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Brew Review

Beer Run for the Border

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By Joni Williams

 

You know how it is. One minute you’re chatting about an out-of-town place, and the next, you’re on the road. Or maybe it’s just us. Anyway, after we got to talking with some folks about the Flora-Bama Lounge, we realized it had been way too long since we’d been there.

 

Monikers like “redneck” and “dive” make our local tourist officials cringe. But the 50-plus-year-old Flora-Bama Lounge that straddles Perdido Key and Orange Beach, Alabama, has taken this very theme and parlayed it into national acclaim. Some would say outright fame.

 

Let’s recap what’s already been written (over and over and over…) about this place. It’s known for its annual mullet toss competition as well as the “bra line” strung across the bar ceiling with ladies’ abandoned lingerie. The walls are adorned with patrons’ hand-scribbled graffiti—some of it slightly obscene—old car tags, random signs and lots of American flags.

 

A longtime music venue, there have been some big-name acts here, Kenny Chesney probably being the best known. He wrote a love song to the place that he also performed and shot a video for at Flora-Bama.

 

But here are a few things you might not know. For one, they have FREE bingo, complete with prizes, every weekday afternoon from 1 to 4 p.m.—it draws a huge crowd of all ages. There’s also a dedicated game room with billiards and foosball, an oyster bar with bar food including “frickles” (fried pickles), and a huge gift shop that sells shirts, coozies, hats and so on.

 

Happy hour runs until 6 p.m. every weekday, saving you a buck off drinks including beer. But, as with Pensacola Beach hotspots, the Flora-Bama is probably best known for the Bushwacker, an ice cream and rum laden adult dessert-in-a-glass hinting of Kahlua. It’s super yum and worth every calorie, of which we’re sure there are at least a bazillion. This may explain why the beer selection in the main bar is so limited, with the best being Fat Tire  But there’s also Rolling Rock, Bud Light and Blue Moon if one of those better suits you.

 

If you’re really into the beer scene, head across the street to the less touristy, super-chill Ole River Bar. You’ll still be on Flora-Bama property, since they took over the space about a year ago. And what a space it is—a good-sized, balmy, double-decker bar right on the water with an assortment of small watercraft sputtering by in full view (FYI, rentals are also a part of the Flora-Bama empire). Not only will you find an enhanced draft beer selection here, but a happy hour that’ll blow your socks off: Brews are half price weekdays from 2 to 5 p.m.

 

They offer familiar brewers but mix up the selection so it’s not the same-old, same-old you’ll find at every other beach bar, such as Abita’s Strawberry Lager and Sam Adams’ White Nitro. They also have one of Pensacola Bay Brewery’s best, Riptide, and  Grayton Beer’s now classic, 30A Beach Blonde.

 

But since you’ve officially crossed over the state line by crossing the street, you may as well go with a pale ale from an Alabama brewer, Good People. A little fruity and a touch sweet, with just enough hops and malt, it’s easy to drink on a hot summer day yet has enough real flavor to it to make your taste buds sit up and take notice. Love it.

 

All told, we counted about 16 craft tap handles plus more macro-brews on the food menu such as Miller, Mich and so on. We ended up drinking Genessee Cream Ale, a weird choice since we’re always trashing “sweet” beers. Here’s what’s even weirder. We found it really wasn’t that sweet despite the implications of its name. Weirdest of all, we liked this beer a lot. It lived up to its name by being so freaking smooth and full-bodied, with carbonation so finely tuned it seemed to melt in our mouth. True, it had some slightly sweet notes, but overall it was well balanced and somehow managed to taste clean despite its depth.

 

And we liked the Ole River Bar. We would have stayed and happily drank ourselves into requiring a condo room, but this was a day trip and it was time to hit the road. Before we did, we popped in the liquor store next door that is also owned by the Flora-Bama folks.

 

They obviously know their beer. Besides a refrigerated beer cave filled with ready-to-go beach-friendly cans, there was row after row of craft beer, some hard-to-finds like Fat Head’s, Darwin Pirate Pils, Maui’s Bikini Blonde Lager and Bell Cow Milk Chocolate Porter.

 

While there, we were told about the “flip-flop fine dining” over at the neighboring Yacht Club where they serve Gulf seafood and Angus cut beef. It’s also part of the Flora-Bama, making these folks are the redneck equivalent of Disney.

 

We had a great time—totally worth the trip. We hope to break out our best flip-flops and head back for some of that Angus beef real soon.

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