There’s nothing usual about Red Hills Brewing Company. Murals showcasing chemical compounds peek out from behind the fermenters. Early afternoon brings families of all ages holding pints and popsicles while playing cornhole. And then there are the Easter eggs, tiny inside jokes, hidden throughout the taproom. If you’re looking for a basic beer, you’ve come to the wrong place.
Joe Pilleteri, founder of Red Hills, has always loved to tinker. For a while, he worked on old cars, carefully nudging them back to health. Then, when cars proved too expensive a hobby, he turned to home brewing, a change that would cost him, ironically, far more, but would pay resounding dividends in friendship and family. Joe went from brewing in his kitchen, much to the chagrin of his wife, to brewing in the basement, to joining Alabrew, our local homebrew shop. It was at Alabrew that he met Eric Baumann, now the brewmaster of Red Hills. As Joe puts it, “I really wanted to learn how to make beer, so Eric started teaching me.” Their dream of turning a shared hobby into a business was born, but first they had to find a “killer location.”
Red Hills, located off Homewood’s main drag in the heart of the neighborhood, opened in September of 2016 in an old A&P Grocery Store that lived second and third lives as a Winsave drug store and Alabama Printing. Now, the once mini strip mall has been reborn as Homewood’s hottest day-to-night entertainment district. Located on Central Avenue next to Steel City Pops, Octane, and Little Donkey, Red Hills rounded out what Homewood had been missing: a family-friendly gathering space that’s popsicle- and dog-friendly, perfect for neighborly gatherings, and drawing some of the hottest acts around to the taproom.
“Weekdays tend to be people just getting off work, or coming by for a beer or two after dinner,” Joe says. “On the weekends and early afternoons we’re full with families, and then later we start to fill up with young professionals, followed by college crowds even later.”
Homewood residents won’t be surprised to know that Homewood won out as Birmingham’s first suburban brewery because of its loyalty to its businesses. “I grew up Over the Mountain and spent my high school years working at Piggly Wiggly and the old Alpine Ice Rink,” Joe says. “Homewood residents have always supported Homewood businesses, and this is key to a small startup business. Homewood is also an extremely walkable city, almost like a throwback to towns in the ‘50s.”
Its central location in the Birmingham area and proximity to downtown also played key roles in finalizing the location. He loves seeing the families roll up together, whether in car or in walking stroller and wagon parades because, while the brewery claims to take beer seriously, “and not much else,” Joe does take a few other things to heart, namely friends and family.
Joe attended military college, so those close friends’ homes span the globe. But when they do reach out about coming into town and want to see the brewery, he, his wife, and their two daughters Bella and Sophie make time to get the families together. A quick peek above the dart boards shows that Joe’s claim, “nothing is more important to me than family and friends,” is one he takes seriously. There, his family background is on full display. “Most of my dad’s family and maternal grandfather’s parents came from the same small area of Sicily. My maternal grandmother’s parents came from Slovakia,” he says. If you think his attention to detail stops at tracing his lineage, then you haven’t asked him about his beer, or his brewery.
With the perfect location decided, Joe went to work with his team designing the space and, more importantly, the brews. Missy Miles, an artist from Hamilton, Alabama, painted the mural, a custom work paying homage to the beer making process. “If you look, you’ll see hops and grain on the wall, plus the chemical make-up of some of the esters, phenols, and oils that are in beer,” Joe explains. The mural continues with banana ester and clove phenol hiding behind the large fermenters, key ingredients in the Homewood Hefeweizen, then Myrcene, a common oil found in hops. The top of the mural shows the chemical reaction the hop goes through during the boiling process, which takes you to just below the ceiling, where the chemical make-up of ethanol, the type of alcohol in beer, lives.
If you think the art requires a chemistry degree, then buckle up for the beer briefing. When asked how beer, having only four ingredients, can have so many different flavors, Joes gives a 900-word response that starts with grain and ends with this summer’s offerings: a second batch of Unicorn Bubbles, a New England Style IPA, refreshing kettle sours, and perhaps an encore (with a twist) to last summer’s grapefruit Radler. If you ask the taproom employees for the details, prepare to look up words like wort, lautering and sparging. Their passion is inspiring.
While Joe gave up tinkering with cars long before he had children, his desire to learn and develop continues to grow in Homewood, offering a place for neighbors to gather, sip and savor slow southern evenings. Like Homewood, Red Hills prides itself in mixing the classic and the new, so stop in and savor an ages-old pilsner, or expand your palate with a seasonal offering, like Chocolate Hazelnut Porter. Better yet, grab a friend and try a flight—Homewood’s only brewery is ready to pour.
Meet the Red Hills Team
Originally a chef, Eric is now the creative side of Red Hill, using his culinary training and experience to craft classic beers and experiment with off-the-wall flavor combinations.
Zane Rowland—Brewer & Cellerman
Joe hired Zane from a brewery in Kentucky, moving him to Homewood to work with the Red Hills family. If you see him in the taproom, break the ice by asking about his impressive swimming career in high school and college.
Ralph Marion—Taproom and Marketing
Known to the craft beer community as Beered Blackman, Ralph is the social side of Red Hills, handling taproom activities, social media, and local events with area restaurants and bars.
Quick Questions with Joe Pilleteri
- Best First-Time Brew: Pilsner
- Best Summer Brew to Try: Hefeweizen
- Favorite Popsicle Flavor from Next Door: Pineapple Japaleno
- Best Bar-Room Game: Cornhole
- Favorite Sport to Watch: Not original, but college football
- Favorite Homewood Hang Out: Red Hills of course