Wel­come to ‘craft beer heaven’

Sun­shine State awash in brew­eries

Winnipeg Free Press - Section F - - TRAVEL - By Paul Abercrombie

TAMPA, Fla. — Over the two decades I’ve called the Tampa area home, out-of-state friends typ­i­cally phone for one of two rea­sons: to ask if they can crash at my fa­ther-in-law’s beach house, or to tease me about the lat­est Florida Man news.

Th­ese days, how­ever, pals ring more of­ten to gab about the lo­cal beer scene.

That’s be­cause the Sun­shine State is fast gain­ing a rep­u­ta­tion as a craft beer des­ti­na­tion — par­tic­u­larly Clear­wa­ter and St. Peters­burg, com­mu­ni­ties once de­rided as God’s Wait­ing Room be­cause of their large re­tiree pop­u­la­tions.

And this trans­for­ma­tion has seem­ingly been wrought overnight. In­deed, most of the Tampa Bay area’s sev­eral dozen brew­eries opened in the past two years. More are planned in the next year. What’s more, many are al­ready win­ning na­tional ac­co­lades.

Tampa’s Cigar City Brew­ing, which at six years old is some­thing of an el­der states­man in the lo­cal brew­ery scene, has brought home a fist­ful of medals from the Great Amer­i­can Beer Fes­ti­val. The brew­ery most re­cently was nom­i­nated for a James Beard Foun­da­tion award.

“The craft beer scene has blown up since I moved down here from Chicago five years ago,” said Brent Mor­gan, a brewer at Largo’s Bar­ley Mow Brew­ing Co., which be­gan brew­ing a cou­ple years ago. “In those days, you re­ally had to search hard for any lo­cally made beer... Now, Tampa Bay and Asheville are the hottest craft beer spots on the East Coast.”

Other beer lovers ap­par­ently agree. Tampa re­cently took sec­ond place in a poll of best beer towns by USA To­day, best­ing craft brew mec­cas such as Asheville, N.C., and Port­land, Ore. (Grand Rapids, Mich., snagged the No. 1 spot.)

I al­ways ask for home­town suds at lo­cal wa­ter­ing holes, but fig­ured a more sci­en­tific sur­vey was in or­der. Which is why, on a re­cent week­day evening, I, along with my friend Lu­cius and brother-in-law Snow, vis­ited sev­eral lo­cal brew­eries. As we soon learned, styles of brews vary as much as the spa­ces where they’re made and served.

We started at one of the new­est and big­gest, St. Peters­burg’s 3 Daugh­ters Brew­ing, named for the found­ing cou­ple’s trio of young chil­dren.

At a cosy tast­ing room bar that wouldn’t be out of place in a high-end ski lodge, Leigh Hart­ing, who a lit­tle more than a year ago started the brew­ery with her hus­band, Mike, poured us a flight of sev­eral sig­na­ture beers.

Our lineup started with a Beach Blonde Ale, a light and re­fresh­ing beer that, true to its name, would be an ideal sea­side sipper. Next up was Brown Pel­i­can Dunkel­weizen, a Ger­man dark wheat beer with a lovely winey qual­ity. Or as Lu­cius, a som­me­lier who man­ages a lo­cal restau­rant and wine bar, hap­pily put it, “Freak­ing rich.” We wrapped up with a glass of toasty, choco­late­hinted Sum­mer Storm Stout, which Snow said “would also be great for break­fast.” Like most beers made here, this one man­aged to be both true to style and ac­ces­si­ble to newbie craft beer drinkers.

We agreed to come back when the new­est batch of award-win­ning aged porter, rest­ing in a cou­ple dozen re­pur­posed bour­bon bar­rels, is ready to drink.

Good beer isn’t the only draw at 3 Daugh­ters. The cav­ernous brew­ing room dou­bles as a kind of craft beer lover’s amuse­ment park, com­plete with sev­eral shuf­fle­board and ping-pong ta­bles, and jumbo-sized Jenga sets. Lo­cal bands of­ten play on a raised stage. There’s even an 18-hole mini-golf course out­side.

“This place is craft beer heaven,” I found my­self say­ing.

Just a few min­utes’ drive away is a very dif­fer­ent brew­ery. Tucked in a store­front in down­town St. Peters­burg, Cy­cle Brew­ing could fit in 3 Daugh­ters’ broom closet. Lo­cal art adorns the walls. The bar’s dozen-odd taps are fash­ioned from bi­cy­cle parts.

Our tast­ing started with a glass of Uni­cy­cle, an Amer­i­can pale ale that was won­der­fully tangy and minty. Next was a Ducky Pils, a Ger­man Pilsener-style brew that we all raved about. We like­wise gushed about Bot­tom of the 9th Brown, a tarry-hued Amer­i­can brown ale that was sur­pris­ingly light.

“Per­fectly bal­anced,” Lu­cius said. Still, I pre­ferred Cy­clocross, a zingy rye beer with hints of (I swear) basil.

Then we tried Cy­cle’s Choco­late Bour­bon Batch 300, ale that spent four months in a sin­gle malt whiskey bar­rel. Be­fore we greed­ily downed our glasses, Cy­cle brewer Doug Dozark sug­gested we cup our hands around the brandy snifter-style glasses to slightly warm up the chilled dark am­ber liq­uid. He was right, of course. Each sip was a riot of flavours — whiskey, caramel, pumper­nickel. The only down­side to lin­ger­ing at th­ese two brew­eries was that we were too late to visit oth­ers.

Among them: Bar­ley Mow Brew­ing Co., which I vis­ited a week later. An­other small brew­ery, Bar­ley Mow, is just off the main drag in the lit­tle city of Largo. Like most lo­cal brew­eries, this one is ex­pand­ing pro­duc­tion and tast­ing space. At 3 o’clock on a Mon­day af­ter­noon, the crowd was al­ready grow­ing.

At the bar I or­dered a four­some of beers. My clear fa­vorite was the Un­kind­ness, a dark and su­per-hoppy brew that was cu­ri­ously light on the tongue and had nifty hints of bal­samic vine­gar.

That same evening I stopped by Rapp Brew­ing Co. in nearby Semi­nole. If not for the open garage door re­veal­ing go­ings-on in­side, you’d mis­take it for just an­other ten­ant in a non­de­script com­mer­cial strip cen­tre. But what it may lack in decor, Rapp makes up for in what it pours into your glass.

Among the stand­outs is its Gose, an ob­scure style of wheat beer that’s slightly sour and salty. Hi­malayan salt stands in for the nat­u­ral salin­ity of wa­ter in its home­town of Goslar, Ger­many. One sip and I was hooked.

“When it’s 95 de­grees and 100 per cent hu­mid­ity here in Florida, this is per­fect,” said founder and brewer Greg Rapp, who opened his brew­ery a cou­ple years ago. “It’s like grown-up Ga­torade.”

An­other de­li­cious sour wheat beer on tap was the Licht­en­hainer, tart and faintly smoky. But the most pleas­ant sur­prise came with a glass of Choco­late Peanut But­ter Stout. At first sniff, I feared a cloy­ing rush of liq­uid Reese’s Peanut But­ter Cup. Then I tasted; def­i­nitely peanut but­ter and choco­late in there, but some­how they worked and worked well.

“We want peo­ple to come look at the chalk­board and be able to try some­thing they can’t get any­where else,” Rapp said.

‘When it’s 95 de­grees and 100 per cent hu­mid­ity here in Florida, this is per­fect. It’s like grown-up Ga­torade.’


A frothy sampling of a half-dozen six-ounce beers at Rapp Brew­ing Co.

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