By Gini David
July 24, 2017

First stop: Green Bus Brewing in Downtown Huntsville

I love destinations that defy easy descriptions. If you’re seeking a craft beer scene that is both cosmopolitan and quirky in the nicest, neighborly, make-you-feel-at-home way, you’ll enjoy Huntsville. The Huntsville Craft Beer Trail, which celebrated its first birthday July 8 this year, is graciously promoted by Downtown Huntsville, Inc. This city offers six breweries and four first-class beer store/taprooms conveniently mapped on a pocket-size card that your servers will happily stamp.

Visit all 10 stops, and you’ll be rewarded with a cool Trail Boss bottle opener. And with Huntsville’s recently launched BlueBikes share program and several stops centered downtown, it’s possible to bike (or walk) to many of the stops and take an Uber or Lyft to the others. First, there’s tons to do in Huntsville, so arrive mid-morning and do some sightseeing. Topping all must-see lists is the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, home to the ginormous Space Shuttle and the 363-foot-tall Saturn V Moon Rocket that looms over I-565. And the Huntsville Botanical Garden is beautiful (visit the butterfly house and children’s garden).

Topping the list of things to see is U.S. Space & Rocket Center

In the heart of downtown, the Twickenham historic district is an architectural showcase of antebellum homes and gardens. Big Spring Park, which is across the street from the Von Braun Center and includes the murals and grotto lights digital light show every evening at sundown. Bicentennial Park is currently closed.

Insider tip: Many breweries are closed certain days of the week (but FYI three of the six are open seven days a week), so it’s a good idea to check an establishment’s hours. My journey was mapped for a Saturday, and while the start/finish times varied, the sequence of my stops was accurate.

Circa 1871 map of McClung Avenue in historic Twickenham

Green Bus
12 p.m. (noon)

You can start Huntsville’s Craft Beer Trail at any point, but we started at Green Bus Brewery in the heart of downtown in the Twickenham district, which encompasses antebellum gems and historic landmarks like Harrison Brothers Hardware Store, Alabama’s first hardware store. Located in a circa 1856-confectionery store, the Green Bus instantly makes you feel at home with its dog-friendly neighborhood bar vibe and tasty beers. If you’re lucky, co-owner Carey Huff will tell you how partner, Jason Sledd brewed beer out of an old green Volkswagen bus for nearly four years before opening the brewery and taproom on Eustis Avenue. I often joke that I like my beer the way I like my men (hoppy and bitter, haha), so I was immediately smitten with their number one seller, Hop Bus, an unfiltered New England-style IPA made with Citra, Mosaic, Simcoe and Amarillo hops. Other crowd-pleasers include their Omnibus Cream Ale and bright-tasting Camper Van Blonde.

Insider tip: Green Bus is a fave with the locals (especially during its popular Happy Hour), so if you hit it right its fun to watch GB fans pick up their purple Solo cup that allows them to carry their beer in the designated art and entertainment district (Thursdays through Sundays). As I traveled the beer trail, I saw purple Solo cups everywhere, adding a fun, festive air to the Huntsville beer scene.

Time: 1.25 hours

 

Getting our map stamped at BTR

Below The Radar Brewing Company
1:30 p.m.

For lunch with adult beverages, walk or bike the three quick blocks to Below The Radar (BTR). Located in the white wedding cake Times Building, one of the oldest and tallest buildings in Huntsville, BTR is another local favorite with 32 rotating taps, including several of their own brews. The food menu features substantial pub grub go-to’s like burgers, paninis, bangers & mash and Southern classics (shrimp & grits, fried green tomatoes, etc.), but we enjoyed their Fish & Chips – the ideal accompaniment to BTR’s Ironside English Brown. Also good: BTR’s Redaction IPA, Firefox Pale Ale, Warpath Ridge Wheat Ale and Ares Amber.

Insider tip: Below the Radar serves a popular Sunday brunch, 10 a.m.-2:30 pm, featuring a Bloody Mary Bar ($6 for the first drink, $4 thereafter), as well as omelets, steak & eggs and a Southern-style Eggs Benedict with fried green tomatoes. Kerri will take good care of you!

Time 1.5 hours

 

The popular Old Town Beer Exchange or OTBX

OTBX (Old Town Beer Exchange)
3 p.m.

