The Makers: Keith Sherrill (founder) and Matt Wheeler (head brewer)
Haint Blue Brewing Co., Mobile
Southerners have used haint blue porch ceilings and doors to ward off evil spirits for many years. A new brewery in Mobile is using Haint Blue beer to fight terrorists on the other side of the world.
The brewery’s Saffron Saison beer released last month has links to Keith Sherrill’s past as a U.S. Army Ranger and medevac pilot in Afghanistan and his future as an Alabama Maker.
“We chose saison first as the variety because of the French heritage,” Sherrill said. “Saison is French for ‘season.’ We like to think there is a palatable amount of French history here in the Port City, so we thought that was a good start. Saffron, honestly, is a way to tie my past to Haint Blue’s future.”
Haint Blue uses a supplier in Chicago that is owned by veterans. The supplier sources its saffron from Afghanistan, giving the farmers there something to grow other than poppy plants and marijuana that often fund the operations of the Taliban or other terrorist groups.
“We think we’re fighting terrorism with beer,” Sherrill said.
The giant American flag that hangs inside the 7,000-square-foot former Crystal Ice House once flew off Sherrill’s medevac helicopter in Afghanistan. It’s a placeholder for what Sherrill is trying to build in the nearly century-old building.
“It’s perfect,” Sherrill said of the property. “It’s a wonderful campus and it’s in the vein we want to be in. It’s a cool way to be able to give back. I think we’re breathing life into a piece of property that otherwise would likely continue to sit here as a storage building or to further deteriorate around it.”
A legal challenge over the use of the building has delayed Haint Blue’s ability to actually brew beer there. For now, Haint Blue is contract brewing its beers at Lazy Magnolia Brewery in Kiln, Mississippi, and shipping it to the Mobile bars that sell it.
But there are plans to not only brew it in Mobile, but to have it on store shelves outside of the Port City.
“We will likely brew the IPA and bottle it very soon,” Sherrill said. “In terms of style, we’re trying to make the best beer we possibly can. If that ends up being three of the best beers we can make, maybe that’s it. We’re not tired. We’re not out of ideas. I would like to say by the time we’re open, likely five beers will be brewed here on site.”
So how does a former Army Ranger end up brewing beer in Mobile?
After his 14-year military career was over, Sherrill spent some time in Colorado learning the beer business and at Stanford Graduate School of Business validating his business plan. A visit to the Westvleteren Brewery at the Trappist Abbey of Saint Sixtus in Belgium gave him a crash course in the rich history of brewing.
With a newborn son and another child on the way, the Montgomery native and his wife wanted to return to their home state to be closer to family.
“We were looking at where we wanted to live in Alabama and Mobile is the most compelling city by far,” Sherrill said.
The new home also inspired the name of the brewery.
“There are some Southern colloquialisms as well as some spiritual connotations,” Sherrill said. “You find haint blue porch ceilings, light blue porch ceilings, all throughout the South, the gems of the South – Mobile specifically. The idea is ‘haint’ is another word for ‘haunt,’ haunt being a spirit and in this case a bad spirit. This is where I might lose you: These bad spirits can’t swim, so the idea was to paint any entry to your home – we take it from the porch ceiling but it could be a door, a window frame – to keep bad spirits out so they wouldn’t enter your living space.”
The Crystal Ice House property is a stone’s throw from the grave of Joe Cain – the father of Mardi Gras in Mobile. Sherrill has a deep appreciation for the past.
“We don’t want to cover up the history,” Sherrill said. “One of the things you can expect is this 90-year-old ice company is going to look like a 90-year-old ice factory serving beer when we open. We think it’s very special.”
Should he overcome the remaining legal hurdle, Sherrill hopes Haint Blue will become a popular destination in downtown Mobile.
“We have quite a bit of property out front,” he said. “We will have some nice green space out there, room for activities for folks of all ages. We’ve got a lot of room to grow, honestly. Right now we plan on being in the beer business and maintaining that, that’s our focus. But there could be some food options – whether that will be another restaurant, or food trucks or whatever. There are a number of different opportunities there.
“I think we will knock Mobile’s socks off. We’ve got a lot of ideas around here.”
806 Monroe St.