This wrap-up of a trip down to the gulf coast of Florida happens to fall on Tampa Craft beer week, leading up to Cigar City taking over a football stadium parking lot for what might be one of the most anticipated beer events of the year. Hunuhpu Day, Saturday, March 10th, marks Cigar City's tenth anniversary of its OG Mexican Chocolate Dessert Stout annual release. Tickets sold out quickly and include bottles of the coveted beer, and a party with an amazing list of breweries attending with some fantastic beer. This year many other breweries are joining in the excitement in their own unique ways.
Last post I left off finishing the evening at Angry Chair Brewery and really enjoying what I tried. I remember Joe, the bartender who had once lived in Troy, tell me he would see me later. I had not planned on coming back on this trip, but maybe his comment was foreshadowing. My plan for the last half of the trip was to spend as much time in the sun and near the beach as possible, while still checking out a few spots on my beer list.
I woke a bit later after the previously long day of sampling. Visiting four breweries in a day will do that. A few cups of coffee later and I was ready to go. My friend who I was staying with was feeling pretty rough, so I took him out for a late breakfast and he dropped me off at a rental car spot and I was flying solo on the marine highway towards St. Petersburg by noon. I decided it would be a good idea to stop at the a local beer store called Sheps. It had a sign out front mentioned that it did not sell food, liquor, tobacco, or lottery tickets, just sweet sweet beer. The selection was great and I saw some bottles from a brewery out of Illinois that I had heard about called Une Annee(One Year). They specialize in Belgian and French styles, so I picked up a bottle of their Belgian Kriek(Cherry). I also bought some local fresh beers for my hotel fridge, the standout if I remember correctly was an IPA from Green Man brewery out of Asheville, North Carolina.
I also checked out a nearby record/furniture store where I saw some really interesting modern furniture and also got a great old Sanford & Son LP that included the theme song and some classic dialogue from the show. It was an old favorite I grew up watching and was glad to have found it. It was pretty warm and the sun was shining, so feeling a bit parched, I headed over to Cycle Brewing. Cycle brewing grew out a brewpub/restaurant called Peg Cantina, and their offerings included bright hoppy ales, tart goses and of course some extra heavy very sweet imperial stouts. I tried a barrel aged smoked stout collaboration they had done with Against the Grain Brewery, that drank like a meal of rich smoky s’mores. I also enjoyed a pint of a citra hopped IPA called crank. It had a nice level of bitterness up front, a solid body, good carbonation level and finished with a nice pineapple/lemon peel bite. During craft beer week they will be releasing a series of stouts each named after a day of the week(update:all but one release were held up with possible infection issues). I probably could have spent more time at Cycle, but the surf and sun were calling me.
I headed out to Clearwater Beach and got a simple room to dump my stuff and hit the sand and water for a few hours. After showering off the ocean, I grabbed a cubano and a milk stout from a spot up the street and then headed North toward Tarpon Springs, the home of Saint Somewhere Brewery. After a few twists and turns I pulled up to a unassuming storefront with a sandwich board for the brewery out front. I walked in to see a few people at the bar and a bartender quickly informing me that they were out of beer gas(CO2) and could not pour beers. He did however, mention that they had bottles and he would happily do pours of anything they had. I must admit I was disappointed, but hung around and chatted with the folks there and enjoyed a pour of Anne, a saison that was dry, peppery, and had a nice herbal dose of hops. It held true to the belgian and french styles that the brewery emulates. Instead of sticking around, I headed back south to Dundein, to the other 7venth Sun taproom and enjoyed some tasty brews there, on draught I might add. I really enjoyed a belgian table saison brewed with all sorts of berries that was light, not too sweet and just the right amount of cracker malt. I also tried their barrel aged barleywine, Vultures from the Past, that was just the opposite. Almost syrupy in texture, the malts were so many and complexly layered. It reminded me of a combination of maple candy, Georgia pralines, and Medjool dates. This was a nice way to cap off the evening.
I got up and out to have some breakfast on the waterfront. A few more hours at the beach getting in a swim and a soak in the sun, I was headed toward St. Pete again to check out a brewery the locals had mentioned. Cage brewing was relatively new and there was a neat bar around the corner I wanted to check out. In fact the bar is named, Right Around the Corner(RATC). It was loaded with upright arcade games, pinball, video game systems hooked up to flat panel TVs and even shuffleboard. They just happened to be tapping, along with the rest of the state, fresh Funky Buddha Maple Bacon Coffee Porter. January 26th was Florida State’s draught release of a beer I have wanted to try for years and my first beer to start Friday! It touched on each flavor. Sweet maple notes, smoky and just a touch savory in the middle, the roast of fresh coffee and a heavy body that could handle it all in a 6.5% brew. Although RATC had some other fine options, I finished up my Porter, played my last game of Donkey Kong Jr., and headed to Cage. This brewery had a similar no nonsense set up as Western, the place I had gone to for trivia on Wednesday. The major difference is that they had a huge outdoor area with a stage. No bands were performing while I was there, but I am sure it would be a great place to see a show. I got a flight which included their Pale Ale, an Imperial Stout with cinnamon, a mango IPA, and a chocolate/peanut butter oatmeal stout. All were good but nothing stood out with the IPA, called Mango Bob being the winner by a nose. I took a much needed break from beer and rehydrated/had dinner with my friends at a great classic Mexican restaurant. I tried to get them to come out with me after delicious fajitas for some music and a brew, but after much arm twisting they passed. I decided to park by the waterfront and walk around for a bit on my own. My first stop was at the Ale & the Witch a bar with live music, and picked up a pint of Timebomb from 7venth Sun (a sessionsble new favorite). I headed out the front door of the bar for some great bluegrass outside under moonlight, it was really great. I finished up with a nightcap at a great spot called Hops & Props which had a nice vibe, and Maple Bacon Coffee Porter! That made my decision easy. Back to the beach and my cozy bungalow for the night.
I was flying out in the afternoon, and had a dilemma. Do I spend the morning and day at the beach and drop off the car on the way back to the airport? Or do I check out at sunrise and drive the 45 minutes to Angry Chair for a just announced bottle release? Well, there will always be other beach days and the latter option makes for better content here, so I went to Angry Chair. During this week, Angry Chair is releasing bottles at noon all week, they also released their 1st canned beer over the past weekend. Tuesday’s released had a line at 9am that caused them to declare a sellout and opened early! For the 9am release, I arrived at around 8 expecting two beers to be released. One was called El Cucuy, a Mexican cocoa inspire imperial stout and Bourbon Barrel Aged No Promises, a dessert stout aged in freshly emptied bourbon barrel and aged with coconut and vanilla beans. There were already about 150 people there, and another 100 showed up by the time they started the release. I chatted with my neighbors in line, one from Chicago, one from near Philly, and the other was local. The line, once opened, went very fast and by 9:30 I was staring at Troy Joe again as he handed me my bottles and I handed him my cash. I headed back to my friend’s place to repack my stuff, including the beer. Thankfully I was flying on Southwest and didn't have to pay extra to check a second bag, or in this case a well packed box of beer.
Well, that’s it for now. Keep an eye out for the next post. We sure have been collaborating a lot with some great local breweries, so I am guessing that is what the next blog will cover. Until next time, cheers!