Name: Haulin’ Away
Style: IPA (Session IPA)
Numbers: 4.7% ABV, 33 IBUs
Brewer: Good People Brewing Co., Birmingham AL
I’m playing a fun game with my wife and several other people, some of whom don’t even know they’re playing it. It’s a simple race to get to all 50 states. I know only one person who has managed all 50 and he was in a band for all of his 20s, so I’m looking at what I see as the limitless glory of being (almost) the only person I know to accomplish a clean sweep. And I’m not doing too badly: after five years in the US I’ve been to 32.
This race often leads me to take slightly stupid journeys just to get an extra state or two. I once got up at 5am in mid-Wyoming to drive to have breakfast in Nebraska before racing back to Denver CO the same morning to fly home. I think I was in Nebraska for about 30 minutes, but hey, I’ve been to Nebraska.
So when my wife told me she was had an upcoming meeting in Birmingham, Alabama on a Saturday, I immediately offered to join her. Alabama’s scalp was mine for the taking. “But I’m only going for one night, and I’ll be busy with the meeting for most of the time.” No problemo – adding an elusive Southern state to my list was well worth it. And, maybe I could visit a brewery while I was there.
Turns out there’s a few breweries in The Magic City, including Avondale and Cahaba. But the one I was most recommended as being definitively Alabamian was Good People, a mid-sized operation in downtown Birmingham. (Apparently a standard phrase in Alabama for folks you can trust and who are fun to be around is “They’re good people”. Clever.)
I got warmed up with some excellent BBQ from Jim n’ Nick’s washed down with a pint of Good People’s flagship Pale Ale (to make sure it was actually worth visiting the mother ship – it was very good) and meandered my way over to the brewery.
I wasn’t disappointed by its size or its style. The brewery tanks and machinery fill a cavernous warehouse right on the nexus of residential and industrial areas on the outskirts of downtown, and the tap room is a carved out space right alongside them. It has both an intimate and exposed feel, which is helped by having a large horseshoe bar in the middle and a stage in the corner, which has a star spangled banner hanging above it. The place has a gritty almost scrap-yardy vibe.
I pulled up a stool at the bar, feeling even more overdressed than I usually do in my Brit abroad skinny tie and tweed jacket. I made my way through a good swathe of the handles, including Snake Handler, their Double IPA, Fatso, an Imperial Stout, their IPA and their Brown Ale. All well-made, robust, juicy brews. A couple lacked a little balance, but made up for it with their character and flavor.
The beer that jumped out at me however was Haulin’ Away, their session IPA. Session IPAs have been a trend in 2014, and from those I’ve tasted have been hit-or-miss. In an attempt to distinguish their session IPA from their regular IPA, several breweries have underhopped their lower alcohol offerings, almost in an effort to direct you back to their original. They seem to say, “Well, you asked for an easier-drinking IPA and here’s the proof that you just can’t have your cake and eat it. Now get back to drinking our finely-honed full IPA!”.
But in the case of Good People – and apologies to them if this causes any offence – I thought Haulin’ Away was better than their IPA. Drier, more balanced, cleaner aroma.
Its appearance was a cloudy, unfiltered, burnt straw, which immediately made me feel it might pack a bigger punch than some other session IPAs I’ve had, and it had a crisp white head. (Worth noting for those who care that I was sampling it in a four ounce flight glass – I didn’t make my way through a full pint of all these Good People beers.)
One vigorous sniff made me sit up and take notice. Crystal-clear grapefruit, dried sage and pine-resin aromas hit my nose, over a gentle backdrop of mango and guava. Heavy use of Cascade hops gives this beer a distinctly Californian accent.
To drink, it was certainly gentler than the 7.1% IPA, lacking any vodka-like burn. Which is a big plus in my book. But it nonetheless had a weighty mouthfeel, impressive at an ABV of 4.7%. And the chalkboard listing their beers had the IBUs at 33. 33?! It tasted like a solid 50-60 IBU IPA, with a crisp, bitter finish and plenty of bite. I was really impressed. This is the best “session” IPA I can remember tasting, and not bad for any kind of IPA.
As I was moving on to the heavier, richer beers on offer a band hit the stage, and I noticed the taproom had filled up. This was a Friday night in Dixie, and I felt like I was nestled comfortably in the heart of the Southern craft movement. I slipped my SweetWater trucker cap on as a sign of solidarity and ordered another pint to pair with my local blues. Those Birmingham folks? They’re good people.