As the cliche goes, “you don’t have to be a rocket scientist” to recognize the value of the Huntsville, Alabama, area for meetings and events. Recently my husband and I discovered another great reason to visit the Space City: breweries! Huntsville and neighboring Madison have (at last count) ten breweries, which has to be the greatest number per capita in the state. And guess what? One brewery is owned by two rocket scientists, so maybe those scientists DO know something we don’t.
The big brewery news in Huntsville is the unofficial brewer’s row on Clinton Avenue West, with three craft breweries—Straight to Ale, Yellowhammer, and Salty Nuts—all within walking distance, plus bars and restaurants (a Rock N Roll Sushi just opened), event and meeting space, and a huge event lawn.
Straight to Ale and Yellowhammer are part of what’s known as Campus No. 805 (named after the last three digits of the neighborhood’s zip code), and it’s the best use of an old school property you can imagine. School to brewery. What’s not to love?
The 13-acre campus, once Stone Middle School, closed in 2009 and sat empty for a few years until developer Randy Schrimsher bought it to create an entertainment venue. Yellowhammer was the first to open in a new building. Straight to Ale opened in 2015 in a portion of the renovated school, which also houses Lone Goose Saloon, Ale’s Kitchen, and Stone Event Center. Salty Nuts joined the party when they moved into Yellowhammer’s old space, just a block down the street.
The developers preserved much of the old-school look and feel at Straight to Ale. Restroom signs in the tap room read “boys” and “girls”; the brewhouse in the gymnasium still has its scoreboards (now used to time the brewing process); there are lockers and bleachers on the walls; and there’s a classroom door labeled “typing” that leads to an office next to an awesome electronic game room, something students would have loved!
Walk through the gymnasium/brewing room and you arrive at an open-air bar and second tap room that overlooks the event lawn, once the school’s rec field. The City of Huntsville and the developers partnered to turn this into a multifunction space, complete with hookups for food trucks. When the state allows this to be an “entertainment district”—and yes, that’s up to the state in Alabama—the lawn will become an extension of the breweries allowing drinks to be carried off site.
As I noted, the Huntsville area is home to ten craft breweries and brew pubs. It’s just about statistically impossible to get to all of them in a night even with a designated driver. We heard talk about a “brews cruise” service that would visit the various tap rooms, which would be an excellent addition to the town. There is a downtown trolley that makes a stop at Campus No. 805, but it runs only on the weekends.
With two days for our visit, we were able to hit six breweries, and by sharing flights at each, we didn’t overindulge, but managed to taste a good number of unique brews. Tap rooms open at different hours, so be sure to check before you head out.
We started at Yellowhammer with a shared flight of five of their best brews. Yellowhammer’s sleek new tap room backs up to Earth and Stone Wood-Fired Pizza. Next time, we will come hungry.
From Yellowhammer, we strolled down the street to Salty Nuts (named for a band, not for what we expected to find in bowls on the bar). The place has a funky basement rec room vibe with couches and comfy chairs, dart boards, and games stacked on shelves. We took seats at the bar and enjoyed a flight while talking with another couple at the bar who were brand new to the craft brewery experience. They picked a good city in which to start their exploration!
After a break for dinner, we headed back to brewer’s row and straight to Straight to Ale. It was one of those rare not-too-hot Alabama summer nights, so we opted for the open-air tap room and bar, where the bartender entertained us with tales and samples of several brews before we settled on a “He Ain’t Heffe” for me and a “Wernher Von Brown” for my husband.
The next evening, we hit three breweries in Madison, just ten minutes away on the Interstate from Campus No. 805. Old Black Bear Brewing is doing its best to help revive quaint downtown Madison. Along with a tap room, it features a full kitchen and a coffee bar and its own distillery. Closer to the Interstate, Blue Pants is one of the better known and more widely distributed craft breweries in the state, and its taproom doesn’t disappoint. Wheat with Peach is a slightly tart, slightly sour brew, and one of my favorites.
Finally there’s The Rocket Republic Brewing Company, the one co-owned by a couple of honest-to-goodness rocket scientists, John and Lynn Troy. Of course you can’t throw a stone without hitting a rocket scientist in Huntsville. The brewery and taproom, located in an industrial/warehouse area just a mile or so down the road from Blue Pants, is nondescript from the outside but glorious steampunk heaven on the inside. Even if you’re not a craft beer fan (and I don’t know why you would have read this far if you are not!), check out Rocket Republic for the decor. The beers are amazing, too. With so many breweries in the Huntsville area, brewers can’t afford to be just so-so; each new brewery keeps raising the bar.
So there you have it, a sampling of a few places to enjoy craft brews in the Huntsville, Alabama, area. The scene there is so lively that while I was in the process of writing this post, I had to update the number of breweries in town when the tenth, Green Bus Brewing, opened downtown. Wouldn’t surprise me if there are even more open by the time you read this.
By D. Fran Morely
Photo Credit: Tom & D. Fran Morely