I’d be a sorry beer columnist if I didn’t devote a column to the biggest beer-centric event in Alabama, set to happen this weekend: Magic City Brewfest. Celebrating its fifth year, Brewfest is a two-day affair boasting over 200 different beers enjoyed by over 5,000 patrons. Always held at Sloss Furnaces historic landmark, this year’s first session is Friday from 7 p.m.-11 p.m., and the second session is Saturday from 4 p.m.-8 p.m.
I vividly remember the early years of the event, when reaching the “over 200” mark for the number of different beers was quite a challenge. Sure, there were many more than 200 different beers in the state...if you counted Bud Light, Natural Light, Busch Light, Miller Lite, Coors Light, etc., as different beers. Finding 200 craft beers took some work.
The variety of beers distributed in Birmingham has soared in recent years, especially since the passage of the Gourmet Beer Bill in 2009. Now the great challenge for the organizers is in deciding which beers to exclude from the event. It’d be fun to see 800 different beers featured there but not at all practical.
The top highlight for Birmingham residents this year has to be the debut of our city’s newest local brewery, Avondale Brewing Co. In 2008, Good People debuted at Brewfest. In 2009, Back Forty debuted at the event. 2010 was oddly quiet, but 2011 sees the debut of another local. Beware that the Avondale guys don’t have much beer ready for prime time, so their brews will be available only in very limited quantities, served at the J. Clyde fire engine. I would expect there to be long lines and for their beer to run out quickly. Get it while you can.
In addition to the debut of one new local, all of Alabama’s breweries will have a presence at the event and will be pouring up special releases. That’s what I get most excited about—the chance to taste new beers for the first time and even oneoffs that may never be made again. In addition to their standard lineup, Back Forty will feature a new IPA, a porter and a kolsch; Good People will have a barrel-aged Dark Farmhouse ale, El Gordo imperial stout and a “surprise” beer; and Huntsville locals Straight To Ale, Yellowhammer and Blue Pants will have at least a dozen beers never before served in Birmingham in addition to a few you may have seen at the J. Clyde once or twice. Most Alabama breweries will also feature at least one cask-conditioned beer, marking the first time Magic City Brewfest has prominently featured cask ale.
Note that the ticketing and food arrangement has changed this year. In previous years there were two ticket tiers, one that included both food and beer and one that just included beer. There was a separate food area fenced off at the venue which purchasers of food tickets got access to. That system always presented some big challenges for festival organizers and became a prohibitive expense last year due to changes in how the county health department viewed the event. So this year all tickets are general admission and food will be sold by the plate at the venue. Find out how to buy tickets at MagicCityBrewfest.com. The event sells out every year.
Something else to note is that the Alabama ABC board is once again requiring the Brewfest to charge for each glass of beer consumed at the event. The past couple of years organizers accommodated this mandate by charging a penny for each pour, collecting the money in buckets spread around the event. You’ll see the same setup this year. The good news is that 100 percent of the money collected in these buckets will be donated to the United Way of Central Alabama’s Tornado Relief Fund. So be generous with the change you put in those buckets and help out those hit by the recent tornadoes.
On a different note, the Brewery Modernization Act is scheduled to come up for a vote on the floor of the Alabama House just hours after my deadline for this column. Since the bill has already passed the Senate, the House vote is that last major step before the bill can be submitted to the governor for his signature. By the time you read this, the bill will likely either be awaiting that signature or dead for the year. Check FreeTheHops.org/blog right now to find out which it is. If it passes and gets signed into law I’ll devote a column to telling you what our local breweries plan on doing to take advantage of it.
“Hopped Up” is a weekly brew review by Danner Kline, founder of Free the Hops and coorganizer of the annual Magic City Brewfest. Send your feedback to email@example.com