Photo | Tom Ward
Daphne’s Southern Napa hosted its 7th Annual 99 Bottles of Beer on the Lawn festival on May 11, and, despite threatening weather, more than 370 craft-beer lovers sampled brews from 34 different breweries. Festival organizer and Southern Napa owner, Jim Cox, stated that “99 Bottles is about growing craft beer in South Alabama … It’s a chance for people from our area to learn about a new beer they like and then hopefully purchase that beer from a retailer or at an establishment in our area going forward.”
Eight Alabama breweries were represented at the festival, including local favorites Serda Brewing and Fairhope Brewing Company. There were also a number of well-known regional brewers from Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana and Georgia, including eight breweries that were newly added since last year’s festival. This year’s event not only featured breweries from the Southeast, but across the nation. There were even some international entries, with beers from Canada, Germany and Iceland, as well as two cideries from Sweden.
Reflecting a trend in craft brewing over the past year or so, there were a large number of sours available for tasting at the festival. While most were fairly unremarkable, three stood out: Southern Prohibition’s Lemon Icebox Gose (Hattiesburg), Tin Roof’s Über Froot (Baton Rouge) and Fairhope’s Maverick. All were excellent, especially refreshing for the warm months ahead; all had great citrus flavors, but still tasted like beers, not kiddie drinks.
While sours are the shiny new thing, India pale ales (IPAs) remain the bell cow for almost all craft breweries, and virtually all the brewers at the festival had their take on the craft favorite. Again, many were relatively non-descript, but a couple stood out. I’ve never been a big fan of Grayton Beer Company (Santa Rosa Beach, Florida), but I gave their 30A IPA a try and was happily surprised. It was light, like the other Grayton beers I’ve had, but with some nice hoppy flavor — a good beach beer, which I suspect is what they were going for.
Apart from a number of my favorite IPAs available at the festival — such as SoPro’s Devil’s Harvest, Fairhope’s Take the Causeway and Goat Island’s Big Bridge IPA (Cullman) — the best pale ales I had at Southern Napa were the Rye Charles IPA from Pretoria Fields Collective (Albany, Ga.) and the One Hazy Summer from Boston’s Harpoon Brewery. These were very different beers — the Rye Charles was dry, with a real bite at the finish, while the One Hazy Summer was a light, fruity, hazy ale.
In addition to being a beer festival, 99 Bottles is also a competition, with all tasters getting a ballot with 10 “heart” tickets to give out to their favorite beers, and one “golden” ticket to give to what they deemed the best beer at the festival. Like last year, the big winners were, again, Fairhope Brewing Company and Cullman’s Goat Island.
Goat Island took home awards for both top brewery (determined by the most overall votes for all of a brewery’s beers) and top Alabama beer for its (excellent) Blood Orange; last year it won for its Duck River Dunkel. The People’s Choice Award went to Fairhope’s Dracarys imperial stout, which received the most golden tickets. It was not only the best beer at the festival, but the most unique. While many of the brewers were offering lighter, sweeter and fruiter options, Fairhope went the other way, putting forth a dark, rich stout. Brewed with serrano peppers, it had strong notes of chocolate and coffee. Fairhope won last year’s prize for another imperial stout, its Kingslayer.
Dracarys, along with most of the other beers from the festival, are available at Southern Napa or online at southernnapa.com. Cox said that he can also special order any of the festival beers.
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