My Last Minute Beer Post Vacation

Cigar City

Last week I finished a much needed no cell phone, no computer vacation on a cruise ship that went to Mexico and the Cayman Islands. I stayed the night after my cruise in Tampa, and with the free time I had, there was really no choice but to check out some local beer. I decided on Cigar City Brew Pub where I had an appetizer, dinner, and sampled six beers. Just a quick note – Cigar City has a Brewery and a Brew Pub in Tampa. They do have many beer selections in common – but some are different.

First I want to acknowledge we were at a super early dinner, so it was pretty empty. Our waiter was still very welcoming and wonderful and recommended beer really well for me. He even talked to me about what folks typically drink in Tampa and some of the feedback he gets on beers. A few quick notes on the food before I dig into the beer, because I have to:

  • If you’re from Wisconsin like me, you’ll appreciate their beer cheese pretzels (top notch).
  • Everyone everywhere should start putting plantains on cheeseburgers. Everyone.

On to the beer!

I’m going to start with two basic beers that are a go-to at Cigar City. They’re both must haves if you visit.

First, the beer that put Cigar City on the map, the Jai Alai IPA. It’s a perfect IPA for a vacation in Florida and I absolutely understand why everyone loves it. This beauty has a light hop and orange fruit (almost melon-y) smell. Once you taste it, the experience gets even better. It tastes bitter, but quickly leaves you with a fruity aftertaste.

Next I want to highlight the Tocobaga Red Ale, which our bartender insisted had quite the following of loyal drinkers. It has a clean spicy hop smell, and that’s exactly the aftertaste the beer leaves you with – making it a really well rounded experience. The taste when the beer hits your tongue gives you a quick kick of sweet caramel malt flavor before heading back to hops. Overall the flavor in this beer is really clean, and with a smooth texture and medium weight it’s easy to drink.

There are four other beers that I tried on draft at Cigar City – and I wanted to do my best to summarize them all here quickly for you.

The Cody Fowler Brown Ale is great for those of you who want a smokey beer and a hoppy beer all at the same time. This beer wasn’t for me, but that doesn’t mean it’s not well put together. It smells like roasted chocolate, and has a bitter smokey taste. If you like smokey beer you’ll absolutely like this. If you don’t like smokey beer, you should stay open and take a note that Cody Fowler is actually a little less bitter than you’d expect and doesn’t have a typical dry sticky aftertaste of smokey beer, it has a light hoppy one.

Next up is the Clara Frye Rye IPA (which people should really call RyePAs – right?). This might be my favorite. Smells like light floral hops, bitterness, and a hint of orange peel. What’s great here is the flavor follows the smell, and it only remains consistent from there. This is a straight forward, ultra bitter, medium weight beer. If you like hoppy beers with a little bit of creative flavor, this is the beer for you.

The Minaret ESB (on Nitro) has an interesting malty tart apple smell, and the bitter hop flavor is added in when you start to taste it. The aftertaste is light and since it’s on nitrogen, it goes down very smooth. If you like a lot of flavor, give it a try!

Last but not least, the La Rubia Blonde Ale is one of those nice beers for those of you who aren’t typically beer drinkers because it’s a lighter weight than your average blonde, and sneaks that hop flavor in really discretely.  La Rubia smells floral and lemony and begins with the same taste. Some super subtle hops pop up late in your tasting. It leaves you with a crisp aftertaste and is easy drinking.

Cigar City Brewing has a lot of creative brews, which usually means something for everyone. I didn’t like them all, but they’re certainly decent quality and a good bunch to taste. There were two good defining traits of Cigar City’s beer for me. One was that the aftertastes were all clean, complementary of the beer’s flavor, and not overwhelming. The second is that most of the beers were slightly lighter weight than I thought they would be – which made for easier drinking.

For more on Cigar City, you can follow them on twitter @CigarCityBeer, and check out more of Cigar City’s Beers on their website. You’ll find a lot of great looking brews that should be great to try.

IP…L

IPL

I want to say the conversation I had the most over the holiday break both in person and on facebook is the one where we debate whether or not the craft beer world has gotten over-obsessed with hops, and thus alienated potential members of our community because of our unreasonable obsession with bitterness.

I land in the camp that says brewers brew to serve their audience, and so what if we like hoppy beer? We’re supporting the industry. I would also argue that part of the issue folks have with IPA is the texture, not just the taste.

