Where the Beers Are

Where the Beers Are

Anyone interested in exploring the world of microbrewed and “gourmet” beer can find a staggering variety of interesting beers in the Birmingham area.

May 31, 2007
For those seeking beer to go, Vulcan Beverage on University Boulevard has the largest selection in Alabama, with approximately 250 bottled beers available. “We’re the largest seller of Samuel Smith beer in the state,” brags Vulcan owner Mark Green. There are 12 different Samuel Smith beers in stock, as well as 10 flavors of Samuel Adams. Other favorites include Hobgoblin (a dark English ale), Abita Strawberry Ale (made with Louisiana strawberries), Xingu (Brazilian black beer), and Redbridge (made from sorghum, and gluten free).Overton & Vine in Mountain Brook is a popular beer oasis with personality to spare. Atmosphere is provided by Waylon Jennings or The Grateful Dead on the radio; framed, autographed portraits of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jerry Garcia on the walls; and loquacious owner Smitty Smith behind the counter. (Smitty’s not shy about sharing his feelings on a variety of topics; ask him how he feels about the governor.) Stella Artois is the store’s best-selling import. The top-selling microbrew is Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Other popular brews include Rodenbach (Belgium), Red Tail (California), Sweetwater (Atlanta), Flying Dog (Denver), Tiger Beer (Singapore), and Terrapin (Athens, Georgia).

Single beer purchases are available at both Vulcan Beverage and Overton & Vine, as well as the opportunity for customers to create their own six-packs, a boon for anyone reluctant to try a six-pack of an expensive import.

An impressive gourmet beer selection is also on the shelf at the Piggly Wiggly supermarkets in Crestline, Homewood, and Liberty Park; Tria Market in Homewood’s Soho Square (singles available); Whole Foods at the intersection of Highway 280 and Rocky Ridge Road; and the Western supermarkets on Rocky Ridge Road and in Mountain Brook.

• • •
If you prefer to drink in a bar or restaurant, there are three On Tap Sports Cafes in the area (Lakeview, Inverness, and Hoover) that feature 25 different brands of draft on tap. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Newcastle are among top sellers. Cafe Ciao in English Village offers 11 eclectic beers on tap, which is fairly impressive for a small café.

But The J. Clyde restaurant on Cobb Lane is turning beer aficionados on their heads, so to speak, offering more than 150 different brands on tap or in bottles. If you come specifically to sample the beer, ask the hostess to pair you with one of the servers who is a beer aficionado (unfortunately, not all fit this bill).

“Far and away the best restaurant bar in Birmingham for these beers,” says Danner Kline, founder of Free the Hops, about J. Clyde. Kline is irate that so few white tablecloth restaurants in the area serve fine beers. “Those places give beer no respect,” Kline says. “They think almost exclusively in terms of wine. Beer is an afterthought. A few of them offer a Newcastle or a Guinness. I’ve yet to see any of those places carry more than seven or eight beers. It’s pathetic. . . . Here they are, a high-end restaurant carrying high-end wine, and yet they’re carrying the McDonald’s of beer. Beer does pair really well with food, and they don’t understand that.” —Ed Reynolds

The following are some of the retail and bar establishments that offer quality selections of gourmet and microbrewed beer in the greater Birmingham area.

Retail: Vulcan Beverage (Southside): 328-6275, www.vulcanbeverage.com; Overton & Vine (Mountain Brook): 967-1409; Diplomat Deli (Vestavia): 979-1515; Tria Market (Homewood): 776-8923, www.triamarket.com; Whole Foods (Mountain Brook): 912-8400, www.wholefoods.com.

Restaurant: The J. Clyde (Southside): 939-1312, www.jclyde.com; The Barking Kudu (Lakeview): 328-1748, www.barkingkudu.com; Cafe Ciao (English Village): 871-2423; On Tap Sports Café: www.ontapsportscafe.com, Hoover: 988-5558, Inverness: 437-1999, Lakeview: 320-1225.

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