Each week, the Sip Advisor will alphabetically travel the United States, discovering the best each state has to offer in a variety of subjects. Today, we explore the Heart of Dixie, Alabama, for a dose of southern hospitality:
Motto: “We dare defend our rights” – That’s as intimidating as “Don’t mess with Texas”.
Food: The pecan is the State Nut of Alabama, therefore, pecan pie is a fixture. Other more unique dishes include Chicken with White Barbecue Sauce and Fried Green Tomatoes, although the latter can be found across the southern U.S.
Drink: One of the most famous drinks the world over is the Alabama Slammer, comprised of Amaretto, Southern Comfort, Sloe Gin and Orange Juice. The cocktail is thought to have been invented at the University of Alabama in the late 1960’s/early 1970’s, first as a shooter, before becoming a full-size beverage.
Site to See: If you have a need for speed, the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, celebrates America’s space program. There’s also the Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, of course, where many memorable NASCAR moments have occurred.
Street: For a measure of reflection, 16th Street in Birmingham is home to the Civil Rights National Monument and Civil Rights Institute, located across the street from the 16th Street Baptist Church. The area is known as the Civil Rights District, the epicenter of so much history for not only the state, but the country as a whole.
TV Show: The only TV show of note to be set in Alabama is ‘Hart of Dixie’, which I’ve never seen. The series lasted four seasons and 76 episodes and was about a doctor named Zoe Hart, who dreams of being a heart surgeon. When that falls through, she takes her talents to the fictional town of Bluebell to be a general practitioner.
Movie: Numerous movies have been set in Alabama, but my favourite of the bunch is Forrest Gump, which sees the titular character born and raised in Greenbow, as well as become a football star at the University of Alabama, before setting off on his adventures around the world.
Book/Author: Few folks leave their education days without reading ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee. The story takes place in the fictional location of Maycomb, which was loosely based on Lee’s hometown of Monroeville. The book tackles Alabama’s race issues of the 1930’s, with the main trial plot said to be inspired by an amalgamation of real-life events.
Fictional Character: While the Sip Advisor loves Forrest Gump, I have to choose folk hero John Henry in this category. Henry, a steel-driver, raced against a steam-powered rock drilling machine to create a tunnel for the railroad, dying as he completed his task and beat out his mechanical opponent. Dwayne Johnson has been tabbed to play Henry in an upcoming Netfilx film.
Fictional City: Since we’ve already highlighted Maycomb from To Kill a Mockingbird, let’s give some attention to Whistle Stop from the novel/movie, Fried Green Tomatoes. Whistle Stop was used by Alabaman Fannie Flagg, who based her setting on Irondale and its Irondale Café.
Actor/Actress: Magic Mike himself, Channing Tatum, hails from Cullman. For the ladies, Oscar winner Octavia Spencer was born in Montgomery and graduated from Auburn University.
Song: Hands down, the most iconic song associated with the state is ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ by Lynyrd Skynyrd. The rock anthem was written in counter to Neil Young’s ‘Southern Man’ and ‘Alabama’, which took the state to task for its history of slavery and racism.
Band/Musician: Having seen him in concert, I have to give the nod here to Lionel Richie, from Tuskegee. It should also be noted that FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, is one of the most famous recording studios in the world, used by the likes of Aretha Franklin, The Rolling Stones and others.
People: Rosa Parks, also born in Tuskegee, became one of the key faces of the Civil Rights Movement, when she refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger and was arrested for the act. Parks had sat in a row meant for black passengers, but when the bus filled and some white passengers were forced to stand, the driver moved the sign back and demanded black passengers vacate their spots.
Animal: Miss Baker was a squirrel monkey from Peru, who was one of two animals to be the first sent into space and survive, in 1959. Miss Baker would be moved to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in 1971 and live out the rest of her life there, dying in 1984 at the age of 27. Prior to her death, Miss Baker was recognized as the oldest living squirrel monkey. She was buried on the grounds of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center and inducted into the Alabama Animal Hall of Fame in 2005.
