Grand Cru,” a French phrase often used by breweries and wineries to denote their absolute finest products, translates literally to “great growth.” So deciding on “Grand Krewe” for the name of this column was a no-brainer — a Mobile spin on what has undoubtedly been great growth of a culture dedicated to the world’s finest beers.
And boy, how that culture has grown in the last 10 years.
Picture this: Alabama, October 2005. A relatively unknown Birmingham-area beer geek named Danner Kline appears on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” to discuss his new organization, Free The Hops. The grassroots group (cue the audience laughter) is on a mission to improve Alabama’s beer laws for the better (more laughter).
As you might expect from “The Daily Show,” the clip is riddled with jabs at our state that draw plenty of chortles from the audience, but hidden amid the jokes is a depressing vision of what Alabama’s beer laws were at the time.
Nothing above 6 percent alcohol.
Nothing in a bottle bigger than 16 ounces.
Archaic brewery laws.
It was the dark ages for beer lovers in the state; nationally, craft beer was taking off like wildfire, but here in Alabama we lagged behind. Journeys of great distances were made to other states solely to visit breweries or buy beer outlawed in Alabama (guilty). Craftier types openly homebrewed in their driveways (also guilty), aware that it was not quite legal but willing to take the risk to brew something that would fill the void created by the state’s ass-backward beer laws.
Today you will find a much different landscape. In a state where there was just one production brewery and a handful of brewpubs in 2005, there are now nearly 30 operating breweries and brewpubs.
So many out-of-state breweries have entered the market since the passage of the Gourmet Beer Bill in 2009 that some have already come and gone from taps and shelves. Colorado’s Tommyknocker Brewery, for instance, did so well in Alabama in the year after the bill passed that they brewed up a Black IPA as an exclusive “thank you” just for the state. Now, they’re nowhere to be found in Alabama.
With the industry here experiencing such great growth, simply trying to pick out a six-pack at the beer store can be a little overwhelming, but that’s where I hope to come in. I’ve learned a lot since I last wrote publicly about beer in 2012. Two and a half years of professional brewing and the insane process of studying for the Certified Cicerone exam have given me a whole new perspective on craft beer, and I look to share that perspective with you in a way that I hope will enrich your enjoyment and appreciation of one of America’s great crafts.
There’s no question beer is my passion, and future “Grand Krewe” columns will mostly focus on my favorite fermented beverage. But I will also be writing about other libations, leaning heavily on the folks in Lower Alabama with a greater depth of knowledge on the subject to get you timely and accurate information from the worlds of wine and liquor.
I look forward to sharing my love of craft beer with Lagniappe readers, and I hope you look forward to drinking alongside me just as much. Cheers!