The 17th Annual Dauphin Street Beer Festival is Saturday, Aug. 23 and for those of you who haven’t been checking Facebook, this year’s event looks to include more venues and more new beers than ever – many of them Alabama born-and-brewed. Sure, lots of the breweries are familiar, from Abita to Widmer, but they haven’t stopped innovating and they’ll be showcasing their latest and greatest alongside a few old friends. I’m not going to attempt an all-inclusive list (that’s what Facebook is for), but I want to spotlight some recommendations from my personal taste tests.
First up is Fairhope Brewing Company’s “I Drink Therefore I Amber,” which you can sample at the Joe Cain Café. Dan Murphy, Fairhope’s Head Brewer, says, “this amber’s got a bit more complexity than your average … amber. It utilizes two great and distinctive hops – Chinook and Australian Galaxy – and has a very forward malt profile that puts it at the darker end of the scale for the style.”
It started life as a seasonal but, due to popular demand, it’s now a year-round player.
My first impression of this cola-colored beer was more of a chocolate Porter than an amber ale, due to a distinct roasted malt hit on the back palate. Further sipping (you can’t have just one) brought out hop notes around the front and sides of the tongue, and I caught myself making those “yummy sounds” – you know the ones. Definitely not deadly at 5.8 percent ABV.
I only wish Fairhope was also pouring its Hopua Session IPA. With its golden-amber color, four-hop Satsuma nose and light body (4.5 percent ABV), it would make for interesting comparison with the Festival’s other “session ales” – but it’s worth a trek to the tap room (hurry before this small-batch brew is gone).
Working our way north (on Alabama’s, not the Festival’s, map), Gadsden’s Back Forty Beer Company will offer Fence Post Session Ale for your consideration at the Saddle Up Saloon. Fence Post is lightly hopped and mildly bitter, with noticeable grain from its four-malt blend. At 4.5 percent ABV it’s meant to spur conversation, not squelch it – and its light body makes an effective humidity antidote.
Saddle Up will also serve Lasso IPA, released earlier this year to mark Denver-based Great Divide Brewing Company’s 20th anniversary. It’s another “session IPA” (5 percent ABV) that scores for its hop-malt balance and its pair-ability with food. Although Lasso is hop-forward, it isn’t pushy; it’s substantial – less of a brisk refresher than Fence Post. Try it with beefy chili or chocolate chip cookies (yes, way).
If you’re hunting beer from Huntsville, head to B-Bob’s for The Brew Stooges’ Blonde Dame, which I’ve come to love since first trying it at 99 Bottles of Beer on the Lawn. I was in an ultra-hoppy mood that day and although I found Blonde Dame mouth-filling, slightly tart and very refreshing, I didn’t fully appreciate its malty magic. It’s one to try when you want to dial down the citrus – and the alcohol (4 percent ABV).
Monkeynaught IPA from Huntsville’s Straight to Ale Brewery will be poured at the Soul Kitchen. It’s an old standard from Straight to Ale’s playlist and a repeat festival performer, but not one I’m tired of seeing. This beer has a dark gold color – more like an amber ale – super-hoppy (grapefruit, pine resin) flavors and floral hop aromas (chrysanthemum, seriously). There’s a slight malty undertone, though, like a trellis supporting the hops. The alcohol, 7.25 percent, is not in the “sessionable” range, but Monkeynaught is still an approachable, drink-with-almost anything (especially anything grilled) IPA.
Blue Pants Brewery (from Huntsville’s neighbor, Madison) will have its Spare Pair Pale Ale on tap at T.P. Crockmeier’s and Amber Waders of Grain lager making an encore festival appearance at the OK Bicycle Shop. Blue Pants says Spare Pair is a blend of two pale ale styles and I say it’s close to an IPA – bitter hoppy, and just a bit grassy. At 6 percent ABV it’s still very refreshing and food friendly – a great burger beer.
Alchemy Tavern will be serving Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ (Sumpin’ Ale), which is not a “frilly girl” beer, despite the frilly-looking girl on the label. This California girl has something up her sleeve (or maybe tucked into her boot). The label says you can expect “hops, malt, hops, hops, yeast, hops, water and hops,” so I guess it’s hoppy, but with a nicely burnt edge of roasted grain mixed in – and 50 percent wheat in the grain. It’s absolutely not bitter, with malt up front and hops coming through on the long, dry finish. This beer makes a capable fire extinguisher (try it with Mexican food). Basically, I like it and I don’t like wheat beers, so keep that in mind as you try it. (Limited summer release; 7.5 percent ABV.)
If you like Little Sumpin’ but want even more hops, check out Hop Stoopid Ale, a beer that’s both dry-hopped and laced with hop extract (which Lagunitas brewers claim gives a cleaner hop flavor), on tap at the Soul Kitchen. Don’t look for balance in this highly aromatic, bitter brew (8 percent ABV); it’s made for us unbalanced hop heads.
Hop heads will also want to drop anchor at the Brickyard for Ballast Point’s Big Eye IPA, a San Diego brew dry hopped with American Centennial and Columbus hops. Novices curious to know what these little flowers really taste like can stop searching. This bold, 7 percent ABV beverage doesn’t work or play well with foods, unless they put up a fight. You might like it on its own, though.
And to kill two birds with one stone, I’m hoping to try Rebellion Red from Huntsville’s Yellowhammer brewery – also on tap at the Brickyard and a beer I haven’t actually had. The website calls it “contemplative,” and goodness knows drinking makes me contemplate (How did I get here? What am I doing here? How can I get home?). It also promises German malts and light hoppiness, so we can contemplate how it differs from ultra-hoppy Big Eye.
Don’t forget the fruit beers, Scotch ales and apple ciders on tap at the festival, too. I’ve run out of space to describe them all, so you’ll just have to taste for yourselves. Enjoy the journey!