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Auburn Beer Review: Good People Brewing, Red Clay Brewing

The Alabama beer scene is not similar to Wisconsin's. It is considerably worse, BUT, it is on the rise and still has some great options.

The holiday season is long and, if you have to deal with family for an extended period of time, booze-filled. After New Year's Day people try and start to "get in shape" and "leave the couch" and "dammit Drew, just please leave the couch" around my apartment, and I'd assume your experience is somewhat similar.

Since that is the case, Wisconsin's bowl game versus Auburn is the start of the last hurrah of holiday drinking for most. Luckily the game kicks off at 11 a.m. CT (frantically searches for sarcasm font) so we can get an early start and ring in 2015 well.

In my copious amounts of research for this post, which mainly included tweeting with SB Nation's excellent Auburn site College and Magnolia, I found that the city of Auburn doesn't have much to offer in terms of craft beer.

That is too bad, and honestly makes me a little sad. Every region should have beer that it is proud of, and despite being in Alabama, Auburn is no different. The problem in Alabama is that the pesky state legislators have some old-timey, outdated laws still on the books that make it difficult for small brewers to succeed in the state.

You may have heard of the "three-tier system" before when discussing craft beer sales. Simply put it means that brewers have to sell their beer to a distributor who in turn sells it to the beer store who in turn sells it to you. Every state follows this method, but almost every other state also allows breweries to sell beer directly to their customers. There are only two that don't, and if you guessed that Alabama was one of them I owe you a beer. The other is Georgia, so maybe SEC country gets it together in terms of craft brewery direct sales, huh Mike Slive? This article about Florida brewery Cigar City passing over Alabama while it looked at possible expansion sites is extremely thorough in its explanation of Alabama's shortcomings for craft breweries.

However, all is not lost for Alabama. According to the Alabama Brewers Guild, craft beer production was up 47% in state during 2013. While that is lower than the growth in state between 2009-2012, it is still well above the national average and has Alabama pointed in the right direction.

The laws in Alabama have begun to change as well. In 2008, you couldn't brew a beer in Alabama above 6% ABV. That changed in 2009 with the passing of the Gourmet Beer Bill that raised the limit to 13.9% (sorry Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA). For the longest time, Alabama breweries couldn't sell beer on-premise at all, but thanks to the Brewery Modernization Act of 2011 they now can. Homebrewing was also illegal in Alabama until recently.

So, Alabama is clearly on the upswing in terms of craft beer. You may be asking if they have any craft breweries at all worth mentioning, and to that I say, uh, yes. Sorry, that was anti-climactic.

Good People Brewing in Birmingham is probably the standard bearer for Alabama craft beer. They started the company in 2008 and now distribute to the state of Alabama as well as Tennessee and according to Beer Advocate, they brew the third, fourth and fifth best beer in the entirety of the south. Their top rated beer, El Gordo, is a Russian imperial stout that clocks in at, you guessed it, 13.9% ABV. This beer is obviously a limited release and is tough to get your hands on, but their second highest rated beer is one they brew "year-round, rain or shine." Snake Handler is their double IPA and the combination of Cascade and Simcoe hops (along with three other varietals) is making me drool on my laptop.

I was a bit disturbed at the lack of local breweries near Auburn, so I decided to look a little deeper and see if there was anything going on with the beer scene there. I happened across Red Clay Brewing Company and was pleasantly surprised. They are the only brewery in the Auburn/Opelika region, however they do not appear to be open for business yet. This pic from two weeks ago shows the walls going up at their brewery location. A couple of articles from the last year about Red Clay dive deeper into the passion project.

I also learned a fun fact whilst talking with College and Magnolia that may also be a surprise to you. Dale's Pale Ale, from Oskar Blues in Lyons, CO, actually started in a bathtub in Auburn. That is a pretty cool story and one that I hope you impress your friends with the next time you enjoy a Dale's.