I'm not sure if it started with the mix-and-match six pack or if it was the sampler at the local brew pub. But for years I've found myself unable to settle on a particular beer when going out or picking up a few cold ones from the store.
I'm not alone, either. Most of the great beer spots in my area of St. Pete — Shep's, Rollin' Oats, American Spirits, Rally, to name a few — cater to the indecisive with their large selection of beers sold in singles rather than the traditional six-pack. At bars, I rarely order the same beer more than once in a night. My usual strategy is to cram in as much variety as possible rather than to default to beers that I already know I like, so suffice it to say, I try a fair amount of new (to me, at least) beers on a regular basis.
Orbit 19 Lounge in Holiday last week: I came across a beer that I was unable to sample at the Centro Ybor Beer Fest, as it had quickly run out. The beer is Billy's Chilies, brewed by Twisted Pine out of Colorado.
Although a chili beer may seem completely undrinkable, adventurous drinkers know otherwise. This one contains five different fresh chili peppers — Anaheim, Fresno, jalapeño, serrano and habanero. The last entry gave me pause, but any fears I may have had dissipated once I actually took a sip.
Like a few other chili beers, this is a well-balanced, malty beer with a subtle, but clearly present, chili flavor. The burn doesn't hit your tongue at all — rather, it develops slowly over time. This is a great candidate for my constant-rotation strategy, as drinking more than a few of these may prove painful; one or two, however, works great.
This week at Tampa's Cigar Castle (see Page 49), I noticed a Full Sail seasonal called LTD 04. The LTD line are small-batch, experimental lagers, with the 04 available from December to March. This particular lager is a "single malt" of sorts, containing only one variety each of malted barley and hops. Far from stripping the beer of any complexity, this focus on two basic ingredients makes for an interesting brew. The LTD 04 was clean and crisp, if a bit standard-tasting, but it was extremely well-balanced and full-bodied for a lager. It's always nice to see a craft brewer innovating with lagers, an all-too-uncommon practice.
In St. Pete, I found myself at World of Beer on Fourth Street, a bar well-suited to the variety fiend, with rows upon rows of beers, divided by country of origin. I ordered a Cigar City Patio Toole's (a dry, Irish-style stout), while my companion ordered an Abita Mardi Gras Bock. The latter, a seasonal brew, is Abita's version of a maibock, a springtime version of the helles lager, with a bit more strength and body. This one was tasty but just a little sweet for my taste; fans of rich, malty beers will likely not be disappointed.
Next up we ordered two unique British ales — Black Sheep Ale and Well's Banana Bread Beer. Black Sheep is a Yorkshire ale, brewed in the traditional Yorkshire Stone Squares, which despite being almost exactly what the name suggests, are outside the scope of this column. The first thing I noticed was how similar this beer tasted to another Yorkshire favorite of mine, Samuel Smith's. It seems that the stone squares play a much larger role in the finished product than I had realized. Like Sam Smith's, this is a classic, top-notch version of the Yorkshire ale style — slightly dry and bitter, but with plenty of malt character and a slightly nutty flavor.
Finally, the Banana Bread Beer, which I've been meaning to try for some time now. The beer is made with actual fair-trade bananas and additional banana flavoring. A banana-flavored beer might not seem like the best idea, but this one was a treat. Further description isn't even necessary — bananas and beer says it all. If you can't get past a dense banana aroma and up-front flavor, you may not like it, but this was quite good and far better than the novelty beer I was half-expecting.
The only problem with constant variety is that many great beers end up on the bench for far too long, as new and exciting beers repeatedly take their turn at bat. Maybe I'll find the proper balance at some point, enjoying old favorites and new contenders in equal measure.
For now, I'll keep adding new names to the list.