Just a few years ago, finding Alabama-brewed beer was all but impossible. There were a handful of brewpubs around the state, and a few commercial breweries that popped up and disappeared over the course of half a decade. Craft-beer geeks were forced to look elsewhere for their fix.

But that’s changing, thanks in large part to Free the Hops, an organization that’s been lobbying to change the state’s restrictive beer laws since 2004. It achieved its first major victory in 2009 with the passage of the Gourmet Beer Bill, a law that raised the legal limit on alcohol content, finally allowing high-end brews in Alabama. And in 2011, the group succeeded in getting a bill passed that let breweries operate taprooms and removed other restrictions.

These developments have led to explosive growth in Alabama breweries. Today, there are six companies you should know about that are marketing their tasty suds throughout the state (and several more on the way):

Avondale Brewing Co.: Operating out of a historic building in Birmingham’s Avondale neighborhood, this brewery’s mascot is Miss Fancy, an elephant who inhabited a zoo in nearby Avondale Park in the 1920s. Its flagship is Spring Street Saison, a funky, spicy Belgian farmhouse ale.

Back Forty Beer Co.: Though based in Gadsden, this brewery’s tasty products were made at Lazy Magnolia’s facility in Mississippi until recently. Lucky for us, it’s finally moved into its very own home here in Alabama. Try its Truck Stop Honey Brown Ale, which is made with honey from Mobile and is attracting national attention.

Blue Pants Brewing: When the brewery’s own blog describes its facility as a “broom closet,” you know it’s really tiny. But the Huntsville brewery’s Knickerbocker Red, an aggressively malty and hoppy brew, is popular enough that the owners are in the process of moving into a much larger space.

Good People Brewing Company: The state’s largest brewery, this Birmingham-based beermaker is also the only one to sell its product in cans. Its mainstay IPA is definitely for hopheads, but it also makes an array of small-batch, experimental offerings in a variety of styles.

Straight to Ale: Just a little more than a year old, this Huntsville brewery takes its Rocket City hometown to heart, with brews like Wehrner von Brown Ale, Orbiter Strong Ale, and Monkeynaut IPA. Its taproom — the first in the city — opened in early December 2011.

Yellowhammer Brewing: Founded by an experienced Huntsville homebrewer, this brewery is dedicated to creating authentic Belgian- and German-style brews. Its Miracle Worker, a Belgian Tripel, and its Yellowhammer White, a light wheat beer, are both excellent.

If you want to sample most of these beers all in one place, check out Rocket City Brewfest in Huntsville in May and Birmingham’s Magic City Brewfest at Sloss Furnaces in June. Both events are hosted by Free the Hops and have become two of the state’s most popular events.

About the Author

Jason Horn
Jason Horn is a Birmingham-based food writer and co-founder of FoodBlogSouth. Read more from him at his blog, The Messy Epicure.

The views expressed here are those of the author.