Best Florida Beers of 2015 | New Times Broward-Palm Beach

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#FloridaBeerFriday: The Best Florida Beers of 2015

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 — AKA #FloridaBeerFriday. That has lead to a vast archive of beer-tasting notes in which to cull together a list.

This list, in fact.

Looking back is like flipping through a photo album of flavors. 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 nine beers that wowed us, made us excited, and showed that Florida is a juggernaut when it comes to craft beer producers. These are all our 'Beers of the Year'!

9. Oak Aged Black IPA from Tequesta Brewing Company
Tequesta's Oak Aged Black IPA is a variation on the Cascadian dark ale (an India pale ale brewed with roasted grains that lend a roasted complement to the hop bitterness), taking a black IPA and aging it on wood to bring out another dimension of flavors. It is brewed to be 7.8 percent ABV.

The beer pours a dark brown that advances towards cola-colored and deep ruby red along the edges. There's a nice off white crown of foam that dissipates at a medium pace. Aromas of mild earthy pine-heavy hops join forces with bitter coffee and dark cocoa. It has an almost American porter-like richness to the body, but without any of the sweetness associated with such a thing. Just a base to bring about the bittering characters of the hops. The beer finishes with a hit of dry woody oak that lasts and lasts and lasts long after you've finishing taking a drink.

8. Hog Fish Amber Ale from Florida Keys Brewing Company
There's finally a brewery to hit on your way down through the Keys, and it's right at Mile Marker 81.6 oceanside in Islamorada. Florida Keys Brewing Company opened this year and proved to the world that Keys life doesn't need to run on imported Mexican beers.

Hog Fish amber is touted as a 5.4 percent ABV amber ale, arriving in the glass as one would expect. It pours a clear dark orange-ish brown with a lingering but minimal amount of head. Aromas are super mild but give off hints of an underlying sweetness. It hits the tongue with a very malty base, which moves from sweet honeyed bread to more nutty-forward notes. The finish ties a bow around the flavor with a well-rounded bitterness that complements the foundation of grains.

7. Keybilly Island Ale from Brew Hub
Keybilly is a flavored amber ale brewed with Key lime juice and holds the distinction of being the first beer in the Brew Hub's Craft Collection, a series of distinct craft beers the company plans to brew. 

Brew Hub is a 51,000-square-foot facility that doles out commercial beer, for a fee, to brewers struggling to keep up with demand. Some of its current clients include Islamorada-based Keybilly Brewery, Cigar City Brewing, Orange Blossom Pilsner of Orlando, the California-based BJ's Restaurant & Brewhouse, and Green Man Brewery of Asheville, North Carolina. It's a way for brewers to be flexible with demand without shelling out for expensive expansions or, in the case of Keybilly, to produce a beer without needing a full-fledged brewery space.

Keybilly pours a remarkably bright golden color with reddish orange hues, like that perfect Gulf sunset during the summer, and holds a wispy white head. This is a gorgeous-looking beer.

Aromas are strong with scents of pineapple, lime, and starfruit, with some minor caramel flavors peeking out. The flavor is, like, a Key lime pie. An underlying current of honey graham cracker malt base highlights the slightly tart and acidic fruity overtones that come through. It's not an overly sweet flavor but fully gives the impression that this is a pie-flavored beer without losing the "beer" aspects.

6. Wynwood Mack Rumours from Wynwood Brewing Company and the Mack House
Collaboration is a beautiful thing, which is why when the folks at Great American Beer Festival-winners Wynwood Brewing Company decided to team up with the noted experimenters at the Mack House, there was bound to be a delicious beer on the way. It ended as an amber Belgian ale, brewed with saison yeast, and honey from local Natural Chai Farms.

It pours an opaque brownish red, that touches on orange. It's difficult to see through, but that's by design. "We wanted it done the old way, with no filtering," Miles said. A ring of khaki foam tops the beer and lingers. On the aroma, a spicy yeast presence is hard to miss, and anyone that has imbibed a Belgian dubbel or the like will immediately sense the similarities.

Taking a sip, there is a full body of sweetness that moves into a lot of grape character, light fruits, and a spicy ester-heavy finish. A hint of spicy yeast flavor clings to the back end as well, sealing the deal. As for alcohol, it hits home at 8.1 percent ABV.