Invention: Despite important inventions such as the hearing aid, windshield wipers and air bags, Alabama’s greatest creation offered to the world has to be the Super Soaker. Invented by Lonnie Johnson, an engineer and former NASA employee from Mobile, the product was originally dubbed the Power Drencher, upon debuting in 1990. The Super Soaker is a member of the National Toy Hall of Fame, inducted in 2015, with lifetime sales nearing $1 billion. Johnson had to sue for underpaid royalties in 2013 and was awarded $73 million.
Crime: In 1963, the 16th Street Baptist Church was the site of a deadly bombing, killing four African-American girls (aged 11-14) and injuring 22 others. It took more than a decade for one of the four bombers to be convicted. Two others were finally tried and sentenced in the early 2000’s, while another died in 1994, never being charged with the hate crime. The bombing actually backfired against the Ku Klux Klan members who committed the attack, as support for the Civil Rights Movement increased afterwards, leading to the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Law: Despite being the first state to celebrate Mardi Gras, it is illegal to use both plastic confetti and silly string. You’d think Alabamans were party people.
Sports Team: In Alabama, it’s all about college football, with the University of Alabama Crimson Tide and Auburn University Tigers competing for the hearts of fans across the state. Their rivalry, existing since 1893, is known as the Iron Bowl, with games traditionally played during Thanksgiving weekend.
Athlete: Alabama’s greatest sporting influence can be seen in baseball, with a host of legends hailing from the state. Among them, are icons such as Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Willie McCovey, and Satchel Paige. Track and field star Jesse Owens, famous for his defiant performance at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin in front of Adolf Hitler and other Nazis, also called Alabama home.
Famous Home: The Helen Keller Home (aka Ivy Green), is where the future activist learned to overcome her disabilities of being both deaf and blind. Located in Tuscumbia, the home now houses a museum and presents performances of The Miracle Worker – the play based on Keller’s autobiography – every summer.
Urban Legend: Dead Children’s Playground, located in Huntsville’s Maple Hill Cemetery, is said to be haunted by the spirits of children. In 2007, the original playground was demolished to make room for more graves. Due to public protest, another playground was built on the site. Swings are reported to rock on their own and the voices of children can be heard playing.
Museum: The Drive-Thru Museum in Seale, allows visitors to view works of art, set up in shipping containers with one wall removed, without ever having to leave the comfort of their vehicle. I have to ask: is there a speed limit folks must abide by, or can they peruse the works at their own pace, potentially causing traffic jams?
Firsts: On February 16, 1968, small town Haleyville received the very first 911 call made in the U.S. They’re so proud of the accomplishment, they’ve encased the rotary phone that took the call and have it on display at city hall.
Company: While no notable companies (for the Sip Advisor, at least) have their headquarters in Alabama, it should be noted the Unclaimed Baggage Center can be found in the state. On a daily basis, thousands of items are added to the store’s inventory, coming from deserted airline luggage. Each year, one million customers visit Scottsboro to search for deals, with items sold at a discount between 20-80 per cent.
Events: The American Civil War and Civil Rights Movement have largely defined Alabama over its existence. Montgomery was the capital of the Confederate States of America and also the site of Rosa Parks arrest in 1955, as well as being the terminus for civil rights marches originating from Selma.
Miscellaneous: The infamous Confederate Flag was designed and first flown in Alabama.
- 1 oz Vodka
- 1 oz Light Rum
- 1 oz Amaretto
- Top with Pineapple Juice
- Splash of Orange Juice
- Garnish with a Cherry
The Yellowhammer is the State Bird of Alabama (also giving Alabama the nickname Yellowhammer State). The drink is a favourite among Crimson Tide fans, who are known to buy the secret recipe cocktail in droves at Gallettes bar, located near the University of Alabama stadium and where the drink was invented. I enjoyed the beverage, despite generally steering away from concoctions using fruit juices.