It took a lot longer than expected for Haint Blue to get its brewery open in Mobile, so they decided to savor and celebrate the moment with proper Port City polish.
On Nov. 9, Haint Blue beers were served at Callaghan’s Irish Social Club before a second line formed to parade to the grand opening of Haint Blue Brewing Co. in the former Crystal Ice House building a couple of blocks away.
“We dance in the streets. We have brass bands for no reason other than they’re fun. Joe Cain is dressing up as an Indian,” said an excited Keith Sherrill, owner and founder of Haint Blue. “It made me feel closer to this place and reminded me of things that are special.”
Sherrill’s excitement and relief were understandable. He announced plans to build the brewery nearly two years ago. The former U.S. Army Ranger and medevac pilot in Afghanistan was looking to launch a post-military business.
Some permitting and zoning challenges and concerns from at least one neighboring property owner delayed Haint Blue’s start. In the interim, the brewery started contract brewing and bottling its beers at Lazy Magnolia Brewery in Kiln, Mississippi.
Sherrill said that ended up being a blessing.
“Although we were in a holding pattern, we also didn’t know what we didn’t know, so in all of that we learned some things that likely helped us get on our feet and not pour a batch down the drain when we started in here,” he said.
Head brewer Matt Wheeler said although he knew all about the brewing process, being around it at another brewery really helped in establishing the processes in Mobile.
“The time over there was invaluable,” he said. “We were able to pull it off here without a hitch.”
With the tap room, the murals on the wall, the décor and the brew tanks, there is no doubt that you’re inside a brewery when you walk into the new Haint Blue. But there is very much a sense of history with the elements of the old ice house that still come through.
“We kept what we could and we fought for the things that didn’t sound like a good idea initially, but fortunately we had some contractors and architects and those kind of folks who really helped what was in my head actually come to fruition,” Sherrill said.
The legend of Joe Cain lives on with those who carry on his tradition of dressing as characters to lead parades like the second line. Actor Wayne Dean had that honor for the Haint Blue celebration.
“I’m honored to be the fourth person, counting Joe Cain, to personify Chief Slacabamorinico,” Dean said.
Dean said by reviving the characters that Joe Cain originally brought to life, Mobile is able to connect its past to its present.
That was part of the reason Sherrill wanted to start the parade at Callaghan’s. The Mobile institution is where Haint Blue debuted its first beer in the city that is now its home.
Sherrill hopes that like Callaghan’s, Haint Blue will become a Mobile institution.
“I really want to be a place that belongs in Mobile,” Sherrill said.
The fact that Sherrill opened the brewery on Veterans Day weekend is not a coincidence, said the Army veteran.
“This is an everyone bar. A veteran happens to run it,” Sherrill said. “At the same time, I think veterans happen to be doing a lot of good things and I like the opportunity of getting to be a brand ambassador and share it with other veterans coming in. Like, ‘Hey, look what we can do.’ That’s what I want people to see.”
By selling its beer in stores and in bars, Haint Blue has already built a following – something that was apparent with the large crowd that showed up for the opening.
“It’s overwhelming right now,” Wheeler said. “I’m just trying to make the beer pour faster.”
For the launch, Haint Blue was pouring three versions of India pale ales, or IPAs. But Wheeler promised there will be more beer variations and some experimental beers to come. He wants to do stouts, a porter and some barrel-aged beers in addition to Haint Blue’s popular saffron saison.
“We will be able to get a lot more creative moving forward,” Wheeler said.
Sherrill hopes the crowd is a sign of what’s to come.
“I hope people continue to support us and this just isn’t a one-night thing,” he said. “We’re going to make good beer.”