Brewery Snapshot: Old Black Bear Brewing in Madison, Alabama
In this edition of Brewery Snapshot, I drop into Old Black Bear Brewing, a brewpub in Madison, Alabama, for dinner and a sample of beer fresh from their newly opened on premise brewery. While the recently opened brewpub now brews their own libations, the real star of the show is the food.
Hold up. I thought Old Black Bear Brewing had been around for like four years.
That is correct. Old Black Bear Brewing existed as a contract brewery for four years before they opened their own brick-and-mortar operation in downtown Madison. Up until November 2015, Back Forty Beer Company brewed all of their beers based on recipes developed by Old Black Bear Brewing owner Todd Seaton, who opened the brewery with his wife Dawn.
Today, brewing is handled by the duo of Head Brewer Stephen Tate and Assistant Brewer Taylor Smith in Old Black Bear’s new brewhouse. While they still brew the original flagship recipes developed by Todd, they are beginning to expand into other styles – an IPA and coffee stout at the time of my visit.
The brewery and taproom actually operate in two different spaces located almost right next to each other. The 3,000 square foot brewery occupies the old Western Auto building while the restaurant is in the former Bandito Burrito location. Those 3,000 square feet aim to produce roughly 10,000 barrels of beer per year.
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I instantly felt at home in the Old Black Bear Brewing brewpub.
The ambience is welcoming with the rich wood tones, exposed brick walls, and a stuffed, waving bear. The staff and fellow customers are even more inviting. If you’re not sure what beer you want to sip on, your server will quickly bring you a sample. Not sure on food? A regular will gladly help you choose from the beer inspired farm-to-fork menu.
He may also bend your ear about how awesome the Huntsville / Madison area is. Locals are proud of their city and proud that craft brewing from establishments like Old Black Bear Brewing are starting to open in their backyards. Or maybe he’ll challenge you to a game of bocce or horseshoe in the brewery’s beer garden.
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The menu is small, but inspiring.
As Chef Marci Mays aims to deliver on the farm-to-table claim, she tries to source ingredients locally whenever possible. She also acknowledges that Old Black Bear is a brewery by not only offering dishes designed to pair with beer, but she also works Old Black Bear’s beers into many of the items found on the menu. For example, the uses beer in both the chicken marinade and the maple syrup for the chicken and waffles.
I started with an order of grilled artichoke hearts. They are moist but still firm in texture (meaning they didn’t fall apart in my hand) and carried a slight charred flavor from the flame. I was convinced that artichokes shouldn’t be prepared any other way. A creamy and spicy Sriracha aioli accompanies the artichokes.
For my main course, I ordered the heralded chicken and waffles while my friend decided on the behemoth pimento burger that towered with gooey cheese and onion straws. He said it was as good as it looked. The clean plate backed his claim.
The chicken and waffles was served with both a side of maple syrup and hot sauce. The chicken could have stood as a dish on its own. The breading was perfectly crisp and dry and the inside was succulent and moist. However, it played well with the waffles in a simple dish that delivered an array of texture and flavors from the fluffy waffles to the spicy hot sauce to the sweet maple syrup.
I paired both dishes with Old Black Bear Brewing’s IPA. The 6.5% hop bomb delivered pleasant tropical notes with a touch of dank undertones to make it a bit more meaty than most IPAs and a great beer to pair with food. It helped extinguish the heat that both dishes delivered and didn’t overpower either of the two lighter flavored dishes.
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I highly recommend stopping into Old Black Bear Brewing for dinner and a beer.
Their beer-inspired farm-to-fork restaurant is definitely doing something right. Admittedly, the beers weren’t the best I came across in Huntsville (they weren’t the worst either), but I was there less than four months after they started brewing on their own equipment. It takes time to work out the kinks on any new system. They were good enough with hints of improvement already.
As I mentioned in my intro, Old Black Bear Brewing is worth the visit for the food alone. I’m not kidding when I say it’s some of the best I sampled in Huntsville.