The beer world is always changing. Hype rises and wanes; new styles and techniques come into favor while others become passe. One constant remains, in the form of online beer ratings and reviews: Metrics give us a snapshot of tastes and trends.
Each January, Ratebeer.com releases its Best Brewers in the World list, compiling 100 unranked breweries with the previous year’s top adjusted scores, weighted for recency, diversity in styles and other factors.
Two familiar names appear on this year’s Top 10 list: St. Petersburg’s Cycle Brewing and Tampa’s Cigar City Brewing. Both breweries have enjoyed sustained popularity in recent years, with demand for their output reaching far beyond the Tampa Bay area. Having both also appeared in last year’s Ratebeer’s Top 10, Cycle and Cigar City have now ranked two years in a row above another 24,000 or so that didn’t make the cut.
Cycle founder Doug Dozark struck gold — oil may be a better metaphor — when he first tried his hand at barrel-aging at Peg’s Cantina, a now-defunct Gulfport restaurant that was Cycle’s original home before its current downtown St. Petersburg taproom.
The resulting beer was Rare DOS, a rich imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels that became an immediate cult hit, eventually growing into a robust range of flavored DOS spinoffs utilizing a variety of barrels and blending techniques, each becoming more sought after than the last.
These dense and decadent high-gravity brews are the primary reason for Cycle’s inclusion in the Top 10. As the brewery has grown, its barrel-aging capacity and output has, too, making it far easier for the average local fan to get their hands on one of Dozark’s prized barrel-aged creations. Check Cycle’s Facebook and Instagram pages for special release announcements, or just pop into the taproom — barrel-aged brews make frequent appearances.
While you’re there, try some beers representing Cycle’s other major strength: super fresh IPAs employing a variety of exotic, intensely flavored hops. Keep an eye out for beers in the Unicycle series, which give individual hop strains the spotlight, or try the brewery’s always-popular Crank IPA, an outstanding brew powered by aggressively fruity Citra hops.
Cigar City Brewing
Often credited as an impetus for the rise in Florida craft brewing, Cigar City is now a household name even outside the state, partly due to a 2016 merger with Fireman Capital Partners that greatly expanded its distribution.
Before that, Cigar City was already very known for an infamous imperial stout, as well as its flagship IPA, Jai Alai.
While Jai Alai and Cigar City’s other core beers are ubiquitous locally, you won’t often find the beer that truly put the brewery on the map: Hunahpu’s imperial stout, a variant of Marshal Zhukov’s imperial stout, flavored with cacao nibs, cinnamon, vanilla beans and ancho and pasilla peppers. The result is a heavily layered beer reminiscent of Mexican chocolate mole.
While Hunahpu’s makes a surprise appearance on tap at local beer bars throughout the year, the best way to try it is to attend Cigar City’s Hunahpu’s Day festival, one of the area’s best beer festivals, held annually in March at the end of Tampa Bay Beer Week. If you can score tickets, you’ll have access to plenty of Hunahpu’s on draft — and many flavored and barrel-aged spinoffs — as well as an option to buy some bottles to take home.
It’s always a good idea to see what’s happening at the brewery’s tasting room. Pilot batches and special releases hit the taps regularly, showcasing Cigar City’s increasingly wide repertoire, ranging from the Grove line of fruited sour ales to an incredible variant of Jai Alai aged in white oak barrels, White Oak Jai Alai.
Spend an afternoon at either brewery and you’ll probably get an idea of what the fuss is all about. At the very least, you’ll appreciate the fortune of having right in your back yard what thousands of Ratebeer users have collectively decided are two of the best breweries in the world.
Contact Justin Grant at [email protected] Follow @WordsWithJG.