In August 2012, consumers in Alabama will notice something new on the shelves in their grocery and specialty food stores. Starting next month, beer will be available in containers up to 25.4 oz, allowing for the sale of 22 oz and 750 ml bottles of beer. Craft breweries use these large format bottles to showcase seasonal, unique or limited-time offerings. While in most states, purchasing these beers requires nothing more than a trip to the store; in Alabama, an act of the legislature was necessary before these beers became available. This act, known as the Gourmet Bottle Bill, represented the culmination of over seven years of diligent work by Free the Hops.
The air was thick with lamb and twang, cigarette smoke mingled with fog, light from a passing pick-up cut a harsh beam through the incandescense spilling out from doors and windows. Late as usual, dozens mingling already, beer and wine in hand, standing in circles or sitting on the seats and arms of broken old wicker furniture. The Yellow Hammer was no longer open for business, but the Waverly, Alabama restaurant was packed. The evening marked the official kick-off party for the Old 280 (Waverly) Boogie.
It was an accident.
The nearly two years I spent cooking in the kitchen of Birmingham’s Bottega Restaurant, working my way up from picking parsley to rolling pasta, came about by sheer luck.
Urban farming operations exist throughout the South, but their stories often go unreported. I’ve read newspaper articles about Brooklynites whose roosters annoy their neighbors, and I’ve read about Berkleyites who have dinner parties using only ingredients grown locally by the attendees, but local agriculture in the South does not make headlines. If I tell you people are growing things in Alabama, you’ll likely shrug, knowing that melons and peaches grow just as easily as peanuts and cotton, that greens thrive in our mild winters, that pecan trees are as commonplace in backyards as Labrador retrievers. Even in Birmingham, Alabama’s largest urban area, you need only drive 15 minutes in any direction to be surrounded by farm and field. Agriculture is everywhere, so it seems unnecessary to focus on the agriculture that now exists within city limits.
Like an untoward relative during the holidays, gun season in Alabama arrives early and stays late. But unlike that cousin in recovery, with his boisterous children and raspy wife, most wouldn’t mind if gun season stuck around for another couple of weeks – even though few other states allow their residents such ample opportunity to spend time hiding in trees wearing doe urine cologne. Hunting season splits the men and women of Alabama into two groups: those that go out to hunting camps on the weekend and those who complain about everyone going out to hunting camps on the weekend. From November 16 through January 31, there is a better excuse than golf to avoid familial responsibilities on the weekends.