5. Category 4 IPA from Due South Brewing Company
Red India pale ales are a delicious alternative to the traditional hop-forward IPAs that precipitate out of breweries like so much ticker tape. They typically play with adding specialty grains to give the beer a bit of a kick in the malt department.

Cat 4 clocks in with 85 IBU and 7.7 percent ABV. Cracking open the can, the beer pours a clear burnt reddish-orange color with a frothy khaki head. It's a gorgeous looking beverage, with a deep coloring that you almost want to fall into. Aromas of nutmeg, pithy but dry citrus, and the playfulness of caramel-like malts show their stuff. A mild woody aspect arrives if you let it simmer under your nose. Taking a sip, the flavor is bitter up front, with a spicy rye character to it — pepper. A back-of-the-tongue-coating resinous hop quality comes through toward the end to round out this India pale ale.

4. Hop of the Muffin IPA from Bangin' Banjo Brewery
Hopped generously with Cascade, Columbus, and Summit, and holding a rounded malt body, this beer propelled itself to the top of the "drink it when you see it" list. It pours a clear amber with a shade toward copper-orange, giving off aromas of Jolly Rancher, tangerine, and sweet and tart citrus in fairly big quantities. The initial nose is subdued, and it appears all of the goodness is being held in by the beer itself.

The body is thicker and fuller than a traditional IPA, which gives a big almost chewy malty backbone to the dance of tropical hop flavors that dominate this beer. All of those same citrus-forward notes from the aroma are present in the flavor, with the addition of slightly resinous finish that closes off each sip.

3. Apple Brandy Barrel Aged Caramel Cream Ale from Due South Brewing Company
What's more fun than taking a years-old staple and experimenting with it? Not much, which is why the brewers and cellarmen at Due South Brewing Co. moved gallons of their flagship Caramel Cream Ale into Laird & Company Apple Brandy barrels to age over the course of months, imparting a new and unique second wind to the old standby.

It pours with a reddish-orange hue that glistens in the afternoon sunlight. The beer appears lighter and more boisterous in this new outfit. There is a small border of foam that hangs about as it is sipped. The aromas are a delight with notes of butterscotch, vanilla, and sweet apple butter. There is a determined nose of "spirits" as well, hinting at the traces of brandy that have made their way into the drink.

Flavors again reminisce of butterscotch, fresh apples, and some mild oak. The taste holds itself with a heft that makes one think twice about if this is the standard Caramel Cream or the Imperial version. I am assured it is the former. Some basic drying character imparted from the wood takes hold at the end, showing that every aspect of this familiar beer has been updated.

2. Wheat Wave from Saltwater Brewery
This is one of Saltwater Brewery's best warm weather beers, which usually means every day.

It's poured with a crystal-clear body that showcases a thin white crown of foam. The aromas are crisp and lager-like, verging on corn and white bread. The flavors are redolent of sweet cracker and biscuit, with a grain-forward profile. The hops that are given witness here are subtle and balancing to the pale malts that make up this beer. As should be to style, there is practically no yeast character evident. This is the beer you buy half barrels of for parties. Even as it warms it remains very drinkable.

At only 4.5 percent ABV, it's a sessionable beverage without being watery. It holds a great full body to go along with the balanced flavors.

1. B. Rabbit Espresso Stout from Copperpoint Brewing Company
This creamy nitro stout from this Boynton Beach brewery became an instant favorite when it was released this past May. The brewery had just opened its doors and was already creating beers packed full with memorable flavors.

The beer is made with a generous amount of coffee from local Rabbit Coffee Roasting Co. out of Riviera Beach. It clocks in at just about 6.3 percent ABV. The beer pours what appears to be a solid black with a cascading Guinness-like quality to it (thanks, nitro!), providing both a drink and a show. A centimeter thick crown of khaki foam stays put throughout the entirety of a pint, and it leaves a tremendous amount of lacing on the glass. Held up to a strong light source, however, and we're met with a reddish garnet hue. Quite the sight to be had.

Aromas are redolent of nougat, cream-infused coffee, and chopped English chocolate. The mouthfeel, unsurprisingly for a beer off nitro, is quite creamy, with a milky and silky English chocolate character to it. On the back end, there is some lingering fresh creamy coffee flavors, with no strong bitterness nor astringency to be had. It reminds me of a well brewed cup of Aeropress made coffee.

Doug Fairall is a craft beer blogger who focuses on Florida beers. He is a Certified Beer Server 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.
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Doug Fairall
Contact: Doug Fairall

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