Beer enthusiasts this past Wednesday flocked to Total Wine & More in Pembroke Pines to see a celebrity of the craft beer world in the flesh: "Dr." Bill Sysak.
His résumé is impressive: Having served as a combat medic in the Army National Guard, where he was given the "doc" moniker, he became interested in craft beer during the very early years nearly 37 years ago. Through the years, he has amassed a beer cellar that is considered one of the largest in the United States, with more than 2,500 bottles from more than 30 visits to Belgium and hundreds of trips around the beer world. Now, he's a certified cicerone and craft beer ambassador for Stone Brewing Co., organizing events such as Beer & Cigar Dinners, Sour Fest, Oakquinox, Stone Pour It Black, and Rare Beer Breakfast.
Netizens and Untappd users might recognize him from the popular podcasts "New Brew Thursday" (where he does a "Master Pairings" segment each week) and "Expert Drinking" (where he educates on the best of craft beers, fine wines, and spirits).
South Florida was lucky to have him down for a short while last week, when he spoke and gave a "History of Craft Beer, Styles, and Food Pairings" tasting class at Total Wine.
During the two-hour session, Sysak made some salient points about the beer industry, such as:
- Florida is in a good place for craft beer. There are states with stranger and tougher beer laws.
- Every state in the country has amazing beer.
- In regard to "faux craft labels," if your craft brewery stops making craft beer and you go out of business, then you're a craft brewery.
- Every local craft beer job brings five more in related economic impact.
- Find harmonies when pairing beer with food; always experiment.
The class coincided with the release of Stone Saison, the latest in a line of beers branching out from Stone's usual forte of hoppy beers. It's also one of the new school of bare-bones beers: simple malt bills with simple hop additions put together with a rocket-science level of precision to craft brews that are more complicated in flavor than their ingredients belie.
Stone's Saison is crisp with tons of pilsner malt, enjoys a flowery bouquet, and is dry and light on the finish... in other words, Florida is a great market for this warm -eather beer.
After a cordial session of answering questions, shaking hands, and signing bottles, Sysak and his team moved on to the Brass Tap nearby for a tap takeover that included a gem in the form of a keg of 07.07.07 Vertical Epic, which has matured to gather aromas of Swedish fish and candied oranges.
After some chatting with Sysak (along with Bethany Bryant, the Florida regional rep; and Heather Gubser, the national accounts manager -- other superknowledgeable Stone employees), we sampled a few local South Florida brews. Of the selection available at the Tap, he enjoyed Wynwood Brewing Co.'s Pop's Porter the most. "I like that this has an English porter character... a good acrid malt finish."
After a few more samples (and snifters), I wanted to know what his first experience with Florida craft had been and what he thinks of the booming craft beer market.
"I'm excited that it's growing. My first experience with Florida beers was seven years or so ago tasting Saint Somewhere, then Cigar City, when they opened a few years later.
"I'm excited about the local breweries and the craft beer bar scene ,which has exploded. The South is the toughest nut to crack. People think because of the heat that you can't drink some of these more complex beers, but it's just not true."
We may be gaining traction down here in Florida, but it pales in comparison to the changes happening in the rest of the world.
"America's influence on the rest of the beer world is huge. All the craft breweries in other countries are now doing American IPAs; the people in places like London and Berlin are brewing with that American influence... We're driving the new styles. We were influenced by them before; now we're doing the same. Everything is cyclical."
Now that's something to raise a pint to.
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.