In the past two weeks, I've been fortunate to try a handful of fantastic local beers, brewed and poured right here in my own figurative back yard. That alone is nothing new, but several of these were brand-new creations, being poured for the first time. Not only do we have a serious local beer scene to be proud of, we have one that's alive and active!
Last Saturday, Willard's Tap House in Largo held its two-year anniversary party, a raucous celebration featuring limited-release and hard-to-find beers — like the 2009 releases of Stone's Imperial Stout and Terrapin's Wake-and-Bake Coffee-Oatmeal Imperial Stout. Cigar City provided a firkin (cask) of its Tocobaga Red Ale, dry-hopped with Citra hops. It was a very fresh, floral brew, and a great example of the world-class beers being produced by the Cigar City folks.
A few days earlier, I spent some time at Peg's Cantina in Gulfport to sample their latest work. Peg Wasserlink's son Doug Dozark brews out back with his assistant, Kristina Kirk, and some of the resulting brews — like the Dancing Cody IPA, an aromatic and balanced pale ale — have taken gold and bronze medals in competition.
Peg's always has three in-house brews on draft; along with the Dancing Cody, I sampled the Blind Date and 99% Lager. The former is a hoppy red ale with a great body and surprisingly rich head. The unusually-thick lacing on the glass reminded me of a nitro-poured stout. The latter — "a lager for the rest of us" — is a straw-colored, cloudy lager that was surprisingly full-bodied, like the lagers produced in the United States before Prohibition.
Dozark and Kirk have been experimenting with barrel-aging lately, a product of which I sampled not long ago. The Funky Dude Porter, a variation of the brewpub's Dude Porter, was aged in second-use barrels, giving it a tart, acidic profile reminiscent of a Flemish sour brown ale. Although the Funky Dude is not currently available, a barrel-aged Imperial Porter is on the way.
Speaking of sour beers, I took a trip to Dunedin for the grand opening of Seventh Sun Brewing, featuring no fewer than 10 (10!) house beers on draft. Pretty impressive for the first day in business. The first beer to be poured — a chocolate "donut" porter conditioned with actual glazed doughnuts — was won at auction by none other than the guys from Cigar City. A curious concoction, to be sure; but my focus was on the three different Berliner-Weisses featured on the menu.
Midnight Moonlight is the brewery's standard Berliner; the other two — Key Lime Berliner Sublime and Kiwi-Cherry Coconut Berliner — take the base beer and propel it in strange, fruity directions. I was expecting "extreme" Berliners, a la Peg's Ich Bin Ein Berliner-Weisse, but these were much more traditional than the names suggest. This style is so well-suited for Florida weather that I'm surprised it hasn't caught on with the masses; judging by the varieties on tap at Seventh Sun, this may soon change.
Justin Stange, co-owner of Seventh Sun, has indicated that the brewery would be focusing on fresh IPAs. True to his word, there were three on tap, as fresh and crisp as they come. The first was the Overhead IPA, dry-hopped with Simcoe and Amarillo hops. Next were a single-hopped extra pale called FYA and a Belgian-style IPA. These beers were remarkably flavorful and full of depth, illustrating the vast difference between old, stale pales and fresh-from-the-fermenter varieties.
Another phenomenal beer on the menu was Saison in Paradise, a French farmhouse ale flavored with grains of paradise. This beer also had a variation, Noix de Coco, that was flavored with coconut. Although I was doubtful that a coconut-flavored saison could be successful, I was amazed at how well the creamy coconut flavor complemented the style. This was perhaps my favorite beer on the list that day, which is a tall order, given the quality of the rest of the brews being poured.
That's a lot of high-quality local brews to fit into such a short period of time. With several new local breweries just on the horizon, we'll have lots more to look forward to in the months to come.