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Ingesting the Opposition - Week 12: Druid City Brewing

This Saturday Mississippi State plays Alabama for what may turn out to be a mighty big sack of marbles. Your intestinal fortitude will be challenged more than it has been all season. But hold steadfast! Alabama's football gods require a fourth and final act of reverence, and Druid City Brewing is waiting for you at the font of hoppy devotion.

Courtesy of Druid City Brewing

Yesterday, Pink Floyd released an album of "new" music for the first time in twenty years. I could ramble on (and on (and on (and on))) about this event, but for my purposes here, I'll remark only that upon listening to it for the first time, I was struck by a slight nostalgic twinge. I was waiting on my vinyl copy that my sister graciously purchased for me at Grimey's in Nashville (if you haven't been, you're missing out). But while sitting at home sick on Monday, the urge for the instant gratification of steaming the album on Spotify was overpowering.[1] I couldn't wait for the record.

Now, I wish I had. Not because this album is a masterpiece whose glory is cheapened by compressed digitization. (Spoiler: It's not a masterpiece.) But because now I can't do what I did with most of the other Pink Floyd albums I heard growing up—unwrap the cellophane, put the thing on the stereo (admittedly, more often a CD than an LP), and pore over the album credits, liner notes, and whatever pictures or stickers the band included to spark my adolescent wonder.

So as I prepare to discuss our fourth stop this season in increasingly craft-beer-rich Alabama, I'm atoning for my impatience the best way I know how: by playing the second half of Ummagumma on my turntable. (Spoiler No. 2: The third and fourth sides of Ummagamma may be the closest analogs in the Floyd canon to the new album. And no, that's not even close to what I was expecting to think going in.)

But this vinyl excursion does more than soothe my self-dealt wound. It's reminding me of a conversation I had with a guy a few months back. Dude was a jovial retired hipster of sorts. He used to play in an indie rock band, and now ran this awesome place that made and sold small batch beer. He had bands play at the brewery most weekends, and had in-week events that ranged from slam-poetry nights to bring-your-own-records nights to retro-video-game nights. And behind the bar in the taproom, up above the turntable that indulged the staff's music geekery, they drew tongue-in-cheek chalk versions of masterworks that provided a lighthearted respite in what can sometimes be a sea of over the top sports zealotry.

In other words, it sounded a lot like the kind of place I'd want to hang out back in the day.

That's odd. I'm pretty sure the grid on the refrigerator at work says this weekend's game is against the conservative-helmeted team from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Not Texas or Georgia or Washington.

Yes indeed. We're playing Alabama. In Tuscaloosa. The home of Druid City Brewing.

Turntable 1

A turntable, Southern garage rock, and a picture of the town's lord and savior.

When I spoke to Bo Hicks, one of the founders of Druid City Brewing, the tone of our conversation was set immediately. "Dan Mullen is my personal hero," Bo volunteered. In the brief pause the followed, I wondered what possible zinger I'd be dealt by this Tuscaloosan about whom I knew very little.

"He opened the college football season by saying, ‘Merry Christmas! Sh*%@er's full!' on national television."

Bo's adoration wasn't just that it was a hilarious moment. But that Mullen genuinely knew the movie and made the perfect reference. This was not the norm for big-time college football coaches in the media. No feigned recognition of a cultural phenomenon or bland, failed attempt at self-deprecation. It was instead like taking part in a conversation in which someone unexpectedly recognizes a random Simpson's reference you made. Your respect for the person is exponentially embiggened.

With that joyous interjection out of the way, Bo's recollection of the brewery's nascency somehow gained an invaluable context of near familiarity. Yes, this was a businessman talking up his profession. But more, this was a guy who you could instantly relate to and whose brewery naturally sounded like the one you'd start if that was your bag.

He and his business partner Elliot Roberts were both Alabama grads who set down roots in Tuscaloosa after college. Bo had been a percussionist in a few bands around town—including a Guided-By-Voices-style indie rock band and some kind of funk fusion group (did I hear him right?) that sounded bizarre and amazing—and done some other odd jobs here and there, like tending bar and working at an local organic grocer. Elliot, on the other hand, had somehow established an early career out of being a self-made administrator for bar trivia in much of the state. More recently, he's been doing I.T. work for a local lumber company.

They were also ardent home brewers in a town without a brewery. As "Tuscaloosa proud" beer junkies, this just would not do.

One thing led to another as it so often does when dudes brew too much beer on the weekend, and pretty soon they had a business plan in the works. They befriended the guys up at Good People in Birmingham, whom they leaned upon from time to time when they were feeling their way along, and eventually wrangled up twenty small investors to supply the cash that they were lacking. They became acclimated to the grain supply side of the business—Did you know that microbrewies sometimes have to be able to forecast their grain needs for years in advance in order to be able to contract with suppliers? Sounds pretty lame to me, but so it goes for the little guys, I guess.—and capitalized on Bo's connections in the bar scene around town.

So by the end of November 2012, Druid City brewed its first legal beer. A few local bars put it on tap at first, then another couple of dozen followed suit.

People drank it.

They then asked for more.

DCB taproom

After another six months, Druid City opened its taproom. Though it started out as a part-time thing open only on the weekends, Bo and Elliot eventually decided that their community needed beer seven days a week. It was a wise decision.

As I mentioned earlier, Druid City's taproom just sounds like a great place to be. The shows they've hosted have ranged from indie to Americana to southern blues rock and beyond. Bo mentioned a few of headliners, and it was an impressive list given the size of the Druid City operation. (The facility itself is less than 1,500 square feet, though I believe the shows can be inside or outside, depending on the circumstances.) The brewery has also been able to draw a lot of bands to play local benefit shows that it sponsors for various causes. One band Bo emphasized as being particularly accommodating and helpful in the brewery's early days was the Alabama Shakes.

If you're a small microbrewery across the parking lot from the Family Dollar and Mr. Chen's Authentic Chinese Cooking with a staff of less than five people, and you're getting Grammy nominees to come play shows you're organizing, you're doing something right, folks.

Even when you're not being wowed by local rock and/or roll, the vibe of the taproom seems pretty conducive to time wasting with your favorite beer. Maybe you want to have an easy-drinking, dry, Irish-style Tuskaloosa Stout and listen to your favorite Pavement record with a couple of friends.[2] Or maybe you want to down some high ABV Downtown North Porter while you watch a World Cup game with a bunch of people screaming their heads off. Or maybe you want to take a brief detour from your trip to an Alabama football or basketball game—both stadiums are less than a mile's walk away—for a quick Lamplighter IPA (which Bo calls "one of his favorite beers," and not just because he makes it) or Riverside Saison. Or perhaps you'd just like to sip an approachable wheat beer while you admire the latest goofy art behind the bar, silently saying a prayer for your Mississippi State Bulldogs team that will, one way or another, meet its destiny Saturday night.

All of the above? Why not.


[1] My illness auspiciously presented me with a new and exciting opportunity—Inhaling the Opposition:

Humidifier 2

[2] Bo told me that they've got a Pavement poster next to one of the tanks in the brewery. This made me very, very happy. So now you should be happy, too: