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  1. Bars & Breweries

Tampa Bay craft beer scene making way for sour, wild beers

There has been a paradigm shift in the beer world, as reliable standbys like IPAs and stouts continue to make way for sour beers, a variety of currently hot styles that are sometimes fruity, sometimes funky and always a little bit tart.

While you won't find a local brewery that doesn't offer a few of the basic beer styles, it's becoming increasingly rare not to find a gose, Berliner weisse or wild ale on the list alongside them.

To many, sour is the new hoppy, but it wasn't always that way. When St. Petersburg's Cycle Brewing, then a side project of Peg's Cantina in Gulfport, first released its Rainbow Jelly Donut in 2009, there was no built-in audience. The heavily fruited Berliner weisse was far more sour than most local drinkers had experienced. Still, it became a cult favorite, kicking off a wave of similar beers made by other Florida breweries, arguably creating a new style altogether: Florida weisse.

Although Cycle's current sour beer production is sporadic at best — it's known more for its ultra-fresh IPAs and barrel-aged imperial stouts — beers like Berry Best (a raspberry Florida weisse) and Ecto Cooliner (an orange-tangerine Florida weisse inspired by Hi-C's 1980s neon-green juice) occasionally make an appearance in its tasting room. Cycle is expanding into an additional warehouse space near its current facility, which means more beer. If we're lucky, it might also mean more Florida weisse.

In the meantime, Florida weisse fans need look no further than Peg's Cantina, where it all started. There, Cycle brewer Eric Trinoskey has launched his own Orange Belt Brewing, specializing in Berliner weisse, barrel-aged sours and farmhouse ales. The first official releases from Orange Belt, raspberry and blackberry Berliners, were recently poured at Cycle, and several Gulfport businesses have featured Orange Belt brews as a guest tap.

A close relative to Berliner weisse is gose, a tart German wheat beer spiced with coriander and salt. When Seminole's Rapp Brewing Company opened in 2012, the then-obscure style was on the menu. The beer quickly became a local favorite and, improbably, one of Rapp's top sellers.

Now, gose is the biggest trend in craft beer, with many great examples brewed locally. Rapp's version is an absolute must, but gose fans should be sure to check out excellent takes on the style from Angry Chair Brewing and Southern Brewing, both located in Seminole Heights.

While Berliner weisse and gose represent a style of "clean" German sours, many bay area breweries look to Belgium, where lambics and Flanders ales are produced, for inspiration. These beers use a combination of naturally occurring bacteria, including the lactobacillus that makes Berliners and gose sour, and wild yeast (brettanomyces) to create complex, deep and unusual flavors.

Tarpon Springs' Saint Somewhere Brewing has brewed Belgian-style beers for years at its current location, using open fermentation techniques that result in funky, unusual, internationally acclaimed brews. While most of Saint Somewhere's beers are not notably sour, several, such as Philosophe, Cheval and Jasmine, feature a prominently dry, tart finish. Saint Somewhere's new brewery will open next year in downtown Tarpon Springs, featuring an expanded tasting room, as well as a selection of beers from Belgium and France.

Tampa's Three Palms Brewing and Dunedin's 7venth Sun Brewery are also regular experimenters with Belgian-style sours. 7venth Sun is currently in the process of expanding into Seminole Heights, which will significantly expand its capacity for barrel-aging, a process that most Belgian-style "wild ales" undergo.

Barrels take up a lot of space, and the process of creating wild ales is very time-consuming, which prompted St. Petersburg's Green Bench Brewing to acquire an additional facility next door to its current brew house. The new space provides much more room for barrels and foudres (large, Belgian-style wooden fermenting vessels), as well as a special tasting room focusing on sour beers.

Until then, check out Green Bench's popular Surrealist IPA, a sour ale to which a level of hops usually associated with IPAs gets added. Surrealist has even managed to inspire a local spinoff from Tampa's Coppertail Brewing: a sour pale ale called the Realist.

As the demand for sour beer continues to rise, our local breweries are ramping up production and expanding their output capabilities. We're not only going to see a lot more of these sour brews popping up around town, we're also going to see a major boost in local breweries' ability to make them. Stock up on antacids, then go out and try a few of them.

Contact Justin Grant at jg@saintbeat.com. Follow @WordsWithJG.

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