I was recently given a generous VIP invite to attend Straight To Ale Brewing Co.’s “Highway To Ale” beer festival. It’s a long way to go for a beer, but two factors made my decision for me; I love everything STA has ever made and I’ve never been to Huntsville, Alabama.
Despite being located up at the very north of the state, the drive went by in no time. I guess having rolling hills and actual geological features to view helps break up the road hypnosis.
Huntsville is a very pretty and historical city. One question: where is everyone? Downtown on a Friday night and I must have passed a total of seven other pedestrians! After dinner at the excellent Commerce Kitchen (their interpretation of Grits and Grillades was one of the best things I’ve eaten all year… toasted onion grit cake with braised short rib and house-made hot sauce!) I finally found Below The Radar, a killer brew-pub making their own beer and representing a slew of regional greats from Blue Pants, Yellow Hammer and Old Black Bear alongside rarities from more recognizable craft houses. If you find yourself there, grab one of their Firefox Pale Ales and an order of spicy Mac N Cheese bites.
We can’t discuss Huntsville without mentioning the importance of the space race. When Werner Von Braun and his brainy buddies came to town in 1950, it changed American history forever. Their contributions to rocket science are staggering to this day. I spent a few hours at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center nerding out around the 38-story Saturn V, lunar modules and moon rocks.
The STA beer fest was an embarrassment of riches. 35 of their beers were made available, much of them special barrel- and cask-aged versions of their core brands and seasonals. I gladly accepted a sample of their Velvet Evil Pecan Old Ale and strolled the facilities. Stacks of bourbon, rum and tequila barrels are quietly transforming STA’s beer into magnificent new organisms. There’s a cozy taproom up front showing off their awards and selling all of their awesome merchandise. There’s also a pinball room full of new tables I’d never seen before! Between the beer, catered food, camaraderie, pinball and confections (make Pizzelle’s Confections a must-do on your trip!), I was in heaven.
STA has always tied the local space race history into their beer. And where would the American space program have been without the evil Russkies to motivate us through Cold War competition? Makes sense that STA would name their Russian Imperial Stout “Laika” after the Soviet stray dog that was the first animal to orbit the Earth.
As black as outer space and sporting a mocha head, Laika exhibits big scents of dark chocolate, espresso and star anise. Rich and silky, it explodes off the launch pad with intense flavors of chocolate ganache, licorice, coffee, dark fruits and a hit of boozy heat.
Thanks again to STA and their entire staff for a great time and great beer. I’ll be orbiting your brewery again very soon.