Nestled between a plethora of sea grape, sabal palms, and towering pines, among countless other varieties of grass, flower, and shrub, stands the comforting structure that is Peg's Cantina -- a venue of Mexican-inspired food that just so happens to house Gulfport's own Cycle Brewing.
Gulfport is a sleepy seaside town on the St. Petersburg peninsula, that medula oblongata of the Tampa bay area. An art and food center, it's what would form if Lake Worth and Delray Beach had a love child: eccentric, walkable, and full of passionate people doing what they love.
This day, however, was full of rain and misery, and in true Florida fashion, heavy sheets of rain fell in ten-minute bursts throughout the afternoon. It was lunchtime, though, and people didn't mind coming in for a bite to eat, though most were coming not necessarily just to eat some pork carnitas tacos or the crab quesadilla. They were there for the food and the beer that's made on premises.
Out back, behind the restaurant, stands an industrial shed, something like an RV carport. It easily covers 100 square feet of previously unusable (for beer making) outdoor space. Beneath it are the prize jewels of Cycle Brewing, the conical fermenters that are the star of the show for Doug Dozark, head brewer and notable Florida sour-beer legend.
A few years ago, Dozark started what is now considered a "sour beer craze" around the state with the introduction of a type of sour beer, called a Berliner Weisse, brewed with fruit. Now, Berliner purists might scoff at this new brewing method of adding in the fruit during fermentation instead of as a secondary postfermentation addition, but the style has caught on and earned itself a nickname, Florida Weisse, and a few fans. South Floridians may have already heard of the name Jonathan Wakefield of the upcoming Wynwood-based J. Wakefield Brewing, but other players are joining in the sour game, like Diego Ganoza of Miami's Gravity Brewlab and Ryan Sentz of Oakland Park's Funky Buddha Brewery. They aren't just jumping on the bandwagon either; these brews are seriously tasty.
But back to Cycle. There's a reason to travel out of town to sample beers. Outside of your comfort zone, there's a tendency to try something new, to experiment. Sometimes that's trying new food, or a new beer that you wouldn't normally get at home. Or, for brewers, it's an opportunity to brew with friends from across the state.
It was complete happenstance (honest, I was in Tampa mainly for another reason) that the day I checked out Peg's and Cycle Brewery's operations was a brew day with Dozark and Eric Trinosky of Cycle, Johnathan Wakefield, and Robert Tejon of Gravity Brewlab. This brew day was focusing on brewing up a large batch of Dulce de Leche Porter (using gallons and gallons of the caramel-like syrup), a "big gravity porter" as Eric put it. Luckily, the industrial covering shielded everything from the torrential downpours that continued unabated... until another 10 minutes passed and the storms moved along.
Inside, though, were some beers, and some of the notables were:
Cream & Sugar Please - A lactose porter that is reminiscent of a milk stout, but lighter, much lighter. A little roasty, but quite the cold creamy coffee flavor.
Fixie Session IPA - A slightly grain forward beer with plenty of citrus and grapefruit coming out of the hops. Not a lot of pine or resin, and definitely sessionable as the name suggests.
Bottom of the 9th Brown - A very flavorful brown, something that would be a great introduction for those not yet into the flavors of "dark beer." This has caramel, with a tinge of nuts and chocolate.
Lychee Florida Weisse - It comes out looking like coconut water, or something equally un-beer-like. But this is an amazing complex Weisse that starts off with a heavy fruit aroma and a sharp tangy flavor, that moves to that delicious sweet and bready, biscuity second half.
In addition to keeping to locals satisfied, the cantina/brewery has also begun a Gulfport, and hopefully Florida, tradition, called the Berliner Bash, where sour beer aficionados from across the state come to town to sample all manner of beer from local creators 7th Sun Brewing, Cigar City Brewing, and Dunedin Brewery, as well as the home team at Cycle Brewing. This past April saw the second annual Bash, with hundreds attending.
For an establishment to receive such overwhelming local support in a short amount of time harkens to the Broward and Palm Beach scene, where brewers are welcomed with open arms as the tastes of Florida continue their lean into the rich and complex.
As the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen said, "To travel is to live," and to travel for beer is to find another unknown page in the book of life. Go out, explore, and find some good Florida made beer. Until next time.
Beer things in your Twitter feed -- Follow me @DougFairall
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