ST. PETERSBURG — Any doubts about the growing interest in craft beer around Tampa Bay vanished Saturday with one look at the line snaking out of the Coliseum doors at the start of the third annual Craft Beer Expo. The interest bodes well for the next big beer event in the area, Saturday's WaZoo! at Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa.
Turnout was so high that beer was running low two hours before the scheduled 7 p.m. end. It's the kind of problem you want if you're the organizers, but not such a great thing if you showed up late.
Attendance was reported at about 2,000, more than double last year's turnout at the Mahaffey Theater. The move to the Coliseum meant lower rent, so organizers opened the cheese pairing part of the expo to all ticket holders this year.
One of the more interesting pairings was a Trois Pistoles from Quebec's Unibroue brewery with a nut-brown Ski Queen gjetost, a carmelized goat cheese. The Belgian-style dark ale's slightly fruity and spicy flavor worked well with the sweet, earthy cheese.
Another natural pairing was Chimay Cinq Cents Ale with a cheddary Chimay aged cheese made with Chimay beer. It also went well with an odd-sounding but tasty chocolate goat cheese.
Another beer-focused cheese was the Rogue Creamery Smokey Blue, made from blue cheese smoked with hazelnut shells. It was initially paired with Rogue Chipotle Ale, but by the time I got to it they were pouring samples of St. Somewhere Pays du Soleil. No matter, the Tarpon Springs farmhouse ale went well with the smoky blue.
Jon-Paul Taylor, who helped organize the beer expo, had worried the cheese would run out quickly. But it was the beer that started disappearing too soon.
One of the most popular beers was a home brew from Southern Brewing and Wine Making in Tampa that drew a long, steady line. To say it was unique understates it: Called Cookies and Milk Stout, it was an oatmeal stout run through a Randall of double-stuffed Oreo cookies. It was chocolatey and milky without being too sweet. It may have been more interesting than good, but it was a hit.
Oh, that Randall? It's a contraption attached to the cask that looks like an oversized gas filter. Developed by Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales, it was designed to add intense hoppiness to its IPA. But beergeeks being what they are, it is now being used for other purposes, and who knows what they'll come up with next?
There was some grumbling about beer running out, leading to even longer lines at better-prepared stands like Cigar City Brewing in Tampa. The Tampa brewery had four of its most popular beers on display, including the outstanding Cubano Espresso, made with Naviera coffee beans from Ybor City.
Another glitch came during a well-attended seminar on cask ale run by local brewers Wayne Wambles of Cigar City and Bob Sylvester of St. Somewhere. Someone forgot to bring the taps, so the audience was forced to imagine how good that beer must taste.
Maybe next year.
Tom Scherberger can be reached at [email protected]