It's December, and that can mean only one thing: end of year list time.
Those who have followed the blog for the last year have seen our attempt at tasting and sampling a Florida produced beer every week - a.k.a. Florida Beer Fridays. That has lead to a vast archive of beer tasting notes in which to cull together a list. This list, in fact.
Some of these beers are one-offs, and very surely will not be seen again. Others are stalwart standards and can be found on any beer store shelf at any time of the year. Yet some again are seasonal favorites that come around for just a few weeks a year. Whatever the case may be, these are ten beers that wowed us, made us excited, and showed that Florida is juggernaut when it comes to craft beer producers.
Let us begin.
Beer Camp Across America was an ambitious project from Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, in which they sought to use their power as the second largest brewer in the country to help spread the love of smaller, more regionalized breweries to the masses. What came out was a twelve-pack that served as a veritable introductory course to American craft beer.
Florida was lucky to be represented, and truly showed where we were as a state in terms of the brewing world. Cigar City Brewing was chosen, and its collaboration beer was a tropical maibock that brought some of their signature fruity hops to play in a malt-forward beer.
The aroma is heavy on tangerine, candied orange peel, mango, and some buttery caramel. I love this aroma. It keeps me smelling again and again.
Flavor-wise, there is some pithy orange and toffee up front, which transitions to a mix of candied malt sweetness and hop bitterness. There is some lingering bitter flavors, definitely in the fruity areas as opposed to piney or resinous. It finishes long, so if you're sipping, you'll get the beer flavor for quite a while in between. Carbonation and body are moderate and fit well in the style.
The milk stout is a famous go-to for beer geeks, and a new (at the time) brewery putting one out with the right amount of balance and body was nice to see in our exploding brewery scene.
This is a moderate 6 percent alcohol-by-volume stout brewed with lactose that leaves the beer with a bigger mouthfeel and residual sweetness than a traditional dry stout. The color is a dark jet brown, and it arrives with a hint of a creamy whitish-tan ring of foam. The aroma is that of Whoppers candies: milk chocolate with a bit of malted milk. The flavors of the beer begin with espresso-like coffee and finish off with dark chocolate and remind me of a box of Sno-Caps. The sweetness and bitterness all play together to counterpoint each other and give this beer a complex character.
South Florida is the perfect place for farmhouse ales and saisons, so when one of the best in the refreshing beer game puts them out, there's bound to be a winner.
Tequesta Brewing Company did just that with their Belgian Farmhouse Saison.
It is a modest 5.2% abv brew; something to refresh with on a warm day, for sure. It's brewed with East Kent Goldings and other English hops, giving it a bit of an herbal character. This entry in the style is a bright, cloudy, and golden straw color. Unfortunately the head on mine was virtually non-existant, so a lot of the aroma was struggling to break free from the glass. What came out, though, was mild clove and banana and an equally mild herbal spice aroma. The flavor is super crisp, almost kolsch-like, that starts a little lemony sweet, pales out to clean effervescence, and finishes with some herbal and sage. There's a lingering body of wheat as well, and the whole thing borders on tartness.
This beer from Due South is a porter infused with cocoa nibs, vanilla, cinnamon, and chilis. The Standoff is not for everyone, but it has proved to be popular with those that dip their toes into its spicy waters. It's touted at 8.5% abv which is a little high for a run-of-the-mill porter, but doesn't hit 'imperial' quite yet. It's brewed every so often when employees feel the need to hand slice dozens and dozens of spicy peppers.
The color is a nearly opaque root beer color, and looks attractive with an off white crown that dissipates slowly, leaving little lacing.
Right off on the aroma, are heaps of roasted grain, vanilla and cinnamon. It belies the heat contained within, as it's a fresh cinnamon smell as opposed to that confectionary cinnamon aroma.
The flavor is mix between a dry and sweet porter, but the heat kicks in almost immediately, so any attempt to ascertain the subtleties of the malt get blown away. At first sip, the heat from the peppers grabs hold of your palate. The cinnamon helps to calm that down, but there is a loss of some of the nuances of the vanilla flavors. The heat really lingers, right at the back of the throat, but not to a degree of unlikability.
The IPA seems to have been done to death, especially here in America. Inventive brewers have been fiddling with hops and recipes for years now to bring new light to the beer style. Miami Brewing Company decided to go into a full Euro-trip with their beer, bringing this Old World centered ale to our attention and onto this list.
It's not your normal American IPA either: flavored with Polish Marynka hops, there is a distinctly European slant to the entire flavor profile.
It pours a golden orange, with a medium frothy head that releases tons of mango aromas. Some wet caramel grain comes out as well. The taste is signature caramel malts with a hop flavor that isn't super citrusy; in fact barely any of the 'typical' bitter orange or grapefruit flavors one associates with an American IPA. There are flower and nectar-like flavors with a mild lingering hop bitterness on the palate.
