As baseball season rolls along and the dog days of summer unfurl, there is nothing better than sitting back, cracking a few cold ones and enjoying a pitchers’ duel. This year, as summer barbecues, Independence Day celebrations and beach parties bring family and friends together, make it a point to drink local.
The craft beer market has seen marked growth over the years, gaining a foothold in the multi-billion dollar beer market. And though Florida has not traditionally been known as a beer-savvy state, Florida brewed beers are quietly making a name for themselves. With continued education and a growing market, brewers across the state have been producing enjoyable brews that are distinctly native. For this piece, naplesillustrated.com purchased and tasted each of the beers reviewed, based on availability to the local markets. Here is a short list of some of the brews that have made it to our shelves and why we find them so enjoyable.
*Descriptions are subjective. Weigh in with your thoughts on the beers included in the comment section below
Cigar City Brewing Company
The West Coast’s premiere brewer, Cigar City Brewing Co. [CCB] is making the craft of brewing beer an art. The Tampa brewery opened in 2009 and is continuing the city’s long tradition of brewing great beer, following in the lines of names like The Florida Brewing Company (later renamed Tampa Florida Brewing Company, and the state’s first brewery), Southern Brewing Company and Ybor City Brewing Company (now part of Florida Brewing Company). Founded by Tampa native Joey Redner, CCB has already won critical acclaim from some of the most prestigious beer festivals in the country (silver medal in 2010 for the Wood- and Barrel-Aged Beer category at the Great American Beer Festival for their Humidor India Pale Ale; gold medal in 2009 for the Wood- and Barrel-Aged Beer category at the Great American Beer Festival for their Humidor Series IPA). And with brew master Wayne Wambles at the helm, the future looks very bright for Cigar City Brewing.
Cigar City Brewing Co.’s tasting room is open to the public, Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Friday through Saturday, 11 a.m.-12 a.m. Facility tours are available through appointment only, well worth a visit whether you are a connoisseur, fledgling home brew master or just a fan of great beer. www.cigarcitybrewing.com
Maduro Oatmeal Brown Ale: A Northern English-style brown ale, Maduro pours deep brown with a slight red hue and a thick head that is slightly condensed. The aroma is deep chocolate and caramel with a hint of nut. The flavor follows the aromas, well balanced and easy to drink. The brewer recommends a mild to medium cigar as a complement.
Jai Alai IPA: Big and bold flavors accompany this IPA, which has an above average ABV at 7.5%. The beer is hoppy (CCB boasts six different hop varietals), Jai Alai pours with a golden hue and gives off a citrusy scent that hints at its Florida roots. Opening with crisp citrus and ending with richer flavors, Jai Alai is an easily enjoyable IPA.
Bolita: 1 pint, 9.4oz. A double nut brown ale with varying base ingredients, Bolita pours dark brown with a light brown head that leaves a bit of lacing. First you smell chocolate followed by a hit of coffee. Bolita tastes like it smells: big coffee flavors, a bit of chocolate and finishes sweet.
Florida Brewing Company
The largest craft brewer in the state, Melbourne’s Florida Brewing Company [FBC] is well on its way to making Florida brews a household name. Opening in 1996 as the Indian River Brewery, the company changed gears in 2003, was renamed the Florida Brewing Company. It purchased Ybor City Brewing Company in 2005. FBC brews and sells a number of different beers and ciders under its label, and is involved in contract brewing for other companies, many of which are Florida beers. FBC currently has eight beers under its label available in our area and still maintains a steady flow of the Ybor Gold brews available in Tampa. Constantly tinkering and tweaking recipes, coming up with new varieties and seasonals, FBC is one of the most inventive and active premium craft breweries in the state.
Florida Beer Co.’s lets visitors taste the beers and tour the facility first hand. If you are a fan of beer, a trip to FBC’s facilities are a must. Open Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturday, 12-6 p.m. www.floridabeer.com
Hurricane Caribbean Pilsner: Pours a golden yellow with a thin head that quickly dissipates to a thin rim along the glass wall; has low carbonation. HCB has a malty nose and a slight citrus accent. Taste is crisp and clean at first, does not linger. Nice light beer for the beach or hot summer days.
