In 1969 the city of Birmingham, Alabama demolished what was arguably one of the crown jewels of southern architecture, the Birmingham Terminal Station. Originally built in 1909, Terminal Station was built at the crossroads of six railroads and embodied what many knew as The Magic City. The spirit of the city felt a sharp decline throughout the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, but recently, over the past few years, that magic is coming back. As luck would have it several small breweries have opened and have mirrored this revival of spirit and pride in our city. Coincidence? I think not.
Ghost Train Brewing Company, named with the ghost of Terminal Station in mind, is the latest Birmingham brewery to open and is the brain child of locals Taylor and Paige DeBoer. Homebrewers by training, they are realizing their dream of taking their craft to the next level, but are keeping their homebrewing spirit intact by holding on to the creativity that has driven the craft revolution. As Taylor told me “When you come to Ghost Train, you’re going to be drinking home brew.” That’s music to my ears, as I can only imagine what inventiveness and originality their beers will hold.
Ghost Train currently has four beers that they contract brew in Ocean Springs, Mississippi at Crooked Letter Brewing Co. while they search for the perfect space in Birmingham. The Go-Devil Golden Ale, Switchman’s Stash India Pale Lager, Terminal Station Brown Ale, and the focus of this review, the Dark Ride Belgian Style Strong Ale.
Taylor told me that he created the recipe a little over a year ago and knew right away he was on to something. He said he used the traditional Belgian malts and European hops, with a traditional Belgian yeast strain, but where he changed things up was by the addition of honey. Taylor explained that traditional Belgian Strong Ales use invert sugar, or Belgian candi syrup in their recipes to add sweetness and increase gravity. But Taylor said he was inspired to use local Alabama honey to add that sweetness. “The first time I brewed it, I said ‘That’s it'”.
My Dark Ride began in a stubby little tulip glass poured at the J. Clyde on Birmingham’s Cobb Lane on the night of Ghost Train’s release party. It poured a dark brown / garnet with a thin beige layer of foam. The immediate aroma was that of apples and pears, but with significant malty sweetness. It was a delicate balance and nothing overpowered.
The flavor is what got me. Most Belgian Strong Ales are big, chewy beers with pronounced alcohol. Not so with the Dark Ride. While it still sits at a warming 8.7% ABV, it drinks much lighter. In fact, the whole beer just seems lighter in that the essence of the beer is a more subtle, yet still complex version of a Belgian Strong. The same apple and pear was there, but darker fruits like raisin and plum began to show up. And there was just the slightest hint of sugar from the honey. It’s a restrained sweetness, which aids in the overall drinkability of the ale. Not cloying, nor heavy, but gentle and refined. The hop profile plays only a support role in that they are only there to keep the malts in check and play no real part in the aroma or flavor.
The mouthfeel and body of the beer is light enough that it’s not a filling beer, but has enough body that it’s true to style, albeit on the low-end of the spectrum. The finish is clean with no lingering residual sweetness. In fact, I was a bit surprised at how clean the beer finished, a testament to the brewer’s skill. I was very pleased with this beer and quite sad that I limited myself to only one (it was a work night). I look forward, however, to many more. And I especially look forward to all the future offerings by Ghost Train and what things may come.