Birmingham, Montgomery and Mobile may be Alabama’s biggest cities, but as far as craft beer is concerned, there’s no bigger town than Huntsville right now. The “Rocket City” has been a center for innovation in Alabama for decades and that entrepreneurial spirit is obvious in the city’s growing craft beer industry. There are currently three production breweries in Huntsville (Straight to Ale, Yellowhammer, and Blue Pants) and a fourth has plans to begin distributing this Fall. The new kid on the block is the cheekily named Salty Nut Brewery. Founder Brent Cole was kind enough to answer some questions for me about his “in-the-works” ale factory….
BARLEY: Brent, can you tell our readers a bit about how you became interested in craft beer?
BRENT: One of my brewery partners is from California where breweries like Stone are common in bars. He moved to Alabama for work and he brought with him a taste for craft beer and he quickly got me hooked. Ever since then, I have wanted to try any and every craft brew I can get my hands on. I LOVE trying all of the different brews to see how various breweries approach different styles. It’s quite interesting. All three of the Salty Nut partners have the same passion for craft beer, and our interest is only getting stronger!
BARLEY: What’s your background as far as brewing is concerned?
BRENT: I will be honest here (and I hope this does not discourage anyone from trying our brews); but we have only been brewing since October 2010. We may be new to brewing craft beers, but we’re not new to knowing which styles and flavors we love. I will say that we have been involved with a local homebrew club for a while, read any and every book we can get our hands on and we are constantly brewing, brewing, brewing! We may be the new kids on the block, but we are very serious about producing quality brews that meet the style guidelines (with some curveballs to keep it interesting, of course).
BARLEY: Lead me through the decision to start a brewery and what steps you have taken and still need to take to make your dream a reality.
BRENT: Our decision came quite simply. We love craft beer and have a blast brewing beers that we come up with. It’s really exciting! The best part is brewing and then letting other craft beer lovers try our brews. It’s rewarding to have someone enjoy drinking what we make!
We are a fully functional LLC now, we are in the process of signing a lease for our brewery location, we have ordered fermenters, and will be ordering the brewing equipment this week, and are also in the process of selecting a distributor. We are trying to take all of the necessary steps to being set up correctly. We will apply for our manufacturer’s license in October (yearly cycle renewal) and our plan is to have our brews in bars by Mid-to-Late October!
I will say our dream will become a reality when we can pull up a stool at a local bar, order one of our brews and enjoy it straight from the tap; we can’t wait!!
BARLEY: Is there a longer term strategy for Salty Nut after you get off the ground?
BRENT: Long term I would say our plan is to still be around (haha). But in all seriousness, our plan is to continue to produce brews as much as we physically can. We want to grow, of course, but we want to try and do it as smart as possible.
We also hope to have bottled brews sooner rather than later!
BARLEY: Where does your financing come from? Outside sources? Or is it all internal right now?
BRENT: Right now, it is all coming internally. When discussing the business side of starting a brewery, we realized there are risks. We have to face the reality that our business may not be successful, people may not accept our brews as much as we do; so our plan was to fund the initial startup out of pocket, that way (and we hope the opposite) if we fail, we aren’t really out anything. At worst, with the equipment we have, we can just make beer for ourselves in larger quantities!
By August 1st we also plan to launch a kickstarter.com page so that if someone would like to donate to our brewery they can do so…and get some pretty sweet rewards in the process!
BARLEY: Now on to the most important question. Salty Nut Brewery? Where did the name come from?
BRENT: This is a good one. We used to have weekly grill-outs and beer nights with some friends. This all started in the summertime but as fall and winter approached it was getting colder and grilling outside wasn’t making much sense, so we moved it inside and added Rock Band to the nightly agenda. Our band name: Salty Nuts! We loved it…it made us laugh every time we played. My brewery partner and I were sitting at a local bar (The Nook) and were talking about starting a brewery, so of course our first question was, “what should our brewery name be?”…we spouted off Salty Nut Brewery, it hooked us, and the rest is history!
BARLEY: Nice. Could you talk about your first few offerings? Styles? Flavor profiles? Names (and origin of the names)?
