In 1819, when brothers William and James Badlun opened the state’s first commercial brewery just west of Huntsville, they advertised their “porter … of a quality inferior to none.” While that may have been the case at the time, the final product likely resembled something quite different from what we’ve come to expect from a beer with that description.
Many of the simplest conveniences now enjoyed by brewers just weren’t around at the time.
Yeast wouldn’t be fully understood until the 1860s, when the work of Louis Pasteur shed light on the process of fermentation.
Porous wooden barrels were the most common serving vessels, glass bottles were not yet mass produced and refrigeration was still a half-century in the future.
Thus, the resulting porter would have likely been quite sweet when fresh, with wild yeast, known now as Brettanomyces, soon imparting funky, barnyard-like flavors as the unrefrigerated beer continued to ferment in the wood serving vessels. Before long, this “stale” beer would transform into something entirely different — and likely not very good.
But when members of the state’s brewers guild gathered in December to collaborate on a beer to honor those pioneering brothers, they didn’t have such stringent restrictions, and the result is a delicious, robust Baltic-style porter that should withstand the test of time.
Badlun Brothers Imperial Porter is the second release in the “Capital Series” of statewide collaboration beers intended to draw attention to the Alabama Brewers Guild and the group’s causes, and it should be hitting Lower Alabama shelves and taps this week.
At 9 percent ABV, this beer earns its imperial distinction, thanks in part to an addition of dark molasses to the boil. “We wanted it to be nice and big,” Straight to Ale brewer Bob Gile said, adding that the molasses also provides a unique sweetness to the beer.
Gile led the brewing operations during the collaboration brew day at Straight to Ale on Dec. 8, and saw the gathering as a great way to network with his fellow brewers.
“It kind of reminded me of a homebrew day, when all your friends get together,” Gile said. “There’s a little bit of work for 30 minutes and then there’s just a lot of shootin’ the sh*t.”
Now that the beer is packaged in kegs and 22-ounce bombers, Gile is excited for the masses to try it.
“It’s really good,” he said, adding “the warmer it gets, the better it gets. … As long as you don’t chug that glass, it’s going to get better when it gets to about 50-55 degrees. The roastiness and the chocolate really come out at those temperatures.”
Quantities of Badlun Brothers Imperial Porter are limited. A portion of the proceeds from sales will be donated to the Alabama Constitution Village’s Bicentennial Restoration Fund.
Badlun Brothers Imperial Porter: Brewed at Straight to Ale Brewing Co. in Huntsville by members of the Alabama Brewers Guild, this beer is very dark brown, malt-balanced with very little hop presence and a nice, chocolate-forward flavor with little roastiness. It is available in limited quantities on draft and in 22-ounce bottles.