We checked out the first weekend of Bier Fest at Busch Gardens, a miniature version of the park’s spring Food and Wine Festival. Here are some things to look for in “culinary cabins” set up around the theme park.
A sign of the times, or maybe a way to save on paper, a map and guide to Bier Fest are found online and on the park’s app, so bring your phone charger.
Of the 15 stands set up around the Gwazi Park area, six are stocked with food that pairs well with beer, cider, summer wines or the bourbon found in the rest of the kiosks. The festival is designed to explore drinks, especially craft beer from more than 20 Florida-based brewers on site. Individual beers are $8.99 for a domestic and $9.49 for craft. A $29.99 lanyard for five items or a $49.99 lanyard for 10 might be a more economical way to sample. They are good for both food and drinks and can be used throughout the festival if you don’t use all your items in one visit.
One adult drink that caught us by surprise was the Adult Root Beer Float. It uses regular root beer with a shot of your choice, anything from rum to tequila or Fireball cinnamon whisky ($9.99). A Rose Float of Astoria sparkling rose moscato is served over vanilla ice cream ($8.99), and a Cigar City Brewing Maduro Brown Ale is served over vanilla and chocolate swirl ($9.99). The Hard Coffee Float, shown above, features Pabst Blue Ribbon Hard Coffee served over chocolate soft-serve ice cream. They go together surprisingly well, maybe because the beer itself is already creamy. But at $9.99 for about 6 ounces of beer and some ice cream, it seemed pricey.
Over at the Tacos on Tap kiosk, the Jerk Chicken Taco, below, was outshone in both spice and flavor by the Smoked Brisket Taco, which came with a citrus chipotle barbecue sauce and crispy jalapeno strips that were a revelation. The jalapeno strips were as crunchy as a potato chip, so they gave the soft taco a nice spicy kick and also some crunch. The shrimp, chicken and brisket tacos were $6.99 and the portobello mushroom taco was $5.99.
One of the better deals for pub grub is the Deep-Fried Pretzel Sticks, below, served with beer cheese for dipping. At $5.99, you get two surprisingly large pieces of soft bread. Find them in the Pub Grub cabin, along with Fried Chicken Wings ($6.99) tossed in a choice of spicy mango sauce, blood orange sesame glaze or Korean barbecue sauce. The cabin also has sweet potato fries ($6.99) served with toasted marshmallow dipping sauce.
To our surprise, the Impossible Burger Melt was one of our favorites of the day. The plant-based patty melt had even more flavor than the Short Rib and Brie Melt. (They each cost $7.99 at the Melted Munchies cabin.) It may be meatless, but it’s still a calorie bomb served on buttered Texas toast, with provolone and a slightly sweet red onion jam that had us fighting over the last bite. The short ribs and Brie are two great tastes prepared well, but the sandwich lacked verve.
For dessert, Food and Wine Festival favorite Griddled Cheesecake Melt ($5.99) makes an appearance, except the pound cake prepared like a grilled cheese comes with a swirl of guava sauce instead of the traditional raspberry. We opted for the Flourless Chocolate Torte ($5.99), another Food and Wine Fest holdover, served with Guinness-infused whipped cream. It’s so rich and dense, two of us couldn’t finish it because it was like eating a wedge of fudge. Not a bad taste at all, but it sure was rich.
While you are exploring all the craft brews, don’t forget that free beer is back at Busch Gardens this year to celebrate the park’s 60th anniversary. You can get two free 7-ounce beers at the Garden Gate Cafe or Serengeti Overlook Pub.
Bier Fest is included with admission, which starts at $84.99. Food and drink additional. It runs weekends through Sept. 8, including Labor Day. (813) 884-4386. buschgardens.com.