How Two Friends Started Alabama's Craft Beer Boom
All photos by Nora McGunnigle.
Michael Sellers and Jason Malone, co-founders of Good People Brewing are responsible for kickstarting Alabama’s craft beer boom. The pair are true pioneers in the city of Birmingham, the state of Alabama, and the Gulf Coast region in general.
Sellers and Malone, friends from college, then homebrewers, reconnected over beer and realized that Birmingham needed a brewery. And, in 2006, they were crazy and ambitious enough to try to do something about it. Now Good People is Alabama’s oldest and largest brewery.
Although breweries and brewpubs have opened and closed throughout the years in Alabama, the state’s restrictive beer laws banning high gravity beer, 22-ounce bottles, and onsite tap rooms made success difficult. In 2008, law changes began to pave the way to encourage small breweries and the beer culture. The 6% ABV cap was removed (the cap is now a more reasonable 13.9%) and in 2010, legislation permitted on-site tap rooms in the state, where breweries could sell their beer on site directly to the customer.
The brewery has expanded every year since opening just to keep up with local demand - it’s only distributed in Alabama and Nashville right now, although they are looking to expand into the Florida panhandle region this summer. Good People has a 30-barrel brewhouse with 19 fermentors ranging in size from 20 to 120 barrels each. Malone estimates that the brewery can only undergo one more expansion in its current location, and that expansion is slated for the second half of 2015. Good People brewed and sold 14,000 barrels of beer in 2014.
As far as the beer goes, Sellers will be the first to state his unwavering belief in the brewery’s five core beer brands - Good People’s Pale Ale, IPA, Brown Ale, Coffee Stout, and Bearded Lady American Wheat. “I’m a core product kind of guy,” he says. “I think the quality of a brewery rests on the quality of its core products.”
The Pale Ale - which is Sellers’ favorite beer - is a pale that’s meant to be drunk every day. A subtle hop aroma and flavor perfume the beer, citrus and pine, while the malt backbone is steady but never overbearing or sweet. The IPA amps all that up with a balanced, bitter brew that contains a more intense tropical fruit hop profile as well as a pleasing mouthfeel of moderate carbonation that make the beer an easy sipping IPA.
Good People’s Brown Ale is a surprisingly sophisticated take on the traditional style, which is often overlooked and populated by unmitigated malt bombs. This brown has a creamy mouthfeel that finishes dry, and the roasty, caramel malts are evened out by the hop profile. It’s not that you taste or smell the hops - the beer is dominated by malt, as per the style. But the hops clean up the sweetness, and dry out the finish without bitterness. It’s an excellent example of the style.
The coffee used in the Coffee Oatmeal Stout is from neighboring Primavera Coffee Roasters in Birmingham. The aroma of coffee dominates this brew, while the oatmeal in the grain bill creates a smooth, sensual mouthfeel. Again, the hops are used in the background to great effect, and occasionally a little herbal note will escape the coffee and roasted-chocolate notes.
The Bearded Lady is the newest addition to the core lineup. Malone credits the success of this American-style wheat to the baseball fans who attend games at the nearby minor league field. “The baseball fans have actually served as a good test market for our beers,” he says, noting that the Bearded Lady was originally a seasonal that became wildly popular through the tap room.
A perfect summer beer - especially in the sultry Southern heat - the body of the Bearded Lady is light, of course, as per the style. And although it’s easy drinking, the fruity-lemon yeast esters and biscuity malts provide lots of flavor while finishing clean and crisp.
Head brewer Adam Klein likes to talk about the work he’s doing on beers for the tap room, including a series of differently hopped session beers, which he says are his current favorite beers to brew. He loves the current summer seasonal, Hitchhiker IPA, which he describes as “citrusy and dank, and lighter bodied for a higher ABV.”
In a region not well known for hoppy beers, Klein says, surprisingly, “we probably sell IPA the most. We like to think of ourselves as an IPA brewery.”
Back in 2006, Good People stood alone in Birmingham. Now the capital city has four breweries, with several more in planning, and the state has close to 20. “We used to know everyone opening,” Malone says. Now there are so many, it’s impossible to keep up with what’s opening where.”
“We didn’t have a thriving population of brewers and beer drinkers,” he continues. In seven years, however, all that has changed.
Editor's Note: Good People is celebrating their 7th birthday on July 4th! Read our coverage here: