Ask Straight to Ale (Huntsville, Ala.) co-founder Dan Perry who he credits for Alabama’s recent craft beer upswing and he’s quick to answer: homebrewers. After all, it was Free the Hops, a statewide organization run by homebrewers and beer enthusiasts, that helped lobby the Gourmet Beer Bill through the state legislature in 2009, raising beer’s ABV cap from 6% to 13.9%; Perry, an active member, filed papers for his brewery the following Monday. The organization also helped make it possible for breweries to sell beer on-premises (three brewery taprooms, including Straight to Ale’s, opened within six months of the bill passing in 2011) and pressured representatives into signing last year’s Gourmet Bottle Bill, allowing the sale of beer in 25-ounce bombers. Without question, homebrewers have grown the state’s beer scene—even if homebrewing is still illegal in Alabama.
Perry and Straight to Ale brewmaster Rick Tarvin are, naturally, sympathetic; they started out as homebrewers. In response, they’ve logged time to raise awareness for the Right to Brew movement, which aims to legalize homebrewing in the state. But maybe their most defiant act against the ban is their Right to Brew Series, a beer line crafted by local homebrewers inside their brewery and served on tap. “There’s such a strong homebrewing community in Huntsville because you’ve got all these engineers [from NASA and the U.S. Army’s Redstone Arsenal] that are into their systems and the chemistry. The local homebrewers taught me so much—I couldn’t have started a brewery without them,” says Perry. And Straight to Ale’s arsenal is directly from the duo’s wide-ranging book of former homebrew recipes: from the solid flagship Monkeynaut IPA to the fruity Brother Joseph’s Belgian Dubbel to the rich, bourbon-spiked Unobtanium English old ale.
While Straight to Ale’s fighting for the local hobbyists, it’s winning over fans and expanding its reach. The brewery released its Lily Flagg Milk Stout in cans this winter; others will hit shelves in April. It’s also taking advantage of the updated bottling law by releasing a high-gravity beer each month. And, the best victory of all: “Keeping up with demand, without destroying ourselves in the process,” says Perry. “Originally it was just going to be a night and weekend job, but it didn’t take long for it to become full-time, with employees and a taproom.” A taproom usually packed with homebrewers.
THE BEER, ACCORDING TO DAN
Monkeynaut IPA: “Monkeynaut is a tribute to Miss Baker, the monkey that went up into space. When I was a kid, I used to visit her at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. If someone deserves a beer, it’s a monkey shot into space. It’s a 7.25%-ABV IPA, balanced with a strong malt backbone and citrusy, floral hops.”
Unobtanium: “This is our old ale—it’s kind of the one that started the brewery. There were four homebrewers gathered in a driveway, brewing enough to fill up a barrel. That day, we decided to start a brewery [if Free the Hops got] the state law changed. The beer’s brewed with molasses and aged in Buffalo Trace barrels.”
Lily Flagg Milk Stout: “We wanted to do a stout that’s approachable; it has a nice, sweet finish. Lily Flagg is another area reference: When the World’s Fair was in Chicago, there was a local cow showcased for the amount of milk she produced. The owners brought the cow back to Huntsville and people threw a huge party. She’s kind of a legend.”
Stop Work 689: “This 5% ABV kölsch got its name from [our first location], an old run-down mill where our landlord was giving the county inspectors the run-around. Right after we moved in, there was a ‘stop work’ order, nearly shutting us down. We commemorated the event by releasing Stop Work.”
Montesano Maibock: “It’s named after a mountain here [in Huntsville] which means ‘mountain of health.’ There was a big hotel up on it that was a spa back in the day and people went up there to get healthy. It’s a bigger beer at 7% [ABV] and we release it in the fall. It’s got a little sweetness and a crisp finish.”