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BARFLY ON THE WALL

Brilliant beer at the mall

Chalkboards list the numerous beers served on tap at the new Brass Tap bar at Westfield Brandon mall.

Skip O’Rourke/tbt*

Chalkboards list the numerous beers served on tap at the new Brass Tap bar at Westfield Brandon mall.

Forty or so craft beers on draft and around 300 different beers in all? Fire up Google Maps and get in the car.

That was essentially the thinking behind this week's Barfly, which takes us back to the city of Brandon, which until a recent trip to some interesting new spots was almost completely off my radar. Honestly, I'd be hard pressed to tell you much about places in Brandon, other than the gargantuan shopping mall. Incidentally, that's where we found the Brass Tap.

A Wesley Chapel favorite, the Brass Tap beer bar has expanded to the south and recently opened a second location behind the Cheesecake Factory at the Westfield Brandon Town Center. The concept behind the bar is to offer an impressive array of craft beers, wines and cigars in a classy, social environment, where customers can have a conversation, listen to live music on the weekends, or watch the game on as large a television collection as you're likely to find outside of a Best Buy.

We arrived on an unusually cool night, making the outdoor seating less attractive for some of my traveling companions, so we took a seat at one of the large booths inside. I was struck by the thickness of the menu sitting at the table, because I wasn't aware that food was served. Sure enough, it isn't — the menus were filled with page upon page of some of the best names in beer, followed by two pages dedicated to wine and cigars. Its bulk can be partly attributed to one of the Brass Tap's unique features: The bar not only stocks hundreds of beers, they also want you to know a few things about them.

Beer experts won't have any trouble finding a wealth of selections to keep them busy, but I was most impressed with how this place can cater to the complete novice. After perusing the draft and bottle menu, an amateur could easily tell you why they might prefer an imperial IPA over a barleywine, or what the difference is between Belgian dubbels and tripels.

Beers are listed by category, with an explanation of each style and its characteristics. This is a step above the average well-stocked beer bar, giving the enthusiastic beginner a chance to order expertly, with a more informed selection process than the usual shot in the dark. Occasionally, our bartender would drop by with a sample similar to various beers that had been brought over in order to help us expand our horizons with some new selections — a fantastic touch.

The vibe at the Brass Tap is relaxed and classy, with an abundance of seating, smooth lighting and a wide-open feel due to the outdoor courtyard at the bar's entrance, with no wall or dividers separating it from the indoor portion. This allows the air to circulate freely; good news for those who aren't fans of cigars, a variety of which are on the menu. And for those who enjoy a good glass of wine, you won't be left out, as there is a nice variety offered, both by the glass and by the bottle.

One of the downsides of the craft beer explosion is that I can't feel as smug and self-satisfied at my refined taste in beer. With places like the Brass Tap, anyone can come in to order a few drinks and leave with an amount of knowledge to rival that of some long-time enthusiasts. The previously small and elite group of beer diehards is expanding rapidly, and while this threatens my "cool" status, I can't help but think that's a very good thing indeed.

— jg@saintbeat.com

The Brass Tap

775 Brandon Town Center (Westfield Brandon Mall), Brandon. (813) 654-4712; ­brasstapbeerbar.com.

The vibe: A friendly and classy beer bar with a monstrous selection and social environment.

Booze: Beer and wine. Beer is $3.50-$9, with a few notables exceptions (the notorious Dogfish Head 120-minute IPA is $23 for a 12-oz. bottle). Large bottles can run up to $21.

Food: No food, but there are three nearby restaurants that deliver to the bar.

Specialty: The wine and cigars are a nice touch, and no doubt many patrons will find themselves indulging in one or both of those; however, the beer menu requires most of your attention. The draft menu will always have one or two interesting seasonal beers, such as the excellent St. Bernardus Noel, one of the world's absolute finest Christmas beers, or the Bruery's Autumn Maple, an outstanding autumn beer that utilizes yams instead of pumpkins for added flavor.

Hours: Noon to 2 a.m. Monday-Saturday, noon to midnight Sunday.

Brilliant beer at the mall 12/02/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 7, 2010 1:10pm]

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