Huntsville Beercation – It’s Like Space Camp but with Beer
Huntsville may not come to the top of mind when planning a beer weekend, but it should. The city has all the trappings of what helps make other cities great beer destinations – an entrepreneurial spirit, an independent attitude, and lots of friendly locals. Oh, and did I mention that Huntsville also has space? That’s right, Rocket City is home to NASA and the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. Yes, you can have a little space camp with that Huntsville beer on your Huntsville Beercation.
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Start the weekend with a tour of Madison’s breweries
Your beer weekend begins with the three breweries out in Madison, which is considered part of the greater Huntsville metropolitan area. The first stop is at Rocket Republic Brewing. Named after the owners’ love for both Huntsville and Key West, there’s always some good, geeky fun going on at the brewery. The spacious taproom has plenty of room for indoor corn hole tournaments and the steam punk décor is bound to strike up interesting conversations. Given the eclectic nature of the brewery, you never know what to expect in terms of beer, so I suggest ordering a flight to kick start your weekend (make sure it includes the Dark Matter Belgian Quad and the Peanut Butter Astronut Brown Ale).
Next, head into downtown Madison for dinner at Old Black Bear Brewing Company. Chef Marci Mays aims to deliver food that is both farm-to-fork and beer inspired. Not only are the dishes designed to pair with beer, but many incorporate Old Black Bear’s beers into the recipes. I recommend the grilled artichokes for a starter and either the chicken and waffles (because South) or the pimiento burger (a heaping monster of gooey burger heaven) for your main. All pair well with their Rockledge IPA.
Wrap up your night at one of my favorite breweries in Huntsville – Blue Pants Brewery. Think Dogfish Head, but in Alabama. Their passion for beer led them to recreate an ancient German beer called the Dortmunder Adambier. The smoky, sour beer won silver at the 2015 Great American Beer Festival – the first medal won by an Alabama brewery in five years. Blue Pants’ same dedication to beer science can be tasted in their IPAs, all of which are produced using some pretty ground breaking hopping techniques.
If you still have room for more beer, head back into Huntsville (where you will be spending the night) to finish the night at The Nook – the Rocket City’s original craft beer bar. Explore beyond the Huntsville beer scene with a bar fully dedicated to Alabama beers. Or, if you’re in the mood for whiskey, select from the city’s largest menu.
Begin the day with a look at Lowe Mill ARTs & Entertainment
You’re in the South where they do breakfasts right. Think heart attack on a plate before 10am – the perfect food to sop up all that beer from the night before. You won’t find a better example than Blue Plate Café, where chicken fried steak is an option for a side with The Big Blue. Watching my boyish figure, I opted for fried bologna instead with my two sunny side up eggs, two pancakes, and cheesy browns.
The next stop is Lowe Mill ARTs & Entertainment. An arts center doesn’t sound very beer weekend – you’re thinking old ladies knitting quilts and doilies. That’s not Lowe Mill. Lowe Mill is the largest privately owned arts facility in the country. And yes, you will find your typical fine arts painters, sculptors, and jewelers. You’ll also find more of the obscure like a puppet maker, a felt maker, a cigar box guitar maker, comic book artists, and an acoustic guitar maker. Plus, there’s a distillery, Irons One, to feed your alcohol weekend needs.
Tour the breweries of Huntsville’s Brewers Row / Campus No. 805
While there are plenty of food options at Lowe Mill, you need to eat some BBQ while you’re in Alabama. When it comes to BBQ, ‘Bama is known for two things – smoked chicken with white sauce and ribs. For smoked chicken, you’ll have to drive about 30 minutes out of Huntsville to Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in Decatur. Since the schedule is already pretty packed, head to Granville’s Gourmet Ribs and Barbeque instead. The ribs come with big hickory smoke, a nice char from the dry rub and grill finish, and a BBQ sauce that is drinkable. Don’t forget to order the baked potato salad for your side.
Now that you have a nice layer in your stomach to absorb some beer, head over to what locals are dubbing Brewers Row. Here, you’ll find three breweries within walking distance of each other, so leave the car behind until tomorrow morning (Huntsville does have Uber to help you get around).
