This past Saturday, if you ventured around Abacoa at all, you would have seen an influx of beer-themed T-shirts and Coachella-esque wardrobes flocking towards a cluster of white tents at Roger Dean Stadium. These happy people were heading to the penultimate event for South Florida Beer Week: the Jupter Craft Brewers Festival.
Sure, $35 is a good price to pay for an afternoon of unlimited beer samples from some of the best craft breweries that distribute into the state. But it's probably doubly worth the admission for some beer geeks to get face-to-face with the owners and brewers of some of their darling brands.
As Ryan Sentz, owner and brewer for Funky Buddha Brewery in Oakland Park told us previously, "It's one of the best beer events in Florida; mostly because it's run by a brewer -- it's not a get-drunk fest."
We snaked through the early lines, donned our blue wristband and snazzy VIP-concert-tour-like badge (don't worry, everyone got one), and entered into the world of the beer fest.
The weather was perfect for a late January in Florida. As we started, we headed to some of the tents we knew would have some long lines: Cigar City Brewing, Funky Buddha, Founders... but we were struck by the line formed for Delray Beach's newest brewery, Saltwater Brewing, which was causing quite the commotion from festival-goers.
Still, we were impressed by the sheer number of breweries from Florida in attendance, including Barley Mow, Green Room, Brewzzi, Engine 15, Saint Somewhere,Tequesta Brewing... the list went on and on in the best way possible.
Going from tent to tent, we made our way over towards Proof Brewing, a Tallahassee-based brewery who has recently begun a large expansion project to increase capacity by an extra 10,000 barrels per year. Manning the booth was owner Byron Burroughs, who shared some Mango Wit (complementary mango fruit flavors) and a Scotch ale (dense enough and a malt complexity), and told us how excited he was to see the craft industry explode in Florida. "There are so many great breweries in Florida... it's honestly the best state to be in [for that]. I don't think we'll be viewed as a lager state anymore."
Beyond the love for his fellow brewers, we wanted to know what Proof was focusing on next. "We're known for our hoppy beers... the IPA is insanely popular... so in honor of FSU's championship, we have an Imperial IPA called Warpath, brewed with Warrior and Tomahawk hops."
Even with the expansion, there's no current plan to distribute down to South Florida, though there is still the possibility. He didn't dismiss the idea.
Keeping our scouting to some of the Florida brewery tents, we came to Florida Beer Company, whose 'beer alchemist' Bobby Gordash was out helping to spread the word of a new formulation for Devil's Triangle, an white IPA brewed with all the 'C' hops. It comes out in the solid American IPA camp, headfirst in the earthy and vegetal hop character with a mild finish and body, the wheat adding a refreshing tone to what could just be string of bitter flavors. An IPA to session with in the 10 months of the Florida summer.
Keep an eye out for the brand new tap room opening up at the Cape Canaveral brewery in the coming months.
Venturing out into the lands of brewers from outside of Florida, we came into the fold of possibly the best craft meadery out there: B. Nektar Meadery. The Ferndale, Michigan based meadery is known for putting out such sweet-tasting concoctions as Zombie Killer and Necromangocon, but owners and brewer Brad and Kerri Dahlhofer decided to bring some of the good stuff to Jupiter. They poured samples of Dwarf Invasion (a cherry lambic inspired mead with Michigan wildflower honey, tart Michigan Balaton cherry juice and dry hopped it with Styrian Golding) and Black Fang (A sparkling session mead made with honey, blackberry, clove and orange zest), both sweet and floral, and a nice change of pace from the hops and grain (uh oh, have I lost my mind?).
Brad was super stoked about an upcoming release of Kill All The Golfers, an Arnold Palmer inspired mead that's hitting distribution in bottles and drafts in the next month. "We nailed it, everyone who's had it has fallen in love with it," he said.
As the day waned and our livers took a hit, it was time to venture back into the land where amazing craft beer wasn't available at your fingertips... who am I fooling, this beer is available all over the place nowadays. It's what makes South Florida one of the most exciting places in craft beer to be in. Maybe I'm waxing poetic, but I think it might be true.
Doug Fairall is a craft beer blogger that focuses on Florida beers, and has been a homebrewer since 2010. For beer things in your Twitter feed, follow me @DougFairall and find the latest beer pics on Clean Plate's Instagram.