If you are a craft beer fan, I encourage you to visit Fort Payne, Alabama on October 12 as we have what will hopefully become an annual event, the Mountain Town Hop Fest.
From 2-6 pm, you’ll find a variety of Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia craft beers, along with food and great music. The organizers expect more than 30 breweries to participate. The only drinking vessel that volunteers will pour into is the 4oz commemorative glass. The glass come with your ticket purchase.
I’ve seen these festivals operate in various ways. This one is using a Penny-per-Hour system with samples given based on the honor system of putting pennies into a bucket. Something to work within state regulations.
I understand this event will help support the charity A Soldier’s Journey Home, a volunteer group primarily consisting of current and retired firefighters and retired veterans who raise money to build houses for disabled veterans.
The End of Prohibition
I still can’t believe we can buy beer in Fort Payne. This past March, residents finally got the ability to purchase it on Sundays and serve draft beer.
The first beer I ever (legally) bought in Fort Payne was at one of the early Boom Days festivals. The city set up a table in the Alabama Walking Party. It came a torrential rainstorm and the park flooded (leading the “dry forces” to attribute it to God’s wrath, seriously). I walked into the puddle up to my mid-shin, soaking my shoes and socks, to hand over my ID and a $20 bill, determined to enjoy that momentous occasion.
Culture Clash: Drinkin’ was Forbidden…
For decades, the county line beer stores, in-town bootleggers and evangelical Christians joined up to campaign against removing the town’s prohibition on sales of alcoholic beverages. Randy Owen of Alabama famously sang about it in “My Home’s in Alabama”: “Drinkin’ was forbidden in my Christian country home…”
I covered several of these “wet/dry” elections during my years as a newspaper reporter. Opponents would write melodramatic Letters to the Editor warning readers of peril. One lady suggested that once her child saw the neon glow of a Budweiser sign in a convenience store window, the mouth of Hell would literally open up and swallow our whole community in one giant gulp. Did I miss that happening?
As conservative as DeKalb County is, it used to be even more so. Stores had to remain closed on Sundays for decades under the so-called “Blue Laws.” But those fizzled out as the town’s big retailers, Wal-Mart and Kmart, began to crave additional sales more than they feared righteous indignation from some pastors and their congregations. It was money that caused Fort Payne to ultimately succumb to the demon drink. When you have large numbers of people hooked on crystal meth and oxycontin, a six-pack of Michelob Light loses its power to come across as an existential menace.
After Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Haleyville, voted to give President George W. Bush fast track trade authority, the Sock Capital of the World bleed out jobs headed to Honduras, leaving a big deficit in tax funds to pay for city infrastructure.
City officials wanted to attract some big brand restaurants to lure more travelers off Interstate 59. It had been common for those drivers to say, “What do you mean I can’t order a beer with my steak?” and leave.
Alas, today we have a Ruby Tuesday and an Applebee’s. And even some smaller, homegrown watering holes like Vintage 1889, which is too bourgeois to ever be considered dangerous or a dive.
Back before the city went wet, people still drank. A lot. Especially at the local country club, where I’d be a hired photographer for private events. I was well-known for working at the newspaper and taking front-page photos, so it was amusing to see prominent people in the community trying to decide whether it was safe to hold a beer can when I walked in their direction with my camera raised to take a photo. I had to reassure them that it wasn’t for publication so they could dismiss the idea of their pastor holding up the weekend edition to shame them in front of the others.
It was inevitable that Fort Payne would eventually catch up to the outside world, to the point now where even young Christian soldiers seem incredulous when told about the way things used to be. On my first trip to West Hollywood in 2008, I remember walking past all of the marijuana dispenseries and thinking, “They almost have as many of these as Fort Payne has churches on every block.”
We always had alcohol in Fort Payne (you hoped your bootlegger wasn’t selling you poison). The city benefits from the tax revenue, and citizens don’t have to behave all sneaky to acquire it.
The Battle Against Small Town Vice
I grew up thinking that alcohol was one of the gravest sins a person could commit, strictly forbidden by all religious people because it was thumbing our noses at God.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw a church group enjoying fellowship at a Chattanooga Lookouts baseball game, some of the men drinking beer as if God was not going to strike them down in wrath more ferociously than a foul ball off a hasty swing.
One a trip to Bourbon Street for the Sugar Bowl, a group of missionaries spreading the good word playfully teased me for not having a cocktail in my hand. A person I respect told me there’s a difference between enjoying a nice glass of wine with dinner vs abusing your body and obnoxiously disrupting the public peace by drinking to excess. Too much of ANYTHING isn’t good.
I got married in an Episcopal church where wine is part of the communion ritual. Seems so silly now looking back at all of those times at the Baptist church where I grew up, pouring Welch’s grape juice into shot glasses. You could almost say that a good wine peared with a steak is possibly proof there IS a God.
My point is… cognitive dissonance!
How I learned the importance of moderation
The day my lips first touched alcohol, my mother had nagged me to go mow the yard at one of our rental houses. She dropped me off with the push mower and said she would return in a couple of hours. The tenants gone, I felt brave and made myself a Bourbon and Coke.
Having never been intoxicated, I thought it didn’t work, so I poured a little more. Then mom showed up and, I guess, smelling alcohol on my breath, she took the opportunity to tell me I had not done a good enough job push mowing the yard and needed to go over the same ground again. Lemme tell you, staggering around drunk under a hot summer sun pushing a lawn mower was a decent enough punishment.
Alcohol was a key part of the college experience at Auburn. There used to be a bus that would take you home from the Supper Club after a night of boozing. This one time, I woke to my phone ringing and the voice on the other end of the line saying it was Sgt. Whatever from the Auburn Police Department telling me that I needed to turn myself in for questioning in the death of a couple of sorority girls who got run over by a car matching the description of my vehicle. Unable to remember riding the bus, I momentarily saw my life flash before my eyes, imagining still being in prison in 2019. Then my buddy Sid cracked up laughing and admitted he was pranking me. Drunk driving is no laughing matter, I know, but it was quite a valuable lesson in drinking responsibly and what can happen if you don’t.
Fort Payne still lacks any Uber or Lyft drivers, which is a pretty key part of keeping things safe if folks are gonna be drinking.
My sister and I have enjoyed traveling to various cities to partake in their beer festivals, to the point where we sometimes walk in with those pretzel necklaces and take notes on which beers we like so we can recommend them to other people. A beer festival is where I discovered Banana Bread Beer, which remains a delicious favorite.
NOW WE HAVE A BEER FESTIVAL IN FORT PAYNE!!!!!
Mark your calendar for a great event, get your tickets, and follow the event on Facebook.
Please say hello to me if you see me there. I’ll be roaming around doing photos for the event but hope to at least sample some of the beers.
© Photo 2019 Steven Stiefel / Stiefel Creative
Blog 2019 Steven Stiefel | Stiefel Creative