This imperial brown ale from one of the most recognized beer producers in the state showcases what we like the most out of big malty beers: being thick and, well, malty.
The beer pours with an instantly recognizable thickness to it, and with a deep brown color. Aromas of chocolate coated caramel candies tumble out with some molasses-like character as well. The flavor hits firstly with a thick mouthfeel; this is an almost chewy beer. Toffee and brown sugar come out in full force with a slight lingering English hop, earthy bitterness. Overall, the bigger mouthfeel lends a creaminess that isn't usually present in regular brown ales.
Beer brewed with soured characteristics have been a highlight of 2014, and Brewzzi's foray into the 'wild' side of brewing hasn't gone unnoticed. In a wild ale, bacteria are introduced to give a beer that acidic twang.
This beer pours an effervescent golden sun-like yellow, with some slight haze. The aromas off this beer are strong in pulpy starfruit, mango, and sour gummy candy. The beginning of the flavor is a burst of tartness that hits pretty forcefully, then eases back into a slightly bitter and salty aftertaste that accompanies some drying, like a champagne. As it warms, more of the funkiness gets pulled out of it -- George Clinton makes himself known -- which helps to propel this complex beverage from outstanding to phenomenal.
"I brewed this beer with three types of malts: Pilsener, Pale Wheat, and Rye," Brewzzi brewer Matt Manthe told us. "The beer was mash hopped with whole leaf East Kent Golding. I used a multi-step infusion mash, starting with a short protein rest at 131 farenheit to break down some of the larger proteins in the rye and wheat. I produce a mash to favor dextrins over simple sugars, which allows for a longer fermentation with more Brettanomyces flavor development."
Perhaps it's nostalgia of where we first learned to drink beer at the Lion and Eagle Pub in Boca, but there's something to be said about an expertly crafted low alcohol English bitter. The style doesn't get too much love these days (as many would prefer to scour the land for barrel aged whales), but when a craft ESB does get made, and made well, it's a real treat.
It is presented a vibrantly clear orange with a thin white head that leaves a lot of lacing down the glass. The aroma is mildly wet grain and some toffee, which meets with the flavors of toast, caramel, and dryness. It's also got some earthy bitterness to it, though in no way close to an American pale ale or IPA, just enough to give some balance to the mild malt bill. Oh yeah, this is only a 4% abv. beer. Definitely sessionable.
The beer finishes off with some maltiness and is a bit thin on the mouthfeel owing to the lower alcohol content. It comes a bit more carbonated than a traditional English bitter would, but they're pushing this one out of their regular beer lines and not using a beer engine (wherein the bartender literally pulls beer from a keg by hand pumping it out), a standard English way of pouring a beer of this style. While I prefer it with a lower carbonation, it doesn't detract too much from the appreciation.
How do we describe this one without falling head over heels in love with it again? We can't, really, so here it is: a super dessert-forward beer from Rapp Brewing Co. over in the Tampa Bay area.
The beer is poured into a snifter (or tasting glass... but go for the full pour) and arrives with a sliver of head and a chocolate fudge dark brown color. Already your visual cues are telling you 'chocolate'. Aromas of roasted peanuts, crunchy peanut butter, maybe some hazelnut and cocoa come out of the glass, and immediately your eyes are going to roll back in ecstasy. Maybe it's my love of peanut butter, but this beer kills it in the aroma department.
The flavor is on par with a bit of roasty nuts up front and then malty chocolatiness (which is now a word) to carry it onwards. The mouthfeel is thick enough to carry all of these flavors without being thin nor overly syrupy. At 8% abv, this stout is not quite imperial and not quite a 'regular' either, but sits balanced and perched in between.
There are some beers that get put together that sound out of this world; and this is one of them. Colliding Galaxies is a sour DIPA collaboration between Green Bench and Point Ybel Brewing Company, a 4 barrel brewer in Fort Myers. Though it came out once in March, it's been on our minds ever since.
Colliding Galaxies Double Sour IPA is an American oak aged sour double IPA crammed with Galaxy hops; a high alpha acid hop variety that comes from Australia. The beer reaches into the 8.8% abv range, which is appropriate. So think of this beer as the northern and southern hemispheres smashing into each other. Or don't, I can't tell you what to think.
It comes out with a clear pale straw and pinot grigio color. The aroma is super pungent with sweet fruity hops and a lot of lemon. The flavor is tart upfront with a highly sweet almost pixi-stix flavor, and finishes off with no lingering bitterness.
Perhaps this is doing too much, but I lose a lot of the double IPA character, and it ends up just being a late-hopped sour aged beer. Enjoyable, for sure, but something to keep in mind.
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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.