Opening a brewery takes a lot of time, effort, and patience. However, Jim and Julie Shamburger navigated the process relatively quickly to open Big Beach Brewing Co. in Gulf Shores, Ala. Jim started homebrewing after his daughter bought him a Mr Beer kit, but he quickly advanced and in July 2015 petitioned the city to open a brewery. Construction of the building was completed and the brewery opened its doors in October 2016.
The brewery sits on the corner of East 2nd Street and East 24th Avenue in the Waterway Village District, so it is easily accessible to locals or people coming for a beach vacation. During a recent visit I talked with brewmaster Rod Murray about the beers he brews at Big Beach while my wife Katie and I checked out the taproom and sampled some of their beers.
The exterior of the brewery is very welcoming, but the trees can make it difficult to locate the parking lot behind the building. So visitors instead see…
Moments after walking in the door, Katie and I were greeted by Rod and we went straight to the production side of the facility to talk about beer.
Currently the brewery operates a 10-barrel brewhouse with six fermenters and two brite tanks. Visitors are unable to see the production side of the brewery from the taproom, but there is limited seating behind a window that allows people to drink beer while watching Rod brews.
Like any brewery, Big Beach has a varied selection of merchandise available for purchase. The selection of T-shirts and other items adorn a wall facing the production side of the brewery.
The seating area is very spacious with a beautiful bar top and ample seating at various heights. There are high-top tables and regular tables along with a couple of sofas that allow people to choose their experience at the taproom.
So onto the beer…
When we visited there were eight beers on draft, so Katie and I got a flight with each half of the menu. The left side of the menu included Catman Kölsch, Czech It Out (a Czech pilsner), Ale of Two Cities Scottish 70 (a wee heavy/Scottish ale), and Amy (a wheat ale with honey and basil). The right side of the menu had Rod’s Reel Cream Ale, Small Town Brown Ale, Dixie’s Heart Red Ale (an Irish red ale), Hundred Daze IPA (a hazy India pale ale). The brewery’s introductory beer is Rod’s Reel Cream Ale, which is a light, crisp beer that is perfect for the beach. It along with Amy, which is a wheat ale with basil and honey, were my favorites on draft. A beer like Amy can be an acquired taste because it is strong on basil with a hint of honey on the finish, but if you like those flavors it is a deliciously well-executed brew.
Rod prides himself on brewing beers to style, which means adhering to the standards set forth by the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP). He follows these guidelines because of his award-winning experience as a homebrewer and commercial brewer when he worked in Missouri. So the beers at Big Beach Brewing Co. may be different than beers at other breweries that are the same style. The difference means that the beers people find at Big Beach are closer to the historical style of that beer.
The interesting part of Rod’s story is that he found Jim and Julie searching for a brewmaster as he was seeking to “retire” and find a place near the beach. Clearly Rod hasn’t retired and is still brewing some delicious ales for a town that uses “Small Town, Big Beaches” as part of its marketing campaign.
Visitors to Alabama’s southernmost brewery will find a fresh, new building with an appropriately beach-influenced taproom, delicious brews, and a wonderful small-town feeling.