Just across the street from BTR is one of the trail’s coolest craft beer stores where Huntsville’s insider beer folks seem to gather in the dog-friendly taproom, happy to share tips on Huntsville’s beer scene. Mostly, OTBX is just plain FUN with ceiling-hung bikes and neighborly corn-hole games out front – not to mention 32 beers on tap and a mind-blowing 500 bottled beers to purchase. Server Justin quickly turned me on to Garr’s Beer Co., the gypsy brewer who hails from Franklin, TN (my adopted hometown) but brews out of Straight to Ale (on the trail). Garr’s makes a small but delicious portfolio: Red Jam (an intriguing red aged in bourbon barrels), Citra Pepper Saison Farmhouse Ale, a Kolsch Style Ale with Lime and Basil, Garr’s Tripel (a Belgian Ale) and Barreled Jam (aged in oak barrels), among others. I love Garr’s gypsy brewing philosophy: Venturing around the country and brewing at different locations allows for the sharing of ideas and discovery of new concepts. What could be more creative than that? But back to OTBX where the neighborhood dog I met (Lenny, as in Kravitz) is owned by Catherin Lighton, the Yoga Gypsy, who offers a Yoga + Beer deal on Sunday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. at Rocket Republic Brewing Company in nearby Madison (for details, call RRBC at 256-325-4677, or go to www.yogagypsyfitness.com). Lucky for me, I also met Challen, one of the co-owners of Yellowhammer, who naturally recommended his brewery as well as Mad Malts Brewing to fully experience Huntsville’s home and garage brew scene, and Salty Nut as a great place to end the night. His insider tips enhanced our adventure on the beer trail – thanks, Challen!

Time: 1 hour

At this point we checked in to our hotel for a revitalizing swim and nap before heading out for round two of the Huntsville Craft Beer Trail.

Get planted: Relax at the serene indoor pool with lush greenery indoors and outdoors at the Embassy Suites Downtown Huntsville.

Mad Malts Brewing
6 p.m.

Challen (who I met at OTBX) was right: Any foray in on the Huntsville beer trail must include a stop at Mad Malts. Tucked in a residential area a few miles from downtown, Mad Malts exemplifies Huntsville’s creative home brew scene. It’s a cool surprise – like walking into someone’s home with people sitting at kitchen tables playing board games, drinking beer and nibbling popcorn. The entertainment that night was unique with Matt Growden, a local magician strolling table to table and engaging folks with his magic tricks. During the day, a food truck keeps patrons fed and happily imbibing Mad Malts creative brews. Their number one seller is a yummy Vanilla IPA, and we also enjoyed a snappy Dirty Blonde, Raspberry Blonde and an Espresso Porter that was one of the best of tis kind that I’ve tasted, ever. The grassy lawn with shaded picnic tables looked inviting, but the action inside Mad Malts was entertaining enough!

Time: 1.25 hours

 

Wish You Were Beer has home brew supplies and demos, as well as a large beer selection.

Wish You Were Beer
7:30 pm

Drive, Uber, or take a Lyft a few miles from the Downtown Core to the Downtown Gateway area where much of Huntsville’s beer action unfolds in the most unlikely place: an abandoned middle school. Campus 805 houses two large, rocking breweries as well as Wish You Were Beer, the second of four beer stores on the beer trail. Owned by Damon and Laura Eubanks (who own another WYWB store in Madison) offer a retail store and taproom with 40 brews on tap or growlers to go, plus over 250 bottled craft and imported beers.

They also make and sell what Damon calls collaboration beers in under-served styles, such as a Belgian pale ale they partnered on with Rocket Republic Beer Company (in Madison and worth a visit, although not officially on the beer trail). Looking ahead, Damon and next-door neighbor Yellowhammer may be brewing a traditional ESB (extra special bitter).

Worth noting: Wish You Were Beer is an excellent source for home brewing supplies, including an impressive selection of hops (close to 30 varieties).

Time: 0.5 hour (But with the 18-seat bar, you may want to linger longer!)

 

Earth and Stone’s Banana Pudding Ice Cream made with fresh, freeze-dried and roasted bananas, complemented with good ole’ Nilla Wafers

Yellowhammer Brewing
8 p.m.

We hit Yellowhammer (pun intended) in the evening when things were hopping in the huge taproom and on the patio (with music), but this place has so many fun zones, you could easily spend a long afternoon wandering around and sampling their extensive portfolio. In case you wondered, Yellowhammer is the nickname for the flicker woodpecker, Alabama’s state bird, as well as the name for a contingent of Civil War soldiers from Alabama who wore uniforms trimmed in yellow (like the state bird). Locals know Yellowhammer for its brews and huge wall map plastered with brewery stickers from all over the country, many in the South. Beer-wise, Yellowhammer has around 14 on tap, with many in traditional Belgian and German styles, and some with a Southern twist. Their flagship beers include a crisp Belgian wheat, Rebellion Red Ale, Tobacco Road red ale, a Midnight Special black lager, a Kolsch, a Dubbel and several others. Yellowhammer also offers 20 seasonal beers like their Groovy Dons Groovy IPA (named after one of the owners), which was deliciously dank and one of the trails best IPAs.