Start the tour at Salty Nut Brewery for a bit of Huntsville brewery history. Salty Nut was Yellowhammer Brewing’s original location. Once Yellowhammer vacated the space to open their new facility in nearby Campus no. 805, Salty Nut moved into the adult frat house and expanded from a one-barrel brew system to 10.
The next two stops are in Huntsville’s brand-spanking new entertainment complex Campus no. 805. Well, maybe Campus no. 805 isn’t that new. It’s an old middle school that has been converted into shops, restaurants, and breweries. Yellowhammer Brewing is one of two breweries that anchor the facility. The spacious tasting room is always filled with a lively crowd of customers enjoying the German and Belgian inspired beers.
Located in the gymnasium of the middle school is Straight to Ale. When I was in Huntsville, the facility was still under-construction. However, from the photo’s I’ve seen, get ready to be impressed. The brewery did an awesome job incorporating the original architectural aspects of the space like the basketball hardwoods and the lockers. You’ll be even more impressed with the beer though. Straight to Ale’s barrel-aging program produces the sort of beers that get traded. That is if locals are willing to relinquish their stash. I, for one, wouldn’t. I still think about the Cabernet Barrel Aged Laika Stout and the Unobtanium bourbon barrel aged old ale.
Finish the day with a taste of Huntsville
1892 East Restaurant and Tavern may be more fine dining than bar food, but one bite into the creative genius and culinary perfection of Chef Steven Bunner, and you’ll realize it’s a welcome departure from wings and burgers. A beer connoisseur himself, Chef Bunner always has something special on tap – perhaps from a keg he pulled aside for aging. Be sure to order the Crispy Shrimp and Grits for an appetizer. Besides, who doesn’t want to eat at a restaurant owned by a philosophy major turned chef. “I have five answers for ‘do you want fries with that?’” says Chef Bunner.
Wrap up the night at Old Town Beer Exchange. Their mighty beer list always features some rare treats. And, to make sure you don’t miss out on a beer you truly want, each keg is monitored with a percentage of beer left, which is also found on their web site.
Relive your childhood at the Space and Rocket Center.
You’re going to want to fill up on another hearty breakfast because we have long morning of space exploration ahead of us. Rolos Café provides the same greasy spoon breakfast experience as Blue Plate but with more of a neighborhood feel. Go with the Locomotive Special – country fried steak, eggs, gravy, and biscuits.
Next stop is destination final frontier – the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. Yes, folks, this is where space camp takes place, and yes, there is an adult space camp for those interested in spending the weekend learning to become an astronaut. However, for those with only a few hours to indulge their inner child, there are plenty of ways to recreate a mini space camp experience like experiencing 3 Gs in the Space Shot, getting dizzy in the G Force, or climbing Mars’ Olympus Mons. For those wishing to keep their feet on the ground, there are plenty of space artifacts to check out like the Apollo Saturn V Moon Rocket, Rocket Park, and the Apollo 16 Command Module.
Wrap up the weekend at the breweries of Old Town Huntsville
All that space exploration is bound to work up an appetite. Quench it at Below the Radar Brewhouse brewpub. The gastropub-inspired menu is filled with everything from some of the most unique chicken wings I’ve sampled to one of Huntsville’s best reubens to grilled New Zealand lamb. BTRs beers fall on the high gravity side, so drink with caution.
Around the corner from BTR is Huntsville’s newest brewery, Green Bus Brewing. Green Bus wasn’t open when I was in Huntsville so I really can’t comment on their beers other than to say the location looks pretty wicked.
Last, on your way out of town, be sure to stop at Liquor Express and Craft Beer for one of the largest retail selections of beer in town and also one of the largest tap lists (sip while you shop). Here’s where you’ll want to seek out some of Straight to Ale’s rare barrel aged beers and any other Huntsville beer you enjoyed on your Huntsville Beercation.
Huntsville is pretty easy to get around, and they now have Uber, so your hotel location isn’t really that important. Check out the TripAdvisor reviews and pick a hotel that best suits your travel style. I stayed at the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Huntsville-South and enjoyed the clean, comfortable rooms. The extra space helped me to spread out after crashing from a day of hard drinking on my own Huntsville Beercaiton.
Have I convinced you? Does a Huntsville Beercation sound awesome?
Thank you to the Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau for hosting me on this press trip. As always, my opinions remain my own.