Brewery Spotlight – Rocket Republic Brewing in Huntsville, Alabama
Housed in a non-descript warehouse on the frays of Huntsville, Alabama is a brewery that draws a hearty crowd of regulars and newcomers alike. Rocket Republic Brewing derives its name from owners John and Lynn Troy’s love for Huntsville, Alabama and owners Eric and Tatum Crigger’s love for Key West, Florida. The geeky, fun, and rebel-rousing theme is found throughout the brewery, which strives to push the local beer scene by slowly but surely educating the local consumer and pushing their palates.
Entering a market that was relatively void of craft beer both in the metro area and greater state of Alabama, the first two beers Rocket Republic Brewing introduced back in 2013 were the Vapor Trail Cream Ale and the AstroNut Brown.
Rocket Republic Brewing wanted to draw newcomers in with the cream ale – a unique twist on a lighter beer – and then teach them about craft beer with the brown ale.
“Everybody was brewing a blonde. We wanted to brew something that was light and easy to drink but was different and could still draw in non-craft beer drinkers,” says Eric Crigger of the cream ale. “The brown was a matter of looking at the color and flavor spectrum and producing something further along. Of course, ours is darker than most.”
The AstroNut Brown recipe came from his days as a homebrewer when his wife asked him to brew a brown ale. “I called it the Kitchen Sink Brown back then as I used what was on hand – a little of this, a little of that. It has been tweaked for scalability.”
Yet, Crigger didn’t rely solely on his skills as a homebrewer to open Rocket Republic Brewing.
Once Crigger realized that he wanted to open a brewery, he began volunteering at now defunct Olde Towne Brewing, where he learned the basics of running a commercial brewery before enrolling in Siebel Institute’s Starting Your Own Brewery certificate program. Even with his experience brewing at Olde Towne and a certificate from Seibel, Crigger still enlisted the aid of Blue Pants Brewing, where he contract brewed starting in 2013 until Rocket Republic’s own brewery and taproom opened in 2015.
All the while, Crigger was taking various beer inspired road trips to help further his knowledge of craft beer and brewing, including a pilgrimage to the brewery the inspired him the most – Dogfish Head Brewery. He was drawn to Dogfish Head because of their study of beer, creativity, and willingness to push the limits with high gravity beer. The latter being something Alabama breweries weren’t permitted to do at the time, and which Free the Hops, an organization that Crigger is a part of, later changed.
The third beer Rocket Republic introduced to the market was the Mach 1 IPA.
From the IPA, the brewery continued to introduce beers that further pushed taste buds, like their take on Belgian inspired triples and quads. Of course, each beer has a little engineering twist done to meet the now developing tastes of their consumers.
That introduction of new, boundary pushing beers to the line-up doesn’t come without challenges though. “Belgian triple is hard sell. We sell a lot here as we have a captive audience and we’re like, here, try this,” said Crigger. While sales in the brewery have caught on, it’s still not a beer that sells well outside of the brewery.
Not all beers even make it in the brewery. “As a homebrewer, you brew things that you want to drink. When you are operating a brewery, it’s more important that you brew things that others want to drink or nobody will buy your beer,” said Crigger. “All of my recipes start out as something I like to drink. But if it doesn’t sell, we’ll either pull it or tweak the recipe.”
Which is why it’s fun to visit Rocket Republic Brewing – you never know what to expect in terms of beer.
Take for example the three side-by-side versions of AstroNut that I sampled – the standard version, one with the addition of peanut butter, and another with the addition of smoke. It was a playful and fun, yet still serious way to look at craft beer.
Through Rocket Republic Brewing’s geeky, fun, and rebel rousing attitude, the owners have developed a brewery that perfectly defines the Huntsville beer scene.
Huntsville is the perfect place to plan a beer weekend!
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