Insider tip: Hungry again? Just steps away from Yellowhammers long bar, Earth and Stone Wood-Fired Pizza features delicious changed-up pizzas (like their delicious Chicken & Pesto) so there’s no reason to leave Campus 805. Get your purple Solo cup filled, stroll across the grassy lawn, and go to Straight To Ale to check out their patio, music and corn-hole action.

Time 1.5 hours

Charcuterie board from Ale’s Kitchen at Straight To Ale

Straight To Ale Brewing
9:30 p.m.

Like Yellowhammer, Straight To Ale could also be an afternoon stop, there’s so much to see (and taste). First, the brewery location is an eye-popper, situated in an old middle school gymnasium. Imagine tall shiny brew tanks just yards from a basketball hoop and walls painted in the former Stone Middle School Gators school colors – wow! By now, you see how Huntsville brewers have a wicked sense of humor and down-to-earth practical side. Turns out, an old school gym is actually the perfect size for housing brew tanks. In the taproom, figure out your beer choices and get cozy on the expansive patio where you can play corn-hole or listen to music, or in the taproom, admire the long bar fashioned from flooring from the old gym (or shelves crafted from the gyms bleachers).

Our server Kaitlinn had the evenings best line: Straight To Ale is so fun – like drinking beer in school. Well, yeah. Back to the beer, Straight To Ale offers 10 beers on tap, including tasty seasonal and limited release brews. One of their best-known flagships is the satisfying astronaut-inspired Monkeynaut IPA. Also worth a try: their year round Brother Joseph (a Belgian-style Dubbel), Stop Work Ale or their seasonal Lily Flagg Milk Stout, named after Huntsville’s most famous cow. Food-wise, Ales Kitchen serves a deep menu of burgers, sandwiches, wings, ribs, salads and poutines. But whatever you do, don’t miss the speakeasy, secreted behind a bank of orange school lockers.

You can’t believe how excited some adults get about a hidden bar, but they do. It could be the handmade whisky, gin, vodka and rum served in the speakeasy’s elegant bar; or the semi-private booths, seductive lighting and black-and-white movies that add to the Prohibition-era mood. Whatever it may be, Straight To Ale reminds you that, just like Huntsville itself, the beer scene defies easy description. Lastly, there’s so much to absorb at Straight To Ale, you might want to time your visit for one of their tours (every Saturday at 2 p.m.).

Time 1.25 hours

Grab a beer in Salty Nut’s outdoor beer garden.

Salty Nut Brewery
10:30 p.m.

Salty Nut Brewery was actually where I closed out the night on Huntsville’s Craft Beer Trail, which is where I received a cool Trail Boss bottle opener. (I think my server took pity on me because at this point my husband/driver was waiting patiently in the car.) Remember, my new Yellowhammer friend Challen recommended the Salty Nut for its fun night scene, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Located a couple blocks from Campus 805, Salty Nut Brewery is the real deal with an onsite brew house and large taproom that often draws the spillover crowd from nearby Yellowhammer and Straight To Ale. On nice evenings, people enjoy chilling in the kid-and-dog-friendly beer garden under the big pecan tree. If you time it right, you might get an impromptu tour of their recently expanded brew house, and you can always purchase a 32-oz. growler to take home or back to your hotel room. Plus, Salty Nut treats its regulars right. They recently hosted a patron’s dogs first birthday party, and every month they host BeArded WARRIORS, a local group that supports vets with PTSD issues.

On tap, Salty Nut offers a broad portfolio of four to six brews plus seasonal ciders (and occasionally mead). Worth tasting are their crisp Hawt Blonde, juicy Imperial Mustache Red and a refreshing Pomegranate Cider, ranked Best Specialty Wine in Alabama (2016). Turns out many of Salty Nuts creations are award-winners, such as their Hop Naughty IPA, the Gold Medal winner as Alabama’s best IPA (2016). For someone like me who’s always searching for hoppy, bitter and hop-fully dank IPA’s, it was a perfectly delicious way to end my experience on Downtown Huntsville’s Craft Beer Trail.

Time: 0.5 hour (But I suggest you get there earlier and divide your time between the taproom and pleasant beer garden.)

 

The guacamole appetizer at Church Street Wine Shoppe

To properly enjoy Huntsville’s fantastic beer scene, abandon your assumptions and prepare to be surprised – and often delighted! I’m looking forward to my next trip to Huntsville, which will include stops at two we missed: Liquor Express (one of Alabama’s largest beer, wine and spirit stores with a taproom) and Church Street Wine Shoppe, which has a tapas menu and daily wine and beer tastings.

For a complete list of breweries, taprooms and beer stores on the Downtown Huntsville Craft Beer Trail, visit roadtriphuntsville.com/craftbeertrail.

TCB Reporter, Gini David is a freelance food and drink writer, who resides in Franklin, TN.