In the spirit of being solutions-oriented and finding a happy medium for everyone – I thought I’d take a minute to highlight a great choice for all of you out there who want to try some good craft beer, but aren’t quite ready to feel like you’re eating rye bread instead of drinking a smooth, well crafted beer.

Enter the IPL (India Pale Lager).

An IPL or APL is probably going to give you the hop flavor that maybe you don’t think you’re a fan of, but the texture of a lager will make your beer much easier to drink. It goes down more easily, and sits better in your stomach. The IPL is perfect for someone who hasn’t taken to IPAs – I promise at first you won’t even notice all the hops you’re drinking, because it’s just not going to be as coarse as an IPA you’d typically try.

I want to take a minute to talk about two beers you can get here in Hartford where I live. One is the George Jones IPL from City Steam Brewery (pictured above). I write about City Steam pretty often so I’m going to stop here to make sure folks in the neighborhood know it’s there, and say it’s good – try it.

Today I want to talk about Jack’s Abby Brewing, a real gem up in Massachusetts, and basically a champion of Pale Lagers. I’ve had their Kiwi Rising, made with hops from New Zealand (Kiwi Hops not to be confused with actual Kiwi flavor). This is a smooth beer that blends a hoppy and citrus taste perfectly. If you’re in New York, Connecticut, or Massachusetts, this beer is a must have. I bet Jack’s Abby will convince you or your hop hating friends that they can make it in the craft beer world. Jack’s Abby gets all the props for bringing diversity to the hoppy beer world.

You can find Jack’s Abby on twitter @JacksAbby.

If you want to read more thoughts on IPLs, I’ll send you to a couple articles from 2013 in the Washington Post and Burlington Free Press that joined the conversation about how we like our hops.

Out of this World IPA

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This post is geared towards all of my friends who are between campaigns, on a budget, and still want to drink a nice hoppy craft beer (because you’re a hipster, just be okay with it). New crafty beers sometimes run you a couple more dollars than you would like – so I am always looking for a 6 pack or a 12 pack that I can buy at a good price with a great taste. Stevens Point Brewery in Wisconsin totally delivered that starting in 2013 when they added their Beyond the Pale IPA to their year round brewing schedule – I got 12 cans for 12 dollars at home here in Green Bay.

Beyond the Pale comes in at 6.3% ABV and 64 IBUs.  That means it’s quite a bitter beer, but it’s constructed really well. This beer is light to medium weight, and I can always sit and have two comfortably. It’s main flavor is Galaxy Hops from Australia. If you’re an American hop enthusiast, you can compare these to Citra Hops easily. The Galaxy Hops give this IPA a crisp, but subtle peachy – orangey after taste to end just perfectly.

Beyond the Pale is well balanced, and not complicated. You have to love hops to like it, and I’ll say this was a great way for Stevens Point Brewery to jump on the hop wagon a couple years ago. You can find out more from Stevens Point Brewery by following them on twitter at @pointbrewery.

Red Eye in Wausau Wisconsin

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When people think about going to Wisconsin to drink – they almost always decide to go to Milwaukee. I’ve written about Central Waters Brewing Company in Amherst, Wisconsin and today I wanted to highlight Red Eye Brewing Company in Wausau. All of this to say that Central Wisconsin is sometimes overlooked by beer drinkers from outside of the state – and there isn’t just one good spot, but there are totally enough places to take a good trip. Central Wisconsin is home to a lot of awesome local food, and tiny restaurants that are highlighted for their creativity and rotating menus. That has started seriously trickling over to the beer scene.

Red Eye Brewing has a great brew pub right downtown in Wausau with a creative selection of year round and small batch beer, and a great food menu. You should absolutely take a look at their food menu before you go. Even if you’re just going to drink – I want to plug getting the Mushroom Merlot appetizer. It won’t be too filling, but will complement your time drinking beer nicely with some bread, some vegetables, and a ridiculously artful balance of wine, onion, cheese, and some sourdough bread.

I had three beers when I was at Red Eye this weekend, and if you’re a fan of smokey beer, you’re in luck.

