Restaurant Reviews

Keeping Broward in Brewskis

South Florida never took up arms in the Great Microbrew Revolution. Sure, there are chain macrobrewpubs to wet your whistle, but the only sure-fire source for a fresh, handcrafted ale in the subtropics comes courtesy of Adam Fine. The Fort Lauderdale entrepreneur honed his home-brewing skills in Houston, but when he arrived here in the late '90s, he discovered a wide-open niche for microbrews. Yet even with a satchel full of experience and fan-approved recipes, he knew he was in for a tough slog.

"None of the [beverage] distributors down here want to take in an unknown brand and build it up," he complains. So Fine started Fresh Beer Inc., schlepping samples to discriminating restaurants, pubs, and grocery stores. By 1999, his light, golden Native Lager and the dark, satisfying Number 11 were on tap at bars like Alligator Alley and the Poor House. A few years later, the masterful, Killian's-slaying Number 7 made its appearance. Native Lager is available at stores like Wild Oats and Whole Foods Market, and this week, Number 11 will be sold in six-packs for the first time.

"I made the 11 to prove to people that you can have a light-tasting dark beer," he says, well aware that subtropical tastes generally avoid stout-style heaviness.

Fresh Beer doesn't ferment its batches in Fort Lauderdale -- Fine is a contract brewer who has enlisted Shipyard Brewing Co. of Maine to produce his product -- but the company has made quite an impact on local tongues. Lovers of Newcastle Brown Ale find Number 11 a perfect substitute because it's brewed with British-grown Golding hops, dark malts, and hardened water (for authenticity's sake). Unlike some boutique beers, "it doesn't hit you in the face," Fine says.

Fine's biggest client, the beloved Florida Tap Room, shut its doors over Memorial Day weekend, but he thinks the advent of the take-home Number 11 -- to be followed eventually by Number 7 -- will make up for it. Look for the 11 at the aforementioned stores and also at Crown Liquors ("the location at Northeast 15th and Sunrise is the best beer store in Broward," Fine claims). Publix, which already carries Shipyard's lineup of yummies, probably won't be far behind.