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Brew Review

Hey, Okaloosa! Al’s Here and He’s Got Lots of Beer

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By Joni Williams


We didn’t think what is now the former location of the Swamp on Okaloosa Island would sit unoccupied too long, being primo waterfront real estate and all. The good news is it hasn’t. The even better news is a new place, Al’s Beach Club and Burger Bar, has opened there. And it not only looks like they’re going to be working hard to keep the music vibe going, they’re offering belly-filling eats and a killer beer list. You might have known we wouldn’t waste any time checking this place out.


We loved the Swamp and had lots of good times there. And we know a lot of y’all can say the same thing. But there are some advantages to this new place. One thing we like is that the foodie concept allows Al’s to take better advantage of its sunny Gulf front location by opening at 11 a.m. for lunch.


Nearly an entire exterior wall has (very wisely) been removed, which allows the whole place to be fanned with oceanic breezes straight off the Gulf. And what formerly was little more than a window glimpse of the water is now this incredible, in-your-face water view That would be the worth the price of admission if there was one.


But that’s missing, too. Gone are the days of the sometimes-big cover charges the Swamp was known for. Yet at the same time, Al’s seems determined that the music vibe long associated with this location will carry on. So far, some of the area’s best loved artists, including Heritage, Continuum and the on-the-rise Blake Brock are a few artists who have already made themselves right at home on the stage. On behalf of Beachcomberland’s 99 percent, we thank you, Al’s.


We also thank you for redoing that dang wooden floor—we have memories of getting our skinny heeled shoes caught in and winding up flat on our beer-fed, fat bottoms. And we know more than a few other ladies—albeit less klutzy and probably still standing—had also complained about in the past. Word to our well-heeled sisters—there’s a new, continuous planked floor, so if you happen to hit the town in more than the safety of your low-heeled flip flops or Nikes, you’ll be safe. From the floor anyway.


The beer list, however, might get you into trouble. It’s filled with plenty of temptations, on tap and in bottles—about two-dozen, all told. Which may have you wanting to order one of everything or around three at a time, so watch yourself.


We were delighted to find Kona Castaway on tap, a dry-hopped, golden IPA we adore, perfect for flying solo or with food. This is a beer that’s obviously on the hoppier side but still almost crisp, with enough flavor to keep your taste buds happy. It’s so pleasant, in fact, it could be a daily drinker.  If you’re looking for something tasty but middle of the road flavor-wise, this is a good one.


If not, Al’s has a boatload of surefire local pleasers like Sea Dog’s Wild Blueberry, Lazy Magnolia’s Southern Pecan, and the ever-popular Kentucky Bourbon Ale, aged in real whiskey barrels. They also have another of our own personal brew boos, Cigar City’s Jai Alai. If you’re looking for a truly fresh tasting, citrusy smooch of a brew that goes particularly well with fish or chicken, give it a try.


We were also happy to see some up-and-comers like 21st Amendment’s Hell or High Watermelon and Abita’s Grapefruit Harvest, as well as their much-revered Purple Haze. And if you’re into cider, you’ll have a choice of two at Al’s, as they stock both Angry Orchard and Woodchuck’s Gumption.  Obviously, someone’s put some thought into the entire list that even offers non-alcoholic selections, including two types of root beer, Barq’s and Not Your Father’s. They also serve wine.


The food menu is more to the point, with prices starting at just under seven bucks for sandwich platters, offering tuna, chicken and beef burgers with and without cheese, plus salads and sides, most notably mac and cheese, which we’re told is delish. What we found way more tempting was the selection of “hand spun” adult shakes—various concoctions made either with rum, whiskey or vodka. And we would have caved if any included the magic ingredient, you-know-what.


Alas, beer milkshakes have yet to be served locally anywhere but our kitchen. These, however, look like some yummy runner ups. Truth be told, we probably could have spiked their version of a vodka shake with the dark and subtly sweet Back 40 Truck Stop Honey Ale, which they are wise enough to serve on tap.


But we didn’t, simply because we were perfectly content as we were, slurping a freshly tapped Kona Castaway sans cream as we took in the good vibes, great sounds and enormous, full frontal beach view of this new place. Sure, the Swamp is a hard act to follow, but with a killer beer list, affordable eats, no cover charge, and—hallelujah!—knowing that dang floor is fixed, we think Al’s is off to a really good start.

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