BRENT: Our first brew is our flagship brew; we are huge hop heads and love IPAs, so naturally we wanted to brew an IPA. This one is called HopNaughty IPA. We felt the name was fitting; it’s full of hops and…well…beer can make you naughty, so that’s that. The flavor profile is subtle, and that was our goal. We wanted to appeal to the beer lovers that are scared to try IPAs because they fear the hops, we are hoping that this brew lets them embrace them and grow to love the style. It also has enough hops to satisfy the IPA lover. This brew has a citrusy/woodsy taste with a smooth bitterness that lingers on the palate just long enough. It is very smooth and will be perfect on a nice cool day or a very hot one. When you drink it is your choice, of course!
Our second brew is a Robust Porter called Draggin’ Nuts Porter (that is, if the State accepts the name). We wanted to offer a beer on each end of the spectrum. There are a lot of porter lovers out there. This brew is very smooth (IMO). It has a very nice initial chocolate taste, and then comes the roasted coffee. The hops are big enough to give the beer a nice aroma, and a bitterness that makes you want to experience it more than once
Our third brew is an Irish Red Ale. We are big fans of a good Irish Red, and there aren’t that many around our area, so we set out to make our own. This one is called Imperial Moustache Red; and yes Moustache is Old English style. We have a close friend who is our taste-tester that was the World Champion for the Imperial Moustache Category in 2009 for the World Beard and Moustache Championships (he was runner-up in 2011). So we named this brew in honor of his ‘Stache. We are very excited about this brew. We believe we have created a recipe that pushes the bounds of your typical red. This brew gives a nice, smooth caramel taste that finishes dry off of the palate. It has good body and was brewed with an extra handful of hops; it gives you that hop bite, but doesn’t overpower.
BARLEY: How did you decide which beers to produce/release first? How did you develop the recipes?
BRENT: We decided to make the IPA first because we love IPAs, second came the Porter so we could even out the style spectrum, and we brewed a Red so we could meet somewhere in the middle.
Recipes were developed from scratch. I did some research to see what some of the normal recipes were and used about one or two grains from the norm, and built the rest from there. We know what the styles should taste like, and we know what we want them to taste like, so we built the grain/hop bill to fit as close as possible to the BJCP guidelines for flavor profile but with our own take on the style (if that makes sense). We don’t want to just make another IPA or another Red that tastes like the others; we want it to be unique, be our own; and I think we have done that.
BARLEY: So would you say that Salty Nut will mostly stay “true to style” or will you be a more experimental brewery?
BRENT: I will venture to say that we will do both. We will brew the style based on the guidelines, but I can’t promise we won’t venture outside of the norm. We want to have our own style and let craft beer lovers appreciate our tastes.
BARLEY: In that vein, what do you think will set your beers apart from other local breweries?
BRENT: Taste. The big thing here is to be different, and that is our goal. What we don’t want is for someone to try one of our brews and say “Man, that taste like so and so’s brew.” That’s not us, we want people to say, “Man, I have never had a brew like this one before!” We want to stand out, and be different.
We also hope that our brewery name, our mascot (the lovely squirrel) and our brew names “pop” out to people
BARLEY: What other breweries and beers excite you right now?
BRENT: I think a better question is what breweries/brews don’t??? We always want to try other breweries’ offerings. It is intriguing to see their take on a particular style; and we want to taste them all. Being in the craft beer business is like being in a big brotherhood; I want to support all the other breweries just as I would like for them to support us. The local breweries in Huntsville, such as Straight to Ale and Blue Pants have been more than willing to lend a hand to us when it comes to getting up and running!
And I will say I am a big fan of Stone’s Sublimely Self-Righteous, love some Bell’s Hopslam, some Terrapin Hopsecutioner, Thomas Creek’s River Falls Red Ale, just to name a few!
BARLEY: What do you think the future of Alabama brewing looks like and where does Salty Nut fit into that future?
BRENT: Alabama beer laws have come a long way thanks to the Free the Hops organization and the craft beer lovers in the State. I think the future looks bright, and lest you think that sounds cheesy, let me explain: Hopefully, in the near future we can have larger container sizes which will allow for Alabamans to have more craft brews available to them. This will open up the window for more styles and more flavors, which is what the beer lovers want. Brewpubs will slowly but surely start to pop up and we hope to be in this market in the future. We want a one-stop shop for people to taste/try and take home our brews.
BARLEY: Finally, the big question: When can we expect to see your products flowing from our local taps?!
BRENT: Our plan/goal, as I said earlier, is to be in local bars (in the Huntsville area) by Mid-to-Late October. If people like our brews and word begins to spread, then we hope to move to B’ham, Montgomery and other cities within the State. Of course we have a dream to be across multiple States, so that is something we will look to do in the future.