Top of the Hops Fest brings great beer, seafood to Orange Beach

Nothing can ruin a good time.

Especially when you have a belly full of Alabama Gulf shrimp and grits.

That philosophy was put to the test on June 9 as The Wharf in Orange Beach hosted its first Top of the Hops beer festival, and it held true. As hundreds of soon-to-be fans flocked to the green grasses of the festival grounds, the skies opened up and a deluge ensued; but organizers were prepared. And soon, the whole shebang was moved to the adjacent Orange Beach Event Center.

It didn’t take long for VIP and general admission guests to start mingling and the taps to start flowing as 150 world-class craft beers were featured in four festival beer gardens — with one special brew being paired with a sumptuous seafood dish.

The air inside the center was humid with delicious scents as Compleat Angler Seafood Grille Chef Steven Zucker began his cooking demonstration in the Sam Adams Beer University. There, Zucker wove an Alabama mix of stone-ground grits from outside Birmingham, Conecuh County sausage, herbs, spices and fresh Gulf shrimp into his Lemon Garlic Shrimp and Grits, which he paired with the Samuel Adams Latitude 48 IPA beer.

Within minutes, the seats in front of Zucker were full and overflowing as the crowd sampled his savory dish, topped off with large, zesty shrimp. The slight sweetness and full, malty blend of the Latitude 48 blended perfectly with the Lemon Garlic Shrimp and Grits.

And the chef’s local knowledge and flair had the near-100 guests grouped in front of him laughing and quite happy as they polished off helpings of both.

As one attendee noted, the only issue was space. “I want to beg him for more of this shrimp and grits, but I’m getting full”

Good thing that, come Monday, he wouldn’t have to go far for the star ingredients.