New craft beers are flooding into Florida at a rate previously unseen. While I'm opposed to floods, I make an exception when the flood is a metaphorical one made up of beer. The latest brewery to inundate Florida is a longtime personal favorite. Dan Weirback, an avid home brewer, founded Weyerbacher Brewing Company out of Easton, Pa., in 1995 after being encouraged by his wife, Sue, to pursue brewing as a business. His original concept called for mainstream styles such as Pale Ale and ESB. Something went catastrophically right (yes, right), however, and by 1997 Weyerbacher was producing unusual high-gravity beers such as Raspberry Imperial Stout, which is a regular winter release. According to Dan, going big was not necessarily the plan. "It just sort of went that way with the feedback we were getting on our big styles."
Weyerbacher is known in craft-beer circles as a brewer of big (higher-alcohol) beers, but despite the big reputation Weyerbacher started out small. The original brewery featured a relatively small 10-barrel brew house. A barrel is equivalent to two U.S.-sized 15.5-gallon kegs. "Starting small was definitely key," he said. "It allowed us to experiment with a lot of different styles and gain a following that knows us for our creative brewing style."
Weyerbacher now brews on a much larger 25-barrel system and is operating in an updated facility. However, a non-traditional approach still is the hallmark of Weyerbacher Brewing Company.
Another unique feature of the Weyerbacher approach is the sheer amount of offerings. Between year-round beers and seasonal and special releases, Weyerbacher offers nearly two dozen beers in the course of a year. One of the best sellers is a monster called Double Simcoe IPA.
Despite being generously hopped, the use of Simcoe hops negates the harshness often associated with heavily hopped beers. At 9 percent alcohol by volume, Double Simcoe IPA is bursting with grapefruit and other citrus notes along with ample pine accents, yet it is an amazingly smooth and drinkable brew.
Other favorites in the Weyerbacher lineup are funniest beer name nominee Blithering Idiot, which is a hefty 11 percent ABV English-style Barley Wine redolent with dark fruit notes (dates, figs and raisins) and Merry Monks Ale, a 9 percent ABV Abbey Triple-style ale with lightly spicy notes (pale fruits and sweet candy sugar flavors). Weirback lists Merry Monks Ale as his favorite while much of the Weyerbacher brewing staff is fond of the Double Simcoe IPA.
For the summer, Weyerbacher brews Blanche a Belgian-style wit (wheat) beer that's remarkably refreshing. Blanche is mildly spicy thanks to coriander and orange peel, and finishes with a light refreshing tart note.
Other interesting projects are the barrel-aged series utilizing bourbon barrels to age select beers. "They are only aged in fresh bourbon barrels that had bourbon in previous to our use, and we only use them once, for consistency in flavor," Weirback said. Offerings in the barrel-aged series include Insanity, Prophecy and Blasphemy.
Then there's Weyerbacher's Imperial Pumpkin Ale released in the autumn. Pumpkin beers are typically low-key affairs, but in typical Weyerbacher fashion, Imperial Pumpkin Ale is a hefty 8 percent ABV.
However, high alcohol isn't a gimmick according to Weirback: "We set out to make a pumpkin beer that had real flavor and mouth-feel, and you can't do that without using a lot of malt, which brings the alcohol,"
Weyerbacher beers come in 12-ounce four-packs and six-packs as well as 22-ounce Bombers and on draft at select locations.
— Joey Redner is a Tampa resident and world beer traveler.