In 1997, I drove by a homebrew shop in Fort Walton, Florida called The Spare Bedroom Winery. I thought to myself, “I wonder how they make beer?” I was not a beer drinker, but I found the idea intriguing. So I stopped in and bought a homebrew kit and proceeded to make the most awful beer ever you’ve ever tasted. Bottles were exploding like depth charges in the closet, and when you opened a bottle you got a nice beer bath. The advice from the elderly winemaker had been to “just rinse out the bottles with warm water”. That was not good beer advice; beer and wine are two different animals. I probably should have given up right then…but eventually the beer was okay, then it was good, and then it was really good. That’s when I tried my hand at Poplar Head in 1999 and realized what a fun, creative outlet it was to express an idea of what beer could taste like.
If I’m considering a new beer, I think about what elements make up that style, then I consider how I may want to put my own spin on that style. Beer styles are open to interpretation and that gives us a realm of possibilities that is virtually endless. I like to keep a higher standard for myself, so if I ever brewed the “perfect beer”, I would still try to do it better next time.
Our licensing just did pass under the wire, however the shutdown has caused us to be limited on specialty beers for distribution around the Wiregrass area. Any beer with ingredients other than malt, hops, water and yeast have to be approved through a process called the Statement of Process and Formulas. The TTB (Tax Trade Bureau/ATF) has to know what you are putting in beer such as coffee beans, cocoa nibs, spices, etc. We must now wait until we get TTB approval for our experimental beers that have chocolate, which will probably be sometime in Spring 2014.
We start with quality ingredients sourced from the US, Germany and the UK. Malted barley, wheat and rye is milled, then carefully measured out to match our recipe formula. The grain is “mashed in” by mixing with hot water in order to convert the starch that is inside the husk to sugar. Malt sugar is our main ingredient in what is called “wort”, or unfermented beer. We rinse the sugars from the grain during the “sparge” as we collect the sweet wort in the kettle. During the boil, hops attribute bitterness, flavor and aromas that can include notes of citrus or grapefruit, or be spicy, grassy, piney or fruity. If you have developed a taste for hops, then you realize the benefit of the hops from the naturally calming effect they have when you consume them. After the boil, we rapidly cool the wort down from boiling to 65 degrees so we can add yeast for fermentation. After about 5-7 days, the primary fermentation is completed; we then go through a natural cold aging process that will clear up the beer naturally without filtration and “cold lager” for up to 2 weeks. During that time we top off carbonation with CO2 and keg it for Adams Beverages to come pick up. Within 3 weeks most beers can be brewed, fermented, aged, carbonated and delivered to be served all over the Wiregrass area.
Dothan is our home, our friends and family are here. We see the incredible growth of the craft brewing industry statewide; why not Dothan? People in the Wiregrass are thirsty for something fresh and unique. For now it’s up to us to help fill their pint glasses in restaurants and bars.
I have helped over a dozen breweries emerge in the last several years as a consultant. I’ve consulted with over 3 dozen new or existing breweries as well, including some overseas clients. Next year we plan on brewing a collaboration with High Ridge Spirits at Stills Crossroads in making a whiskey at Alabama’s first legal distillery! After the whiskey is aged in a wooden barrel at Stills Crossroads, we will take that empty barrel and age something really strong and tasty for over a month before we release that product in very limited amounts. Those will be two products you just have to try once!
If you go to Montgomery, Birmingham, Huntsville and Mobile, you find that people are trying new beers as fast as the distributors can sign them up and get them delivered. Dothan and the Wiregrass are ready to try something new, innovative and local. I’m going to do my part to make sure that each beer is something different, unique and above all else, tasty! Hops are going to be the most challenging, because some light beer drinkers are reluctant to try something different. We plan to offer beers with lower hop levels like Wiregrass Wheat and for the more adventurous, Snipe-Hunt IPA, which has an obscene amount of hops and tastes like grapefruit juice on steroids! Once you go down the rabbit hole of hops, nothing else really does the trick. Personally, I am amazed at how many ladies love hoppy beers and how many guys that said they ‘don’t like hoppy beers’, drank every last drop of our IPA. Alabama has changed a lot since my time at Poplar Head in 1999!
I love process and development. If it’s already been done before, can we do it in such a way that we make it our own? There’s something about the entire brewing process that I find very rewarding; I can finally benefit from my O.C.D. for sanitation and still have room for creativity for styles of beer that have yet to be defined.
Quite to the contrary, many of the large craft breweries are going to help educate the public about beer diversity. You may find a beer from a brewery in California that you just love, then you start looking for more beers like that one. Then you may find that a local brewery has one of those beers that is unfiltered and kegged 3 days ago. The fresh local brew is going to outshine a beer that has been shipped cross country or overseas.
People like us that grew up wishing Dothan was more like Atlanta for it’s culture and music events can see that happening now. We are just now realizing what craft beer is in the Wiregrass and I want to do my part in promoting beer awareness. For example, if you chug six IPA’s like a light beer, you will likely wake up with a Honey BooBoo tattoo and make the cover of The Enforcer! Take your time and measure your intake so you can enjoy yourself and not be sideways after 3 beers.
Wiregrass Wheat is our first public offering year round. You will be able to find that in several places around Dothan. As we grow and expand our coverage of the Wiregrass, we will have seasonal ales as well as some experimental beers to try out for yourself. IPA is next on the docket, followed by a Pale Ale, Red Ale, a Chocolate Porter and more! Snipe-Hunt IPA is going to be on tap here at the brewery as part of our “Guinea Pig Project”, then soon after we will have a few places that serve it in town. We test all of our beers on human guinea pigs* at the brewery on Tasting and Tour days, Thurs/Friday from 2-6pm. Once we complete our full tasting room, we will expand our hours for people to have time to come visit and then offer suggestions of places to go eat dinner and have beer with our partners that are in and around town. *(No guinea pigs were harmed in the making of this beer)
Right now we have beer on tap at Oak & Olive, Fatbacks of Dothan, Buffalo Wild Wings, Fire Stone Pizza, Beef’ O’Brady’s, McLeods, Robert Trent Jones Highlands and TGIFridays. When we get more beer ready, I hear we will be at Jake’s Bar & Grill, Applebees, Dothan Country Club, The Landing at Rucker and more! Retail kegs are available for sale at Basket of Cheer, and hopefully we will have bottles by Spring/Summer 2014.
Once we fire up the big batch fermenter, I would like to be in Auburn, Birmingham and Montgomery. I have a lot of friends in Florida, so that is a goal as well for specialty beers in bottles.
I couldn’t place a value on our #1 asset…people. It’s our new friends in and around Dothan that are helping to drive us into the public eye. I believe I can eventually find one of our brews to appeal to just about everyone that likes flavor. Once we have time to explore the taste of the Wiregrass, I believe we will find a common thread in local craft beer.
Installing brewing equipment. Every time a pump breaks, or a piece fails, there is no place in town that has that particular part. So we end up fabricating, inventing, welding and modifying something to do the job of the original part. That is no small challenge and continues to be an interesting part of my week. I’m thankful that I took some classes at Wallace College for electrical, welding and micro-controllers, because every job I take on requires all of those skills and more. I am going to make a hat for each job and a hat that says “Drinking Beer”. When I wear that hat, all I will be doing is drinking a beer!
“Guy who brews beer out in the woods or somethin”
Folklore Brewing & Meadery
153 Mary Lou Ln.
Dothan, AL 36301