothing alike. Workman has striking floral aromas — I’d call it magnolia — with a sharp flavor edge of mandarin orange. I think it has way too much zip to be called a lager (and that’s a good thing).
Knickerbocker American Red Ale hits you first with pungent, hoppy notes, but then malt flavors come in as an undertone, singing bass. This beer is dry, dry, dry — with noticeable carbonation adding to the dry sensation. It’s very different from Killian’s Irish Red, if you’ve had that. (I’ve drunk gallons of Killians and it’s good beer; Knickerbocker is just very different — you should compare them and see.)
My favorite from Blue Pants was their Bourbon-Aged Pinstripe Stout, which is black-hole dark but not at all heavy; it is not your loaf-of-bread-in-a-glass beer. The carbonation is low and the alcohol (9 percent ABV) isn’t shy, but the roasted coffee bitterness keeps it brisk. There’s an appealing whiff of whisky on the nose and some whisky flavor notes, but neither overwhelms or detracts from the beerishness of this stout. It’s dry, with just enough caramelization to be lip-smacking, and a long finish.
The Highwater Hoppy Tripel makes you say “Whoa!” and “OMG!!” and will immediately replace the Pinstripe Stout as your favorite if you, like me, had thought it was. This is a rich, medium-bodied beer with flavors of orange, honey and whisky. It’s dry, though, and clean, not sticky. The finish is long and makes you want more. Some Belgian Tripels can be hugely heavy; maybe it’s the addition of American hops to this four-hop blend that keeps Highwater from sinking.
Rounding out the lineup — or at least what I was able to wade through — is Liberation Wee Heavy Strong Scottish Ale (the “Big and Tall” release — served in 22-oz bombers). Now this is your loaf-of-bread-in-a-glass beer (which I mean in the nicest way; I adore bread) weighing in at 13 percent ABV. It’s an ultra-deep amber shade with a creamy brown head, aged in Bourbon barrels. Yeast notes dominate the flavors and the finish is very short. Like the other Blue Pants beers, though, it’s dry and very drinkable.
In the end, I didn’t manage to try all 10 — I missed the Strawberry Saison and the Barleywine — but I was blown away by everything I did try, as were my taster helpers. Blue Pants is now available at better wine and package stores in Mobile and my advice is: If you see it, buy it. And if you’re in Madison or Huntsville, drop by the taproom. It’s large and laid-back, with a direct view into the brewery and a lawn outside where there’s live music on Thursday and Friday nights (and good burgers, but I don’t write about food).
Several Blue Pants beers will be poured at the Dauphin Street Beer Festival on Aug. 24, by the way, much closer to home. Amber Waders of Grain will be at The Garage, while Workman Common Lager will be at Union and Slip Rose Strawberry Saison will be at the Joe Cain Café.
And speaking of Northern Alabama brews, Monkeynaut IPA (made at Huntsville’s Straight to Ale Brewery) will be available at Boo Radley’s during the Festival. This beer has a dark gold color — more like an amber ale — and a super-hoppy taste. It’s bitter and dry, with flavors of grapefruit and pine resin and floral hop aromas (chrysanthemums, seriously). There is a slight malty undertone, like a trellis supporting the hops.
The alcohol, 7.25 percent, is not at the extreme end of the spectrum, which helps make Monkeynaut easy-drinking and refreshing. It’s an approachable, all-around drink-with-almost anything (especially anything grillable) IPA. And, if you want more after the festival, it’s available in cans at many Mobile package stores.
Go forth and be festive!