Get a peek into the challenges and joys of brewing in Alabama with Straight to Ale’s founder Dan Perry.
Alabama isn’t the first place you'd usually think of when you ponder craft beer, but Straight To Ale is on a mission to change that. They’ve been named the best brewery in the State by RateBeer and have the top-ranked beer in the state as well.
Straight to Ale’s path to greatness was a long one. Due to Alabama’s state laws, Founder Dan Perry put off the idea of opening a brewery until the legal ABV limit was raised above 6%. He homebrewed for over two decades, honing his craft before winning a Midsouth Homebrewer of the Year award. When the legal limits of commercial beer were raised to 13.9% ABV, he was one of the first in a wave of breweries that were created. He applied to open the brewery the same week the law changed.
Straight to Ale founder Dan Perry, middle.
We recently sat down with Dan to get a sense of what it’s like being a homebrewer-turned-brewery owner in Alabama.
How long were you homebrewing before the brewery opened?
I started homebrewing with my father while growing up and was intrigued by it even though his homebrew was definitely not world class. I remember several dumped batches and bottles exploding in the garage during dinner one night. My mother was not happy… Once I joined the army, I started homebrewing on my own back in 1987 and really started getting into advanced brewing once I got out of the service and moved back to Huntsville.
You started as a homebrewer and were prevented from entering professional brewing because of arcane laws. Do you feel as though there are a lot of other talented brewers in Alabama that aren’t brewing professionally because of the regional challenges?
We were actually very involved in getting the laws changed in Alabama both prior to opening STA, and also once we were open. I was the Huntsville chapter leader of Free The Hops and worked hard for years to get the first law changed to raise the allowed beer ABV in Alabama from 6% to 13.9% prior to opening STA. We filed our LLC paperwork the week after the governor signed that into law. We worked hard with the Right To Brew movement to get homebrew legalized. There are a ton of excellent brewers located in the Huntsville area, very creative, and they make some of the best, most innovative beers around. We try and bring them into the brewery as guest brewers as much as possible.
So homebrewing wasn't legal at all in Alabama until after you were already working on opening Straight to Ale!? Do you have any homebrewing stories about you or any of your friends dodging the law or getting busted?
I have plenty of stories of me dodging the law, but I don’t feel comfortable documenting them!
There was a story of one homebrewer friend of mine getting busted in a dry county a few years after this article was written. It’s public record already, so I don’t see a problem with mentioning it here.
What are some of the biggest challenges to brew in Alabama?
Honestly, Alabama is pretty relaxed now for breweries, much better than it was 8 years ago. The main challenge is the alcohol tax structure. Our taxes are really high compared to other states, and there are still a lot of silly regulations in place that we have to fight with monthly.
What’s the most annoying Alabama state law about beer?
There are many, but I think the manufacturer sampling laws are the most annoying at this point. IMO we should be able to sample out our products to legal age consumers anywhere we want to, but regulations make it almost impossible.
What are the biggest advantages to brewing in Alabama?
Alabama itself! It’s a great place to live with a lot to do, and the people are definitely into the craft beer community that we’ve built here.
Ok, random question: How do people at Straight to Ale feel about college football?
We have a mixed bunch here at STA as far as football fans. We definitely have both diehard Alabama and Auburn fans with a sprinkling of other regional fans. We do have some occasional pro football issues, like a certain ATL Falcons fan who is our head brewer. It’s tough to look past that being a Saints fan myself.
What were some of the first beers that inspired you to get into craft?
A lot of older English styles that made their way over here back in the late 80’s. New Belgium was a big influence to me, I used to apply there every year but never got hired. They inspired me to travel to Belgium and the beers that I found there pushed me over the edge.
I know you’re Straight to ALE, but do you guys ever make lager? It seems like there’s a large opportunity to convert local lager fans. Is that true?
We definitely do lagers as well as ales. We believe in a lot of variety, especially at our taproom where we are currently expanding our tap count to 60 by adding a new Belgian / Sour Room and an outdoor German Biergarten. Then when you add in the house-made ciders, spirits, meads, and wines, there is something for everyone! We try and convert everyone who comes in to the brewery, with some success.
- Extra bonus -
Straight to Ale was named after the song Straight to Hell by Southern Rock band Drivin’ N Cryin’. To get a better sense of the musical pulse of this eccentric brewery we asked headbrewer Bob Gile:
What music do you listen to in the brewery?
You never know what you will hear when you walk into the brewery on a typical brewday. Whomever is first arrives will start the radio playlist off and then it changes depending on the mood. Some days we have themes: Funky Fridays, 80s Mondays, we play Laika and the Cosmonauts radio on Laika brewing days, "Shout at the Devil" on repeat when infusing the Stout at the Devil batch, and of course "Shock the Monkey" on Monkeynaut brewing days.
Everything from little known jam bands to old school hip hop to Hank Williams will come on in a typical day. You might walk in on us listening to modern day rock music, you might walk in to us listening to Spanish beach music. The few rules we have are: play a radio station based off an artist rather than just playing one artist over and over, try not to change music during a song, and if we are canning you will probably hear Mark Morrison's "Return of the Mack" or Johnny Osborne's " Buddy Bye" at least once.
Straight to Ale brewers taking a break
Since Straight to Ale opened, attending space camp in Huntsville isn’t the only way to get blasted. Visit them and discover why their creations make them the go-to masters of booze, barrels, and more in Alabama.
Written by Neal Yurick
Photos from Straight to Ale Facebook Page