Following a visit with the nice folks at Blue Pants in Madison, we trekked about 15 min east to Huntsville for our last brewery stop in Alabama. Straight to Ale Brewing co-owner and head brewer, Dan Perry, and sales manager, Rich Partain, greeted us at once and offered some samples of their vast beer line-up. The brewery got its start following a promise that Dan and some of his homebrewing friends made to themselves, mainly, that they would open up a brewery if Alabama’s ABV cap was ever lifted. They just didn’t want to make beer with those sorts of limitations and he openly gives much of credit to their and much of the Alabama brewing scene’s existence to the work of grassroots organization, Free the Hops. Though he admitted they never thought it would happened, nearly all of the group kept their promise and filed paperwork for the LLC about a week after the new law went into effect. Therefore, the Straight to Ale Brewing was born in 2009 and sold their first beer on May 1, 2010 – which they consider to be their true anniversary.
The brewery began with humble beginnings, on a 3 bbl brewhouse in an old 500 sq. ft. warehouse that previously housed the now defunct Olde Towne Brewing Co. Though Dan said they like to brew a little something for everybody, the goal was to make the product they like and hopefully at the right price people would by it, and did they ever. After explosive growth, Straight to Ale moved to a much larger warehouse about a year and a half ago and is currently operating on a 20 bbl brewhouse to fill up 40 bbl, 60 bbl, and even four 120 bbl fermenters that were purchased from SweetWater. Dan said that they have the ability to brew 800 – 1,000 bbl/month during the busy summer but have been more around the 500 – 600 bbl mark. That is quite a lot of beer to manage for a brewing staff consisting of two and one part-timer, packaging team of two, and sales team of two. Going forward, Dan expects to see some addition of new tanks by next winter but, without deep pocketed investors, they will grow slowly as they are able.
Now on to their beer! Dan was born and raised in Huntsville and is a longtime homebrewer, even serving as leader of the Huntsville homebrewing chapter for a long while. Many of Straight to Ale’s recipes were perfected during that time. He continues to pay respects to the local group from which he learned so much, Rocket City Brewers, through the Right to Brew Series. When the practice was still illegal in the state, the brewery would partner with the local organization and take delicious homebrewing recipes and make them legally, allowing the homebrewer responsible to name the beer as well. An example of one of these is the Saison du Roquette which can still be found these days aged in rum, Bordeaux, and, in the future, tequila barrels. Other examples include the Right to Brew Hellfire Quad and Verne’s Wheatwine. It is definitely worth a mention that Striaght to Ale has a massive barrel aging program for a brewery of their size and they tend to release these bigger beers in 22 oz bombers, with the goal of doing about one per month, and hoping to finally meet that goal with the recent addition of the Maheen bottling line. While we are on the subject of barrel aging, Laika Russian imperial stout can be found aged in Bourbon and Cabernet barrels, Unobtanium olde ale is aged in Bourbon barrels, and the Illudium olde ale aged in cognac barrels will be released soon. Other big beers brewed on the rotational basis include the GorillaNaut imperial IPA and the more approachable Monkey’s Uncle double IPA. Dan and his staff love to play around, experiment with new ideas, and keep things interesting.
While we continued to sample the Straight to Ale flagships, Rich Partain shared with us the unique Alabama stories behind many of the beers’ names. Monkeynaut IPA, which accounts for nearly 60% of production, gets tons of citrus character from ample Centennial hops and is named after Miss Baker and the other monkey astronauts at the nearby U.S Space and Rocket Center that paved the way for manned space flight. Sand Island Lighthouse, a kolsch style ale and their lightest offering, was renamed in 2013 to commemorate the brewery’s expansion of distribution throughout the entire state of Alabama by terming itself after the lighthouse which marks the state’s southernmost point. Lily Flagg milk stout pays homage to the Huntsville cow that won the Chicago World’s Fair in 1892 as the world’s best butterfat producing cow. Although Monkeynaut predominates, all three of these beers make use of the 120bbl fermenters and have been canned for distribution since they moved to the new facility. The final brew to make it in out in cans is the Brother Joseph’s Belgian Dubbel (We couldn’t think of any other Belgian dubbels in a can, if you can be sure to let us know). This beer is named after a monk who spent free time throughout his life building the Ave Maria Grotto on a four acre property at Saint Bernard Abbey in Cullman, AL– utilizing a variety of materials to build miniature replicas of famous historical buildings. Recently, a movie documentary about him was made and Rich was able to attend and serve their beer to the monks for the release party.
They love to make use of the newly legalized taproom to interact directly with the community and get immediate feedback for their brews. The brewery has a stage where they frequently host special events and concerts. Dan said that they will often donate the space for charity events then bring in food trucks and sell beer. He and Rich shared with us how much they truly enjoy hosting The Folk Mission concerts monthly, where people can come and enjoy world-class artists in an intimate venue. They also host local artists for nights where they can play all original music rather than the covers that many bars expect. The brewery participates frequently in beer dinners around their distribution area which includes AL, TN, the FL panhandle, and, most recently, north and central MS. Dan explained how passionate he is about the local community and loves to give back to his hometown in any way possible. They were even allowing a local upstart brewery come in to use their keg washer that evening. Craft beer really is a supportive family.
The brewery’s 10 tap tasting room is open 7 days a week from 3-10pm and features some great decorations, a full arcade, and even flights served on a rocketship. We defititely recommend you come take a ‘flight’ to beer heaven, enjoy the colorful artwork on display for each beer, and chat with the friendly locals and knowledgeable bartenders. Food trucks are available a few days a week so be sure to check out their Facebook page for updates. In addition, brewery tours are offered every Saturday at 2pm, free of charge. However, tours are capped at 20 people and you will need to set a reservation online ahead of time. Our deepest thanks go out to Dan and Rich for their abundant hospitality on our visit and for sharing their passion for Alabama beer as well as Nick Poppe for keeping us well lubricated and letting us hang out after closing to (minimally) help Liz and Leslie paint a float for the upcoming Mardi-Gras parade.
Author: Brandon Wurtz