It has been interesting watching the progression of craft beers in Florida over the past few years. Out of a macro-brew wasteland, the Sunshine State has been steadily rising in the rank of states with a palate for more artisanal brews. The increase has been an educational process: The more people learn about locally and regionally brewed beers, the more they discover about the beverage as a whole—cerveza is not limited to watery cans of the King and Rocky Mountain streams. As this thirst for craft beer blossomed, so has the readily available selection at local watering holes, beer-centered retail shops and big-box alcohol centers like Total Wine. The growth of Florida’s newfound popularity in the craft beer universe parallels a similar path of individual beer lovers’ own journey of self-discovery. Similar to a maturity curve, drinkers gradually experiment with different types of beers, sampling ales, porters, lagers and stouts, until finally reaching a plateau, settling in to a favorite style.
The growth of Florida’s craft beer market is on a similar trajectory, but that plateau is nowhere in sight. Generally speaking, the rest of the continental United States has had a pretty big leg up in terms of exposure to craft brews, mainly because the variety of artisanal foodstuffs shipping this far south was somewhat limited in the past—there had to be other items to export that would be equally compelling in order to get the goods rolling. But times have indeed changed. Much as it is possible that one may dine on fresh tuna caught just 24 hours ago off the shores of Japan, fresh beer can be cold-shipped across the country, landing at the tap or on the shelf well before that born-on date becomes a red herring.
We are currently experiencing a beer renaissance in the Sunshine State, a great awakening if you will. And it is not just limited to outside influences looking to tap into the great swarms of sun-kissed suds drinkers. Plenty of Florida-based brewers are getting in on the action, many of whom are just a beat away. Seeing that the hot season is in full swing, we’re tapping a few summery brews made right here in Florida and readily available to help you work on your own summertime beer maturity curve. Enjoy!
Naples Beach Brewery | Weizen
There’s nothing better than drinking local, especially now that Neapolitans can officially boast of brewery to call their own. The Naples Beach Brewery became the newest beer haven in Southwest Florida, opening in November 2012, and has quickly become the darling of the local hop hounds. Though small in stature—just a 300-gallon weekly brewing capacity—there is no shortage of unique and tasty suds coming from this brewing jewel of the Paradise Coast. There is a rotating tap tree at the brewery, highlighting the sips available, with the Black IPA and Pale Ale as the surprise hits, while the red ale, Rojo, holds its own with some strong malty, hoppy flavors. It is summer, though, and Southwest Florida is downright toasty, so a refreshing wheat beer is always a good choice. So without further ado, meet Naples Beach Weizen.
Weizen | ABV 4.9%
Brewmaster Will Lawson cut his teeth in Munich while at brewing school, so it is only fitting that his Weizen stays true to those Germanic traditions. Unfiltered—is there any other way?—the Weizen pours a cloudy straw color with a lasting, thick head. Floral sweet notes linger after it sits a bit, giving the beverage a nice balanced aroma. Hints of orange and vanilla are upfront with a lingering tart flavor carrying on through and giving balancing.
- This beer is available at a number of Naples-area restaurants and bars, as well as on the Friday and Saturday tours of the brewery. Swing by and checkout the digs, we can assure you there is nothing else like it in Naples.
Cigar City Brewing | Hotter Than Helles
When it comes to Florida-brewed beer, Cigar City Brewing is the undisputed king. Hailing from Tampa, Cigar City opened in 2009 and has consistently delivered some of the finest, most inventive suds in the state. The standards like the Jai Alai IPA and Maduro Brown are consummate favorites among the BeerAdvocate and Ratebeer crowds, while the brews have continued to make a name on the national stage. This company’s creations have garnered 12 medals at the United State Open Beer Championship since 2009, more than any other Florida brewer. This summer, Cigar City offers an array of beers, from IPAs to stouts and ales, but for something refreshing that pairs well with the delicate flavors of Florida lobster—mini season looms folks!—I contend there is no better sip than Hotter Than Helles Lager.
Hotter Then Helles Lager | ABV 5%
Staying true to the German-style helles bier—meaning light in German, though in color only—this Bavarian bevvy is crisp, refreshing and full of bitterness; a supreme example of a lager.
Pouring a hazy straw color, the head dissipates quickly, leaving some bubbly after-effects, but not for long. A zesty citrus smell off the top gives way to a malty sweetness and bitter hops. The taste goes from citrus to sweet, a nice balance with a light carbonated feel at first. Nice and refreshing, perfect for the beach, especially since its available in cans—no more bottles at the beach please, it is inconsiderate, like not picking up after your dog!
- Pick up a sixer at Total Wine.
Florida Beer Company | Key West Southernmost Wheat
Arguably the largest Florida craft maker, brewing more than 100,000 barrels of the good stuff a year, Florida Beer Company has long been on the brewing map. Located in Melbourne, the brewer dabbles in a number of different beers, under an array of labels and names. Swamp Ape IPA is a consummate favorite on the award circuit, while the beers under the Hurricane Reef banner fly some pretty tasty Caribbean-infused flavors and inspiration. But for a true summer staple, its hard not to gravitate towards the Key West label in the Florida Beer portfolio, more specifically Southernmost Wheat. Citrusy, biting and refreshing, there really is nothing better for mid July.
Southernmost Wheat | ABV 5.1%
With Key West in the name, a bit of wackiness is kind of expected. This beer uses everyone’s favorite Conch Republic fruit, the Key lime, with a dash of the thin-skinned zest added to the batch during brewing. The Belgian-style wheat ale pours 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, the lime and spice playing through, and the hops add just enough bitterness to give it balance.