Hurricane Raspberry Wheat Ale: Pours amber with an off-white head that runs and hides. Raspberry is prevalent in the nose, as expected, with traces of wheat. HRWA is a sweet beer with a powerful raspberry taste, which can be a little overpowering depending on taste.
Key West Sunset Ale: Amber in color with a quickly retreating off-white head. Malty sweet smell, kind of grainy too. Key West SA starts hoppy and bitter and quickly falls off, with little to no aftertaste. As the name suggests, Sunset Ale is a nice beer for a summer sunset.
Key West Southernmost Point Wheat: A Belgian-style wheat ale that pours a pale yellow with a white head that rings the glass. The key lime comes through in the aroma, as does a light spice. Good wheat beer for Florida with lime and spice playing through, and the hops adding just enough bitterness to give it balance.
Swamp Ape IPA: An American Double/Imperial IPA, Swamp Ape pours clear amber with a good residual head and light carbonation, and smells of hops and fruit notes. It tastes bitter and hoppy with a lingering alcohol taste, and a hint of fruit, but subtle. One of Florida Brewing Company’s best.
The Native Brewing Company
The name says it all. Fort Lauderdale-based The Native Brewing Company specializes in brews specifically designed for the Florida beer drinker, with recipes catering to the state’s unique weather and the flavorful ingredients that complement Florida’s native grounds. Brewer and resident beer guru Adam Fine started the company in 1999 and has grown from a single beer to three: The Eleven Brown Ale, Native Lager and Thunderhead Red (only available in draught, locally). www.nativebrewingco.com
The Eleven Brown Ale: Brew master’s original beer, Eleven is a smooth dark ale that plays on the subtleties of the malts. A hint of bitterness from the hops gives this a well-balanced flavor and aroma. The lightness of the beer makes this a good complement to Florida’s warmer weather.
Native Lager: Pours yellow-golden with little head, and a nutty, yeasty nose. Native is a lighter beer with a crisp and bitter, hoppy beginning that gives way to a lightly sweet aftertaste. Nice balance for a light lager.
Inlet Brewing Company
Jupiter’s own Inlet Brewing Company is making waves with its signature Monk in the Trunk organic amber ale. Crafting an authentic Belgian-style amber ale, Inlet utilizes Belgian Abbey yeast, and takes the brew one step further in its adherence to responsibility and uses only barley, malt and hops that are certified organic. The organic beer market is still a growing one, marking $41 million in sales in 2009 alone, and Inlet is not just taking Southeast Florida by storm, but the nation as a whole. www.inletbrewing.com
Monk in the Trunk organic amber ale: Pours a rich copper color with a nice white head. Has a berry aroma, trace amounts of citrus and yeast. The fruit taste carries over with malty caramel sweetness, hops sneak through slightly with just a touch of bitterness.
Orange Blossom Pilsner
Taking its cues from Mother Nature, Orange Blossom Pilsner [OBP] recruits the work of honeybees to bring the beer its distinct taste. Using, as the name suggests, orange blossom honey (2.3 tsp. per bottle), the Orlando brewer Tom Moench created a unique tasting pilsner that sits in a league of its own (the beer is now contract brewed out of South Carolina). Winning accolades in 2004 at The Great American Beer Festival, one of the most prestigious beer competitions around, OBP took home the bronze for Specialty Honey Lager or Ale, the only Florida brewer to win a medal in any category that year. www.uniquebeer.com
Orange Blossom Pilsner: Clear pale gold pour with quickly dissipating head has a strong citrus scent with a honey kicker, as expected. Taste not as powerful as the nose, citrus and honey still there with a slight bitterness from the hops. Good for the out-of-towner looking for something different.
