With the wealth of up-and-coming craft breweries that have appeared in the Tampa Bay area over the past year, it's easy to stick exclusively with brews born and raised right in our back yard. However, we're fortunate to have many local pubs that specialize in regional styles from lands far away, enabling the adventurous beer drinker to think globally and drink locally.
Germany is one of the world's premier beer-producing regions, responsible for developing many modern brewing techniques, and some of the most memorable beer styles originate from this region.
If a plane ticket to Munich for Oktoberfest is out of the question, a trip to Tampa's Mr. Dunderbak's is the next best thing. This authentic Bavarian beer hall serves traditional German food, music and, most importantly, beer. There are 55 beers on draft, including many hard-to-find Belgian ales and limited-release American beers, but the bottle selection contains a treasure trove of German brews, including all the big names — Paulaner, Ayinger, Spaten, Erdinger, Tucher — and many more. For an authentic hefeweizen or German pilsner, there's no better place.
It's also the place for more exotic styles, including Shlenklerla Rauchbier, a beer that uses smoked malt in the mash, giving it a taste that some describe as "bacon-y;" or Stiegl Radler, a light German beer flavored with lemonade. Also try Reissdorf, one of the few examples authentic Kölsch — a regional specialty from Cologne — that can be found in the United States. On the darker end of the spectrum is the Märzen from Hacker-Pschorr, an Oktoberfest-style beer that fits perfectly with the Munich-esque atmosphere, and the rich, malty Doppelbock and Kloster Dunkel from Ettaler. Noch ein Bier, bitte!
A train ride from Germany will take you to Belgium, a veritable playground for beer connoisseurs. A car ride to Clearwater's Brew Garden is an affordable substitute, where Trappist ales, Lambics, Witbiers, Saisons, Dubbels, Tripels, and Quads abound. Owner Savino Sterlacci has been in the craft beer game in the bay area for almost 30 years, and there's nothing he likes more than a fine Belgian ale.
At the Brew Garden, you'll find many recognizable names like Chimay, Duvel, Delirium and Hoegaarden — some of the most highly rated beers around. You'll also find some beers that you may not be familiar with, like Saxo, a Wallonian blond ale; or Moinette Bruin, a Belgian dark ale. There are 32 additional beers on draft, including the uncommonly-found-on-draft Grimbergen, and Fruli, a strawberry-flavored witbier served on nitrogen through a stout faucet, giving it a rich creaminess that goes perfectly with the sweet strawberry flavor.
Belgian beers and other flavor-packed brews also are plentiful at The Independent, which has locations in St. Petersburg and Seminole Heights. In this European-style beer bar, you'll find fruit beers, sour lambics and gueuze, chocolate beers and all sorts of other niche specialties. Try a Chocolate Oak-Aged Yeti Imperial Stout from Colorado's Great Divide Brewing, the Tangerine Wheat Ale from California's Lost Coast Brewing, the rich and boozy cask-aged ales from Scotland's Innis & Gunn, or any of the flavor-heavy Belgians that regularly pop up on the tap rotation.
Belgian beers can be pretty hefty, both in terms of flavor and alcohol content. The American craft brewing scene has been heavily influenced in this regard, producing a wealth of extreme, high-gravity beers, which can often be found at The Ale and the Witch, a St. Pete hotspot for live music and American-brewed craft beers. Among the more intense beers that have graced the taps at the Witch are Avery's Mephistopheles, a 16.8 percent alcohol by volume imperial stout, and Dogfish Head's 120-minute IPA, an 18 percent ABV double IPA. The Witch serves many beers on the lighter end of the scale, as well, but on any given day you're likely to find plenty of options with double-digit alcohol percentages, all brewed in the United States.
For a taste of the fresh, hoppy pale ales that dominate the brewing scene of the United States' West Coast, take a trip to Willard's Tap House, a Largo craft beer institution that promises "no crap on tap." Of Willard's 40 taps, many contain citrusy, hop-heavy West Coast-style IPAs and American pale ales. These beers are best served young, and Willard's is the place to try them, with taps that rotate frequently enough to always ensure a fresh pint. Try Head High, a crisp IPA from San Diego's Green Flash Brewing, or Riverwalk, an unfiltered pale ale from Cigar City.
Willard's also serves fresh cask beer from Cigar City on occasion, but if you're impatient, you can get it directly from the source on Saturdays at Cigar City Brewing, where cask-conditioned ale is served straight from the cask, often featuring experimental versions of regular production beers, like white oak-aged Tocobaga and Chocolate-Cherry Puppy's Breath Porter. Although these beers are uniquely American, the process of cask-conditioning — wherein beers are served unfiltered and unpressurized directly from the cask they were conditioned it — is uniquely British.
Whether served from a cask or "pub draught"-style (with nitrogen), the beers of England, Scotland and Ireland are part of the quintessential pub experience. One fine place to get a feel of the friendly social atmosphere that pubs are known for while sampling some of the best beers the United Kingdom and Ireland have to offer is Yeoman's Road Pub, a British-themed tavern on Davis Islands that would feel at home in a small U.K. town.
The draft list has many British and Irish beers and ciders to choose from, such as Newcastle, Guinness, Harp and Strongbow, but the bottle list is extensive, with options ranging from Boddingtons, a bitter served in a can containing a nitrogen widget, giving it the creamy mouthfeel of a nitro pour on tap; Fuller's excellent London Porter; Young's Double Chocolate Stout; Hobgoblin Brown Ale; and a full line of spectacular ales from Samuel Smith's, Yorkshire's oldest brewery.
Asia and beyond
For a trip to the other side of the world, you need only stop into your local World of Beer, a franchise chain with several bay area locations. World of Beer carries a nice selection of brews from Southeast Asia, a region that is often overlooked as a quality beer-producing area. Classic Asian lagers such as Sapporo and Asahi Super-Dry from Japan and 33 Export from Vietnam abound, but some up-and-coming craft-beer options are often found, such as the Espresso Stout, White Ale and XH — a Belgian-style strong dark ale — from Japan's Hitachino Nest.
Of course, it's World of Beer, so why not try offerings from Central and South America, Africa and Australia? After all, they're categorized by region right in the cooler. After enjoying fine beers from Germany, Belgium, the United State, the British Isles and Southeast Asia, it only makes sense to make your palate even more worldly, all without leaving town.