T-Town BreweriesBy Lauren Lane | 02/22/2017 5:07pm
Not everyone in Tuscaloosa finds their home in the Boom Boom Room on a Friday night or at Innisfree on a Saturday afternoon. I know sometimes when I go out with friends, I just want to be able to have good conversation and a good drink. Local breweries have become a great, laid-back option for my friends and I to play board games, corn hole or just talk for hours and still be able to hear each other. We can pop in for an hour or so and hang out while still being able to get good sleep that night if we have a big test the next day.
There are over 4,000 craft breweries across the country, each one taking five simple ingredients and using them to create a culture their city can be proud of. Tuscaloosa is lucky to be the home of several. Black Warrior Brewing Company is one of these, and co-owner Eric Hull is always experimenting with water, grain, hops, barley and yeast in order to make our city a hub for both craft beer enthusiasts and collegiate newbies.
“I really got interested in craft beer through the process of homebrewing myself,” said Hull, co-owner of Black Warrior. “I went through a stage where I was making a bunch of stuff myself –– I had a big garden, big chickens, I was raising rabbits, and growing all my own food. I was thinking that I spend so much money on beer, I might as well make my own of that too.”
Part of the company’s initiative to create a new beer each week, and Hull creates seasonal beers for his patrons to test out. By manipulating the temperature and the time spent brewing the beer, Hull is on the cutting edge of Alabama’s craft beer scene, making Black Warrior a destination for students, professors, and locals alike.
“When we started meeting with the mayor and city council about this, they were thrilled because they’ve seen what breweries have done to cities all across the country,” Hull said. “We try to be very community-oriented and try to be a part of this place. We partner with local charities and share our beer. We just want to be out there helping out the community.”
Bo Hicks, owner of Tuscaloosa’s original craft brewery, Druid City Brewing Company, attests to this idea of breweries being more than just watering holes. Hicks believes that Druid City, along with the other breweries in town, distinguish Tuscaloosa from other cities and improve the city’s quality of life.
“When we opened, I thought that somebody would come in and capitalize on us just because we have ‘Tuscaloosa beer’ and then not care about it being part of the Tuscaloosa community,” Hicks said. “I didn’t want that to happen because the one thing that I really do believe in is the community in Tuscaloosa and the community is growing so much. We just wanted to be a part of that growth.”
Hicks came to Tuscaloosa in 1998 and has since established deep roots in the city. After a stint in the local music scene, being part of Tuscaloosa’s artistic culture and working at Egan’s Bar, Hicks said opening up a craft brewery was the next natural step for him. Hull and other local brewery owners recognize Hicks as the pioneer of Tuscaloosa’s craft beer scene and know they can always come to him for an ingredient, an old record or an ice cold beer.
“Before Druid City there were a handful of craft breweries in the state but none had a good foothold in this area,” Hull said. “Druid City did a great job getting into those locations and starting to educate bars about it so that bartenders could, in turn, educate their clients, and it just started steamrolling. We came in behind them and all help each other out.”
Hicks and Hull would both attest to the local breweries being more of a cooperative instead of being a competitive matter. Hicks calls Black Warrior the engineering side of things while his is the dark, quirky side of breweries, but he notes that they each bring something special to the table. The pair have been friends years before they opened their breweries and continue to support each other’s commitment to enhancing the city’s cultural appeal.
“A lot of people say, ‘well Tuscaloosa is like Athens or Austin,” and I don’t want it to be that way,” Hicks said. “I want Tuscaloosa to be Tuscaloosa. But I want to keep a lot of the artistic people around and all of the things that will help create a critical mass for Tuscaloosa to be a cooler and more liveable city.”
Jeremy Donald is co-owner of Tuscaloosa’s newest brewery, Band of Brothers, and believes that breweries all begin and end with the communities that surround them.
“Beer has been the same for way too long, and people here would rather support the local growth of that instead of a conglomerate,” Donald said. “We invest back into the community not because it’s good PR, but we do things because we love where we live and want to fulfill our duty as corporate citizens.”
Whether they are pouring into each other, the community, or just pouring patrons a tall glass of beer, these men are dedicated to making Tuscaloosa the best it can be.
“People like Good People Brewing Company that have really set the scene in Birmingham and have shown us that really great beer can be made in Alabama, not just North Carolina or the West Coast,” Hicks said. “We love be a part of that scene and show that you can make good beer here and be a positive impact in the community.”