OK, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow on Groundhog Day, meaning there is supposed to be six more weeks of winter. I’d like to point out, however, that this pesky rodent lives in Pennsylvania; while in Mobile on Feb. 2 it was cloudy.
So Norbert Nutria, or whatever we call Phil’s southern cousin, definitely did not see his shadow. Call me crazy, but I’m predicting spring will come early to Lower Alabama.
What does this have to do with beer? Breweries are gearing up to produce their spring seasonal ales, for one thing — some of which are already appearing on shelves at package stores near you. For another thing, an amazing number of beer festivals, new beer launches and similar celebrations of the barley-based beverage are either under way as I write or being planned for the not-too-distant future. We’re already shaking off the winter doldrums and anticipating the green (hop) shoots of spring.
Leading the celebrations was the Fairhope Brewing Company’s one-year anniversary, which they celebrated with a major bash Feb. 8. Fairhope Brewing has enjoyed enormous success during its first year and its beers are available on tap throughout the Mobile area. If you missed the birthday party, don’t despair. Fairhope’s brewers produced several new brews especially for the occasion, and they’ve told me they’re gauging people’s interest in them as they decide what to brew next.
I asked the Fairhope folks what they’d enjoyed most about the past year, and they said the overwhelming reception they’d received from the craft-beer drinkers of this area was one of the accomplishments they were happiest about. Brewing a special batch of beer (Lil Poison Brown Ale) with Grayson Capps also ranked high. For spring, Fairhope Brewing will re-release its Rescue Dog Red Ale, an imperial red ale featuring Cascade, Citra and Centennial hops — an early grapefruit harvest! — and brew new batches of its (Take the) Causeway IPA.
Speaking of new brews, Gulf Coast Distributing has done Mobilians a huge favor by bringing the New Belgium Brewing Company to the area, including New Belgium’s Spring Blonde seasonal ale. (I told you we’d have an early spring!) New Belgium is a Colorado brewery that began production modestly in 1991 when the brewery’s founder decided to move from home to commercial brewing. By 2010, it was the third-largest craft brewery and seventh-largest overall brewery in America. New Belgium probably is best known for its Fat Tire Amber Ale, as well as its Ranger IPA — a long-time favorite of mine, with its blast of tangerine-tangy hops.
New Belgium’s Spring Blonde calls itself a Belgian-style ale, but Belgian-style ales vary along a broad spectrum, so you need to know that this one is very light. It has a pale gold color, faint aromas, a harmonious balance between malt and hop, and decent fizz to spread its flavors around your mouth. Spring Blonde is outstanding with food, because its subtle flavors let the food shine — sort of the way the Pips let Gladys Knight shine.
Don’t over-chill it, or you’ll mask its flavors entirely. Try it with burgers, steaks or a Reuben — but not chicken salad (trust me on that one). All in all, Spring Blonde struck me as an ideal warm-weather beer, although maybe not a hot-weather beer. Somehow, New Belgium has managed to perfectly match the beer with the season. (6 percent ABV; available at better package stores.)
If you’re into pairing beer with food, then you won’t want to miss Lucky Irish Pub & Grill’s beer-pairing dinner on Thursday, Feb. 27. There will be a multi-course meal (I’ve heard rumors of duck sliders!) with a specially selected beer to accompany each course. The Pub’s crew is even commissioning a tailor-made dessert beer to cap off the meal. Will the long-awaited “beer float” make an appearance? Maybe, if you ask nicely. Tickets are $50 each, and well worth the price. Reserve yours by calling 251-414-3000.
Now, have you ever heard of a website called theCHIVE? I have to admit it had slipped under my radar until recently. It aims to be the “best site in the world” for funny photos and videos, with a ginormous fan-base whose motto is “Keep Calm and Chive On.” More importantly, for our purposes, its parent company (Resignation Media) has created a brewery — Resignation Brewery — and teamed up with Redhook Brewery to produce and market its own KCCO (standing for, yes, Keep Calm and Chive On) beer.
The brewery’s goal is as lofty as the website’s: “To make the highest quality beer possible here in America.” By pursuing this worthwhile aim, theCHIVE hopes to move beyond connecting people in cyberspace to prompting physical connections through the shared enjoyment of beer.
On Friday, March 7, Bud-Busch Distributing will host the official south Alabama launch of KCCO beer at the Brickyard, located at 266 Dauphin Street in Downtown Mobile. The event kicks off at 9 p.m. and continues until the beer runs out. KCCO offers a Black Lager, a Gold Lager and a White Wheat. The Black Lager, which intrigues me most, reportedly is a smooth, toasty lager with notes of chocolate and coffee — a lighter-bodied “session beer,” unlike heavy dark porters or stouts, with roughly 5 percent ABV.
Looking to celebrations further in the future, if you’re a home brewer — or a fan of their endeavors — you’ll want to prep your gear and mark your calendars for the “Best of the Bay Burgers & Brew” festival in support of the Alabama Kidney Foundation. The Mobile Bay area’s first home-brew competition will take place on Saturday, May 3, in Fairhope. I’ll have more to say about this event as the date approaches, but home brewers need to register and get brewing quickly! Making beer isn’t like whipping up a batch brownies, you know. (Although the two do go well together.)
And yes, there will also be a burger competition at Best of Bay Burgers & Brew. Look for posters appearing soon around town and stay tuned here for more details.
Correction: The original version of this article suggested Fairhope Brewing Co.’s beer is bottled. Currently, it is only available on tap.