Saint Somewhere Brewing Company
Among the sponge divers and rich Greek dishes, a little slice of Belgium found its way to Tarpon Springs. Saint Somewhere Brewing Company specializes in traditional Belgian style ales, corked bottle et al. As a small batch brewery, Saint Somewhere uses Belgium malt and wheat, noble hops and an open fermentation process, leaving the beers unfiltered, and referments in the bottle (there will be bits of flotsam in the bottle). The result is a sweet adaptation of Belgium beer with a Florida twist. www.saintsomewherebrewing.com
Pays du Soleil: Liter/Growler A Belgian dubbel with 8%, the aroma bursts when you pop the cork and pour; there is a lot going on, lots of fruit notes, herbs and a bit alcoholic. Pours reddish brown with a thin, yet compressed head. Fruity flavor, subtle alcohol notes and a sweet end; a good sipping beer.
Gordash Brewing Company
Robert Gordash started brewing beer as a hobby in 1993. As a hobbyist, Gordash garnered some serious attention when he won the Samuel Adams Longshot Homebrew Contest in 1997 with his special English ale. Now brewer of the small batch Holy Mackerel beers, Gordash is bringing that same winning spirit and an artist’s touch to some of the tastiest beers from Florida. Brewed and aged out of Fort Lauderdale, there are three beers on tap: Panic Attack, Special Golden Ale, and Mack in Black, a winter seasonal imperial black ale, unavailable in stores at the time of our tasting. www.holymackerelbeers.com
Holy Mackerel Special Golden Ale: A Belgian-style pale ale with a hazy golden coloring with small head that dissipates quickly to nearly nothing. The aroma is sweet with citrus and grainy notes. Taste is sweet and somewhat sugary, finishes bitter.
Holy Mackerel Panic Attack: Billing itself as a tripel (three times the malt) and saison (traditional Belgian summer beer) fusion, Panic Attack is heavy in alcohol, 10%, for a saison but average for a tripel. Pours a clouded gold with spice notes and has a quick head. Taste does not quite recreate the aroma, a bit sweet and can feel heavy. Serve in a goblet and drink at a slower pace.
Margaritaville Brewing Company
Not quite a craft brew, Margaritaville Brewing Co. is a co-op venture with Florida’s favorite adopted son, Jimmy Buffett, and Anheuser-Busch. Based out of Jacksonville, Margaritaville’s most prevalent and well-known product, Landshark Lager, has made its way nationwide, with varietals and mixed malt beverages making seasonal appearances as well. www.landsharklager.com
Landshark Lager: Essentially Florida’s answer to Corona, Landshark, which comes in a clear bottle, is a straw color. This is a get-together type beer, billing itself as an ‘Island style lager.’
An inside peek before they make it south
Orlando Brewing, located near downtown Orlando, is Florida’s oldest certified organic brewery in Florida. Though Orlando Brewing’s beers have not made it to our market, they have come to dominate the Central Florida. The brewery and taproom are open daily for visitors to tour and sample the wares. Currently on tap: Blonde Ale, Pale Ale, Red Ale, Brown Ale, Blackwater Porter, Eagle Stout, Olde Pelican, European Pilz, Pompous Ass. www.orlandobrewing.com
Swamp Head Brewery located in Gainesville. What started as a hobby has turned into burgeoning brewery that is spreading across northeastern and north-central Florida. Swamp Head’s beers are homage to the Sunshine State; simply put, Swamp Head is Florida. Swamp Head is constantly experimenting, creating new recipes and stellar beers, so the selection varies if you have the good fortune to visit their taproom or a bar that serves their products. The five year-round varieties are: Wild Night (Honey Cream Ale), Cottonmouth (Belgian Wheat Bier), Stump Knocker (Pale Ale), Big Nose IPA, and Midnight Oil (Oatmeal Coffee Stout). There is also a rotating seasonal selection and a limited release series.
Swamp Head’s tasting room is open Wednesday through Friday, 4 p.m.-8 p.m. and offer 32oz. and one gallon growlers. www.swamphead.com