During an afternoon hanging out in the Good People taproom, we heard praise about a new brewery in town from several of the knowledgeable locals and decided to take a look for ourselves. We headed just a few miles across downtown to Birmingham’s Lakeview District and entered Trim Tab Brewing Company. That night the brewery was pretty busy but we were lucky enough to catch brewer Spencer Overton to discuss this young business’ philosophy and goals before we rejoined the party in the tasting room with a group we met at the brewery earlier in the day.
The inspiration for the Trim Tab name comes from Buckminster Fuller – 2nd Mensa president and inventor of the geodesic dome (think Spaceship Earth at Disney’s Epcot) – who used the term to describe the power that one person can have to inspire sweeping change in a larger society. A trim tab itself is a small rudder that can be turned with minimal force to create a low pressure that drives the larger rudder to move, and thus the much larger ship or plane. This describes the fledgling brewery which strives to become a positive force in a growing Birmingham craft beer scene and is also in the pursuit of discovering and defining ‘Southern Beer’. We’ve all heard of West Coast beer but the South has been hampered by restrictive laws leftover from prohibition and is still exploring to define itself. In Alabama, homebrewing was legalized less than a year ago and beer bottles over 16oz were prohibited state wide until Aug 1, 2012 when the Gourmet Bottle Bill went into effect thanks to the efforts of the grassroots organization, Free the Hops. Essentially, in the long hot summers a Southern brewing style might embrace beers that are sessionable and dry on the finish but still maintain the full flavor to which so many craft beer lovers have become accustomed.
Trim Tab is the creation of owner and CEO, Harris Stewart, who graduated from law school at the University of Alabama but worked on the brewery business plan and securing investors while still in school. When searching for a brewmaster, he connected with Will Crimshaw, a graduate of UC Davis’ brewers program who was previously a production brewer at SweetWater, and hired him on. Spencer was teaching homebrewing classes at Hop City – a 60 tap growler bar, homebrew shop, and bottle shop – and met Harris through the local craft beer scene and was hired on as a brewer this past October. A third brewer is currently being brought in to assist with the workload and she has previous experience at both Oskar Blues and Lefthand. Trim Tab’s beer debuted at last summer’s Magic City BrewFest, though those beers were shared as small scale homebrew batches. Their full scale production beers actually entered the market just a few weeks ago on January 31st. Trim Tab has begun operations on a 30 bbl brewhouse accompanied by three 30 bbl and one 60 bbl fermenters and a 60 bbl bright tank. There are also two 1 bbl fermenters in temperature controlled upright freezers that will be utilized for tasting room only releases. They plan to purchase a canning line and would like to begin packaging by this summer. The brewery is housed in what was previously the garage for George Barber’s motorcycle collection and is a spacious 14,000 sq. ft., leaving ample space for growth.
They have launched with two year-round offerings. Pillar to Post Rye Brown is made with a healthy dose of rye that gives the American style brown ale tons of character. The IPA, in line with the Southern beer goals, is full bodied and hoppy despite being low in IBU compared to most West Coast IPAs. The prevalent floral and citrus aroma is imparted by utilization of the Pacifica Hallertau hops. Despite only being in distribution a few weeks, the staff has already laid out a clear plan for seasonal releases. The cucumber saison, which is one of Harris’ creations, will be released in early summer with the raspberry saison following in late summer. An ESB is scheduled for September, a milk stout in October, an olde ale as a holiday release in December, and, finally, a Black IPA will kick the new year off with a hoppy bang in January. One aspect which is truly distinctive is their fully engaged cask program. They have breathers to allow the casks to keep longer than just setting one at the bar and hold capacity for two at a time. Wort will be drawn off nearly every production batch then exposed to different treatments such as dry hopping or aging on oak chips. This will allow some room for novelty and also create a regular draw to the taproom. During our visit, a cask of olde ale on oak chips was flowing and some olde ale is also currently aging in a Four Roses barrel donated by a local restaurant.
We showed up just one day after the grand opening of the taproom art gallery. Trim Tab will be showcasing local artists, at no charge, on a rotational basis. They want to utilize their space to highlight and elevate whatever is going on locally. There is also a small stage in the taproom and they plan to host live music but would also like to utilize space outside if possible. We were told that Harris is also a DJ so keep an eye out for the dance floor when the disco ball in the center of the room gets going. He has a background in sustainability so will likely begin supporting local grassroots nonprofits like the Alabama Environmental Council in the near future and a charity benefit Funky Fishfry is already scheduled for April. We recommend visiting the taproom when in Birmingham to check out the art and enjoy the rotational cask beers as well as the standards. Hours are Tue-Thu 4-10pm, Fri 4-11pm, Sat 1-11pm and Sun 1-10pm. A huge thank you to Spencer for being so informative and for agreeing to speak with us without any advanced warning.
Author: Brandon Wurtz