Rocket City Brewfest is one of my favorite weekends of the year, because it is a great place for all the beer nerds in Huntsville and the surrounding area to get together and partake in one of our favorite hobbies…drinking beer!
This festival is also a great place for people that live outside of Madison County (and even outside of Alabama) to come try the great beers our state is producing, all in one place! If you’re new to Huntsville, or just experiencing the wonder that is Rocket City Brewfest for the first time, I hope this guide will help you get the most out of your festival session and keep you coming back for years to come!
Friday, May 13, 7 – 11 pm
Saturday, May 14, 4 – 8 pm
Location: Huntsville Historic Depot (enter through the Depot Roundhouse)
Parking: There is not much parking at the Depot so you will probably have to park off site and walk.
New This Year: The Party Life Bus will be offering shuttle services to and from Rocket City Brewfest, but you have to get tickets in advance to ride the shuttle. Read more info about this new shuttle service.
Tickets: $38 per day, in advance, online or at a local retailer. You can get a ticket at the gate for $45 (if they don’t sell out).
DD (Designated Driver) Tickets: $10, online or at a local retailer.
Insider Tip: Make sure you buy your ticket in advance, as at least one day sells out almost every year! To get the best deal on tickets, buy yours from one of these local retailers, with cash – there is a fee to purchase online and most retailers also charge a fee if you pay with your card.
Note: RCBF is a Rain or Shine event.
What to Bring
- Your ticket (if you bought from a retailer) or your printed online ticket.
- Photo ID
- Small bag – If you plan on getting stickers or buying merch from breweries.
- Pen – If you plan on nerding out like I do and taking notes on your favorite beers or breweries.
- Cash /credit card – You’ll need this to buy tokens which can be used for food or to vote in some cool contests which’ll explain below.
- Pennies or $1 for the “penny per pour” bucket – all this money is donated to a charity and the “penny per pour” rule is required by ABC Law so please comply with this request by putting pennies into the buckets for each brewery (or just put plenty of change/cash in the first bucket you encounter).
- If you’re coming on Saturday, bring sunscreen/sunglasses/a hat! It can get very hot out there and there’s not a ton of shade!
Now for the most important part of RCBF, the beer!
To make sure I could give everyone the most accurate information about this year’s festival, I caught up with Jim Trollinger, a member of the Free The Hops Board of Directors, and Huntsville’s “Beer Grand Poobah” to see if he could give us some insider info. According to Jim, RCBF will feature over 250 beers from nearly 100 breweries!
My personal advice, based on all my past RCBF experiences, is to use the information booklet they give you to find the beers that you are the most interested in trying, and visit those tents first, as many breweries only bring 1 keg of specialty stuff, and some of the most exciting beers will be gone 1-2 hours into a session.
Be on the lookout for these breweries, making their Rocket City Brewfest Debut:
BJ’s Brewhouse, Blue Water Brewing (Florence), Cascade (Portland, OR), Cedar Creek (Seven Points, TX), Chanddeleur (Gulfport, Mississippi), Ghost Train (Birmingham), Goat Island (Cullman), Heretic (Fairfield, CA), Main Channel (Guntersville), Red Clay Brewing (Opelika)
This year, the cider tent will feature 7-8 different cider breweries, and there will be a mead tent with 3 different meaderies.
Specific Beers Jim is most excited about:
“I love Double IPA’s so I enjoy getting a chance to try all our local double IPAs (Straight to Ale’s Gorillanaut, Blue Pant’s Weedy’s Double, Yellowhammer’s Hop Revival, and Salty Nut’s Squatch). I’m also looking forward to trying the Jack Daniel’s Barrel Aged Dark Matter from Rocket Republic. There are a few other surprises I’m excited about but you’ll have to come to Brewfest to find out what they are!”
New This Year
New Tents: Several big bottle shops will have their own tents – Old Town Beer Exchange, Liquor Express, Wish You Were Beer – including some fun surprises.
According to Jim, these bottle shops are “a great part of our local beer culture, so we want to make sure they are included and have some fun representation this year”.
Alabama Outdoors has a tent, providing info about the opportunities we have to explore the great outdoors in Alabama.
This is A Double Blind Beer Tasting Competition (featuring beers that fit within the “Pale & Hoppy” category) –Participants will get to taste the beers and vote BEFORE the rope is dropped to enter RCBF (and will run 1 hour into Brewfest, or until the beer is gone for that day).
To be a judge, you’ll pay 2 tokens ($2, all donated to charity) and you’ll use these tokens to vote. All “judges” will receive a judges gift and be entered into a raffle. You’ll get a flight of all 8 beers (from each local brewery) and, as with all “Double Blinds” neither you, the “judges”, nor the pourers will know what beer you are tasting, so RCBF will get a very accurate “people’s choice” winner without any bias towards a participants’ favorite brewery!
They’ll have enough beer for 250-300 people to participate at the beginning of each session, so if you want to participate, make sure you arrive early for your session. They’ll even put the beers in a different order Friday and Saturday, so you can’t vote on Friday and try to convince your friends to vote for your favorite number on Saturday!
“The advantage of doing this before RCBF starts is that everyone’s pallet will be fresh and people will really be able to decide their favorites, as opposed to tasting and judging after they’ve had 40 samples.” says Jim Trollinger.
Another thing Jim is excited about is that there will be an option to vote to Keep or Banish Salty Nut’s “Hoppy The Clown” (probably at the Salty Nut Tent). Any money required for voting will be donated to charity.
This year’s food vendors will include 9 food and dessert tents ranging from German food to pizza to Burritos! Food is not included in the price of your ticket and all food items must be purchased with tokens. Tokens can be purchased at the “guest services” tent.
The Organizers: Free The Hops
If you’re thinking “Wow, this festival seems like a lot of work to organize!”…you’re right!
The Rocket City Brewfest is the primary fundraiser for Free the Hops, an all-volunteer 501(c)(6) non-profit in Alabama. Free the Hops is a lobbying and education organization of craft beer enthusiasts. They do not directly represent the beverage industry, they don’t sell beer for a living they drink beer. If they could drink beer for a living, they probably would. Are you interested in joining Free the Hops? You can join at RCBF, in the Free the Hops tent. This is an awesome organization that works hard to improve the beer laws in Alabama (like our most recent Growler Law) and your membership gets you invited to fun beer events all over town, so if you love beer, this is the non-profit organization for you! You can pay a yearly fee or pick the “lifetime member” option. Read more about Free the Hops here.
Free the Hops would not be able to put on Rocket City Brewfest without the help of their local sponsors. This year, they wanted to thank Whole Foods, Drake’s, Old Town Beer Exchange, Wish You Were Beer, Liquor Express and all their other Sponsors!