Beer Quest for Brewfest: Straight to Ale | Arts & Culture
Straight to Ale
- Began: 2009
- Owners: Founders Dan Perry and Rick Tarvin (Brewmaster); partners Bruce and Jo Weddendorf and Colin Austin.
- Location: Huntsville, AL
- Flagship Beer: Monkeynaut IPA
- Tap Room Hours: Wednesday - Saturday 3 - 8pm
My first stop on my Beer Quest for the Rocket City Brewfest was right in our back yard. Straight to Ale is located at 3200 Leeman Ferry Road right behind a gym. They had the first tap room in the Madison County market and are making big plans to start canning their flagship beer, Monkeynaut IPA, in May.
Dan took me on a tour of the brewery (if you are interested in doing this, click here to check out the website to sign up) and explained what goes into making a tasty craft beer.
Having only seen the end result, learning how beer is even made was a treat for me. Every beer starts with grains; their color (how dark or light) helps determine how light or dark the beer is.
The grains are then cracked open with a milling machine. STA has an auger (a very helpful and useful addition that some breweries don't have) in their milling room that takes the cracked open grain to the mash tun. In the simplest terms, the mash tun is used to boil the grain and convert the starch to fermentable sugars. (The science behind beer is amazing, and to me, each brewmaster is a genius.)
From the mash tun, it moves to boil kettle. That's where most of the flavors are added, like the hops. Hops at the beginning will add to the bitterness of beer, hops added near the end of the process are for aromatics. It's then quickly cooled and moved into a fermenter tank where it waits from a week to three weeks (depending on the beer) to ferment (aka more food science involving yeast). At this point, some beers, like the Monkeynaut IPA, gets more hops added to the tank.
It takes about six hours to brew half of a fermenter cone tank. To completely fill one up, you are looking at a long 12 hour day. After the beer has waited the magic amount of time, it's moved though to the bright tank where carbonation is added. It is then kegged.
Soon STA will be using that bright tank to help can their Monkeynaut IPA starting May 9th. They are using the same canning system as Good People Brewery in Birmingham.
Why cans? They don't allow any sunlight in (which is good for the beer), they are easy to recycle (which is good for the planet), they can be easily carried on camping, fishing, golfing, beach trips (which is good for your cooler).
Dan said that he wouldn't have moved forward with Rick in starting a brewery had it not been for Free the Hops, a grassroots, non-profit organization whose mission is to help bring the highest quality beers in the world to Alabama. Dan said that when FTH raised the ABV (Alcohol by Volume) level to 13.9%, it allowed them the freedom as brewers to create far more styles than they could've under the previous cap of 6%.
Dan and Rick both feel the ability to have a higher ABV has helped them feel less restrictive in the brewing recipes.
So how did Straight to Ale get its name? Dan says he was at a concert drinking a beer when he heard the song "Straight to Hell" by the band Drivin' N' Cryin'. From there he approached fellow Free the Hops member Rich Partain, a graphic artist and now the brewery's sales rep, who helped him create the logo and beer descriptions. Dan and Rick then had Florence artist Browan Lollar create the sci-fi meets rocket city pictures to go with each beer.
Straight to Ale has several locations across Alabama where you can get their beer and they plan on covering the entire state soon. Dan told me he works with up and coming brewers to use their recipes and distribute them on a large scale in the Right to Brew Series. They let the brewers name the beer and get all the credit. The reason Dan said he and Rick did this is to show their support for home brewers.
Right now, it is considered a felony to brew beer in your home, but it may change soon. A bill just passed the Alabama House and is set to go before the Senate. It would allow brewers to create 60 gallons a year for personal consumption. WAFF 48 News will continue to follow what happens with the bill that has stirred up some controversy in the Legislature.
After a law was changed recently that breweries could install tap rooms, STA jumped on board. Dan said it's great to talk beer with the people who come in and get instant feedback. In the STA tap room, you can see Lollar's work in poster format. It's a place Dan and Rick test out their latest creations in small batches.
Right now, they have out Barrel-Aged Unobtanium Old Ale - a beer that has been aging six months in a bourbon barrel. ( A little bird told me that if you try this beer with the GiGi's Cupcake flavor, Kentucky Bourbon Pie, it was slap ya mama good.)
Dan said he is excited to be a part of Rocket City Brewfest again this year and can't wait for people to try some of Straight to Ale's new brews and old favorites. Make sure to grab your tickets now and stop by their tent and say hello.