By now, you've likely heard of the peril that Tampa's Cigar City Brewing Company has found itself in at the hands of the Tampa City Council. Representatives of the neighborhood in which the brewery's tasting room resides fear that having a "bar" in the area will lead to an increase in crime, a fear rooted in almost comical absurdity when one considers the target demographic for the tasting room. As such, the room may be closed.
The politics of the issue have already been covered in tbt*, so I'll step aside for a moment and talk to you about what really counts here — it's the beer.
As alarmed as I may be by the prospect of losing a thriving local business due to what amounts to paranoia, I'm most concerned about the loss of a venue for what may be our state's greatest contribution to beer. It may sound like a bit of hyperbole, but it's true — Cigar City has become a huge sensation in the world of craft beer in an unbelievably short period of time. If you need proof, check two of the biggest online beer review sites: Beer Advocate and RateBeer — Cigar City is consistently rated in the nosebleed ranges by beer enthusiasts all over the country.
Brewing great beer in Florida is difficult. The climate is so far removed from optimal brewing conditions that we may as well be tossing fruit in a bucket and leaving it on our rooftops to ferment in the year-round heat. There's also not much of a beer culture in Florida, compared with the beer-loving populaces of the Pacific Northwest, Colorado, and the New England states.
Take the Hunahpu's Imperial Stout, which is a variation of the brewery's Marshal Zhukov's Imperial Stout. An imperial stout is basically a stronger version of the traditional stout—a pitch black, light-bodied ale that uses roasted barley in the brewing process, introducing coffee and chocolate undertones in the finished beer. The Hunahpu is aged with Peruvian cacao nibs, Madagascar vanilla beans, ancho and pasilla chiles, and cinnamon. In the hands of many breweries, the addition of so many exotic ingredients can only lead to a jumbled mess of flavors; instead, Cigar City has crafted one of the most balanced and complex specialty beers that I've ever tasted.
And how about the Humidor Series Jai Alai India Pale Ale? For this one, the brewery takes their flagship IPA and ages it in cedar, a nod to the company's cigar motif. It's a brilliant take on wooden cask-aged IPAs, which are traditionally stored in oak. The subtle move of introducing cedar into the equation takes an already outstanding IPA and turns it into something completely new and unusual.
To have a brewery in our area that can successfully pull off a Belgian-style saison aged with guava, or a brown ale that incorporates rye and oatmeal, is a special thing indeed. We're also fortunate to have a tasting room in which to try many of these beers, including seasonal and limited releases. Hopefully, reason will prevail when the Tampa City Council votes Dec. 2; in the meantime, if you haven't already discovered this local treasure, get to it!