I’m going to start with Firewater. Firewater is a Wild Rice Bock – and it’s so smokey that there’s a chance you’ll write it off without fully appreciating the work that went into it. For the sake of honesty – I don’t like it, but I do want to tell you why you might. First – if you like anything smokey, you’ll LOVE this. Second, the beauty of this being a bock is that it’s also coarse and a little hoppy, but you do need to let the the taste settle a second before you taste the hops. You can actually have yourself a medium weight, mildly coarse, and a hoppy smokey beer. Lots of things are happening here, and you should try it, if only for sport.

The next beer I tried was a classic there: Mind’s Eye Rye. This was a great Porter and it went really well with the Mushroom Merlot I was mentioning earlier. First off, it’s smells smokey and only a little bitter. It tastes just the same, with the added value that it goes down super smoothly and there’s a tiny chocolate after taste. I’d highly recommend this one – there’s lots of a subtle flavor in a beer that is also super easy to drink.

The last beer I had there, which was my favorite, is the Scarlet 7  Abbey Dubbel. This beer, as is typical for Red Eye, has a lot of flavor -but this one is particularly well balanced. The Scarlet 7 smells like dark fruit, tastes bitter at first, and leaves you with an after taste that tastes like raisins with chocolate-y notes.  The Scarlet 7 is also pretty coarse, so if you like a beer you can chew on a little bit, this one is for you. You can also occasionally find Scarlet 7 as a guest draft at O’so Brewing Company in Plover.

What I was able to have this weekend really just scrapes the surface of what Red Eye has to offer. Their seasonal Rye’s are great (I had their Lemongrass Rye this summer… YUM), they are always pushing the limits of creativity with their beer, and they do the same with their food. Red Eye wins the award for being dangerously successful, and I would say the trip is totally worth it.

 

Lolita for the Holidays

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Goose Island Lolita is one of my favorite beers to grab at the Half Door down the street from my house here in Hartford. Lolita is one of Goose Island’s Vintage Ales, all of which are unique Belgian Style Ales. Lolita in particular is a Belgian Style Wild Ale. The wild name points to the bacteria or yeast that the beer is exposed to, and largely gives it it’s taste. Lolita is aged in wine barrels on raspberries and her main flavor is sour.

The experience I had drinking Lolita was great. It smells nice and tart – and my first sip gave me a little bitter hoppy flavor to usher in the sour with some contrast. It went down smooth and I ended tasting some caramel malt flavor and was left with a nice, sour berry taste.

All in all I loved it and think people need to bring a bottle of this to their holiday gatherings. I like it because my family drink a lot of wine over the holidays, and could use a class or two on decent beer. This tastes at least a little familiar, but could really open the door to interest in craft beer. If you have family that won’t drink anything too fruity – this has enough body and additional flavor to satisfy, and if you have family that won’t drink anything to heavy or bitter – this has enough fruit to keep them comfortable and safe.

Lolita is a real work of art, along with Goose Islands other vintage ales and is a great choice for the holidays.

Victorious

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After a long and successful year of campaigning at work here in Connecticut – I’m excited to start writing about the art and craft behind a bunch of my favorite beers. As you can imagine – there’s a bit of a backlog right now.

The first beer I want to write about before it’s too late is Harpoon Brewery’s 100 Barrel series #50, Citra Victorious. This 100 Barrel series grew out of a great tradition at Harpoon Brewery. It’s based on an annual company-wide home brew competition judged by blind sampling. One of the reasons I love this beer, aside from the awesome taste that I’m about to touch on, is that this one was made by a bunch of talented ladies. Anytime we have the opportunity to highlight the work of women in the brewing industry – we should do it.

Citra Victorious is a pale ale that comes in at 5.8% ABV. It’s all around a great introduction to craft beer for anyone who might be afraid of it – and great for any fan of pale ales who wants something crisp and refreshing enough to have more than one.

This beer has enough fruit for summer but is crisp enough to work it’s way into autumn comfortably. Your first sip is going to taste like both hops and grapefruit, and the beer finishes by wiping away bitter flavor and giving you a clean light grapefruit taste. If you can snag a bottle for your Thanksgiving get together – it should be a hit.

Harpoon has a lot of creativity to offer the beer world, so while you’re at it, you should try 100 Barrel Series #51, Cambridge Uncommon, and check out more history by looking through what they’ve made in their 100 Barrel Series.

Find Harpoon on Twitter: @harpoon_brewery