For the past year, Saltwater Brewery has been systematically producing barrel after barrel of locally crafted beer for thirsty South Floridians, and Delray Beach in particular. The native-raised brewery operators have spent that year honing in on what will make Saltwater a long-lasting establishment. This past Saturday, December 27, they put all of their skills on display.
For the entire day, the iconic barn that houses the brewery on the corner of Atlantic Avenue and I-95 held hundreds of people who came out to celebrate and support a local business: the beer business.
From noon to midnight, eventgoers could walk among the brewery grounds, where multiple pouring stations were pouring, surfing and fishing merchandisers were merching, and food trucks were food-trucking. It was the chillest brewery "festival" in a long time (since this was really an anniversary party). Perhaps it's because of the lack of a bottle release? In any case...
There were dozens of special-release beers to be had, so damned many that there were some unfortunate hard choices that had to be made as to which beers to have when. A beer style that has gained a lot of traction in the States in the past couple of years has been the sour, and Saltwater had its own variations: for example, a malty and acidic Oud Bruin called Hey Brah showcased its soured beer game. Sours can take a while to condition properly, so seeing a couple on tap after only being open a year was exciting.
There was also the six-month bourbon-barrel-aged Don't Get Confused, a massive cocktail-forward Belgian trippel (it hangs out at 11 percent alcohol by volume) with big smooth bourbon flavors or the Chelsea & Lauren's Raspberry Reef aged on pinot noir barrels with raspberries added that held on to the redeeming qualities of their respective ingredients and blended it into a wine-subtle fruit-forward pale ale.
New recipes weren't the only products being shared but new recipes for old standards as well. With an aim to "dial in" their core lineup, brewers Bill Taylor and Dustin Jeffers have been adjusting some beers, like the South End Session and Screamin' Reels IPA, to get the most out of them. It's an improvement. Gone is a lot of the caramel-malt-heavy English-style character, while clean hop bitterness has come in.
In addition to the beer-only-type offerings, a six-course minitasting pop-up took place, pitting local brewers with local restaurants in a calm-and-collected battle for taste buds. 50 Ocean, Sybarite Pig, Sweetwater Bar & Grill, Dada, Papas Raw Bar, and Smoke joined in the festivities. From fall off the bone St. Louis pork spare ribs to the refreshing seafood civiche, the food and beer pairings were phenomenal. It was tough to deal with a decadent duck confit pierogi (from 50 Ocean) complemented by an English barleywine from Tequesta Brewing Co. when right after that you had to move on to braised short rib with polenta fries from Sweetwater. Polenta fries, people! This needs to be a thing always!
However, in the end, the people chose sweetness, and the Sybarite Pig brought home the bacon with its oxacan brownie made with ancho chilies and topped with salted caramel. The addition of Sailfish Brewing's imperial porter that also had peppers (Trinidadian scorpion and datil) blew everyone away.
It has been an eventful year for beer, and there will be lots more to come from both the Saltwater team and brewers in South Florida.
Doug Fairall is a craft beer blogger who focuses on Florida beers, and has been a homebrewer since 2010. For beer things in your Twitter feed, follow him @DougFairall and find the latest beer pics on Clean Plate's Instagram.
Follow #FloridaBeerFriday for more reviews of Sunshine State brews.
Get out there and #DrinkLocal.
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