Originally published on craftconscious.co. Written by Zachary Schmidt
I feel like I've had to say this same thing over and over again when covering the South craft beer scene. The craft beer has come to the south way way slower to the South than any other region in the country. Some have gone as far as to call the South the "Last Great Frontier of Craft Beer". I don't know if I'd go that far, considering the likes of Cigar City, and Abita have been big names for quite a few years now. Additionally there are a ton of exciting southern breweries on the rise from Bayou Teche to Fairhope (the latter's amber was an unexpected but pleasant surprise). The craft beer scene is younger than Michigan, or Colorado, or San Diego, sure, but it's growing rapidly, and it's exciting. When a brewery opens in Denver, it's no big deal. When a new brewery is founded in the South, locals get excited.
With that in mind, there are still some areas of the south that may not be as "in" on the whole craft beer thing. When Paul McVay, owner and operator of Mcloed's Publick House, moved back home in 1999, Alabama really was the wild west of craft beer. It was the land of light beer, and aside from Sam Adams, Abita, or maybe Sierra Nevada you weren't likely to find any craft beer at your local bar. If you were able to find that, then you were lucky, and even then they would only be in bottles.
Coming from the longstanding craft hub of Massachusetts, that was a tough pill to swallow. After years spent introducing his close friends and neighbors to the glories of craft beer on the down low, Paul decided to take his crusade to the big leagues, and opened up McLeod's Publick House. An unknown quantity rarely sells, so when Paul decided to free up a third of his taps to make room for local craft beer, it was a leap of faith. That leap paid off, and then some. Check out my interview with Paul below to see more.
I know you probably tell everyone been a loyal craft beer nut ever since your 21st birthday, but if your honest with yourself, your first favorite beer was probably from Bud, not Boulevard. Since we don't come out of the womb craving a hop bomb, every craft connoisseur owes their hobby to somebody who forced them to explore the delightful differences between Pale Ales and Pabst. If you're a good friend, you've converted a few other friends after you became an expert yourself. Most can claim to have converted a few of their friends. Very few can claim to have converted an entire town. Paul McVay can claim that honor.
The funny thing about the South Alabama population is that they will go straight from a Bud Light to an IPA in the matter of three or four weeks.
-Paul McVay, Dothan's Craft King
It's a great responsibility to be the local craft beer bar in a town like Dothan. Where there isn't a local brewery to latch onto, a havens such as McLeod's are responsible for the education and satisfaction of the local craft inclined public. By all accounts, Paul and the staff at McLeod's have taken that responsibility seriously, and converted Dothan of a predominately Budweiser faithful into a community of discerning craft drinkers. Though Paul attests that simply providing the options to the public was all that was required, he has developed a three step process to transition the Bud Light faithful into full on hop heads.
Start them off with the 30 A Blonde Ale, then onto a the classic Scottish Ale from Belhaven, and then to Cigar City's flagship Jai Alai IPA. In these three, easy, delicious steps, Paul's patrons (or McLeod's Mauraders as they're affectionately nicknamed) have been fully integrated into the delightful world of craft beer.
Thanks to the McLeod's, Dothan was introduced to the joys of craft beer in general, and as of 2013, Dothan finally had a brewery to call their own Folklore Brewery & Meadery. Though McLeod's is in no way connected to Folklore, the founders (and the locals themselves) should thank Paul for preparing the palates of Dothan for the world of craft beer.