Where to find — and drink — Tampa Bay's award-winning beers

Some of the awards from the Brewer's Ball held Sunday at Water Works Park in Tampa. Photo courtesy of Best Florida Beer
Some of the awards from the Brewer's Ball held Sunday at Water Works Park in Tampa. Photo courtesy of Best Florida Beer
Published March 7, 2018

You might have to travel all the way to Cape Coral to get 2018's Best Beer in Florida, but Tampa Bay's craft beer scene has plenty of other winners to keep you occupied. Celebrate the close of Tampa Bay Beer Week with any of these recently crowned "Florida Best Beers" from the Brewer's Ball, which was held Sunday at Tampa's Water Works Park.

The best beer my friends and I tried at the event was easily Flying Boat's Flight of the Florida weisse. The brew took home the bronze medal in the Florida weisse category. Flying Boat's beer was a deliciously tart combination of cucumber and blackberry. The gorgeous red brew punched our mouths with flavor and merited exclamations of "How can this be beer?" Flying Boat brewed a superbly balanced Florida weisse that will complement any spring, summer or "Florida fall" afternoon at their tapvroom (1776 11th Ave. N, St. Petersburg).

Granted, as a group we have a distinct bias toward sours and other wheat beers, but Tampa Bay has an impressive affinity for the style. It's no coincidence that Tampa Bay swept the Florida weisse category, considering Tampa's Florida Avenue Brewing took home silver and gold with Never Too Late for Summer and Raspberry Berliner weisse. Both beers are currently available at the Brew Bus Terminal (formally Florida Avenue Brewing) taproom in Seminole Heights (4101 N Florida Ave). The Raspberry Berliner Weisse is available in cans around the area.

Coppertail Brewing Co.'s Slam Piece won the Bronze Medal in the Spice/Vegetable Beer category, but a gold medal in our hearts for best beer name. The Tampa brewery is known for delicious light ales and robust dark ales, as evident by the gold medal wins for the Independent Pilsner in the Pilsner category and Dunkel in the European Lagers. The Dunkel was a small batch, but both the "Slam Piece" and "Independent Pilsner" are available at Coppertail's taproom (2601 E Second Ave.).

Tampa Bay Brewing Company snagged the gold medal in the Fruit Beer category with their Quat, a golden ale enhanced by fresh Dade City kumquats. This was ale superb with lip-smacking, bright citrus notes. The beer is released seasonally in cans, available now, and it is pouring in the Tampa Bay Brewing Company Ybor City taproom (1600 E Eighth Ave.).

The area also swept the Cider/Perry category with Green Bench's bronze for I Am Brut, Mad Beach Brewing's silver for Sour Green Apple Cider and Cigar City Cider & Mead's Hard Cider taking the gold.

Florida's Best Cider/Mead was the Can't You Hear the Thunder from Garagiste Meadery in Tampa. The mead is a combination of local honey, Australian Cabernet, Shiraz and merlot wine grapes. Garagiste opened last year in Tampa Heights and has amassed quite a following.

When it came to the two biggest awards, Best Small and Large Brewery, the Tampa Bay area was victorious. Well, the winner of Best Large Brewery is in Ocala, but as a matter of pride we will claim them as our own.

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Arkane Aleworks in Largo won Best Small Brewery in Florida. Arkane specializes in sours and Beliner weisses, treating many of their batches with experimental flavors that result in a rapidly changing and diverse taplist. Arkane won three gold medals at the ball. Their Yarmouth took home the top prize for Scottish/Irish Ale. Gimme Swelter, a mango habanero Florida weisse pouring at the taproom (2480 East Bay Drive, #23), reigned supreme as the best Spice/Vegetable Beer. And the Mezkin Blackbird was the best Kettle Sour for its delicious balance of tart berries and salty gose.

Out of Ocala, Infinite Ale Works was the winner of Best Large Brewery in Florida. After tasting some of their beers, I was ready to swear off St. Pete and its bustling downtown for the cow pastures of Ocala. Infinite's two biggest wins were golds for the Infinite Trails Belgian Pale Ale and the West Floridian in the Belgian Dark Strong Ales category.

With wins in almost every category, it is clear that the Tampa Bay craft beer scene continues to grow and experiment with a ton of new flavors. Cheers to the brewers who won and the excellent beer in this area.