Any town like Tampa with the reputation of Cigar City and the breweries that have sprouted around its success can be exciting and sometimes awesome. I had a great experience overall and some solid beers from the seven breweries I visited in two days with at least two really tasty beers from each brewery I visited of the ones I tasted. In order to visit so many breweries in 2 days I had to limit myself in the number of tasters to the ones that sounded the most exciting, so I may have missed something awesome on tap and if so that is always sad.
Side Note – I visited Tampa prior to Cigar City’s sale to Oskar Blues. Though I probably would have visited Cigar City anyway even after the sale because thankfully it was not to AB InBev.
Cigar City Brewing Company
Sometimes the biggest breweries are great but are missing the charm of the other places, whether from the crowds or just the massive selection on tap. I couldn’t possibly try everything at Cigar City so I focused on the hoppy beers, a sour, and dark beers. I tried the Invasion Pale, Jai Alai IPA, Tropical IPA, India Style Porter, Juniper Aged Sour, and a big collaboration imperial stout. I found the Invasion Pale to be much better overall than the two IPAs. It is a super tropical light-bodied beer with a low malt bill and medium bitterness sporting flavors of mango and tangerine. I loved this one so much I left with two six packs and would have likely ordered a pint if I had more time to hang.
In comparison, the Jai Alai IPA was fairly disappointing. I’ve enjoyed it before on tap in other parts of Florida but I found it a bit too sweet, sticky, and heavy with more malt balance than I expected. It is a solid IPA for sure and nicely dank balanced with some carmel malts but it wasn’t as delightful as the pale ale. The tropical IPA was well-balanced with a chewy bread finish and a solid bitterness. It was nice and tropical but I again found the malts a little too overpowering and the hops just weren’t bursting out as they could have.
The India Style Porter was massively smoky and bitter with mild notes of caramel. While well-crafted, it was just too much smoke for my tastes and I didn’t drink much. In comparison the collaboration imperial stout on tap was much more complex and balanced with everything including chocolate, smoke, molasses, licorice, cherry, plum, and other flavors all blending together in a super thick and chewy stout. Though I don’t know that I would want to grab a bottle of it I very much respected the complex flavors and my husband was very impressed. Finally, the Juniper Sour was really not my thing. My husband described it as under-ripe fruit with an off-putting finish. Others described it as a gin bomb because Juniper is often used in gin. I just couldn’t point out any of the flavors or finish it and wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.
There were a ton of other beers I didn’t get to try including the pilsner that is apparently so popular they have to limit how much people can buy, but with a huge crowd and after the generally underwhelming IPAs I didn’t feel drawn to order a second flight. I was most impressed by the pale ale and will be enjoying that at home for a while because I left with two six-packs.
Cigar City Top 2:
Collaboration Imperial Stout
Angry Chair Brewing
I immediately found the atmosphere at Angry Chair more inviting than Cigar City with a smaller size, slightly smaller crowd, and some great locals to chat with about the area and beers. I skipped the hoppy beers here because everyone was raving about the two heavy stouts and I had one more to go for the night. Plus after a massive Cuban sandwich earlier I didn’t want to go overboard. But everything I tried at Angry Chair was really impressive. I tried the gose, raspberry berliner weisse, German Chocolate Cake, and Tiramissu Stout.
The gose was crisp and refreshing with very mild tartness and a little salt with a solid balance of yeast flavors. The raspberry berliner weisse was really fruity and not too tart with a dry finish and a delightful pink color. I considered getting a growler of the raspberry but they weren’t doing fills. The Cerman Chocolate Cake was a massive delicious mix of chocolate and intense coconut. The coconut lingers a little bit on the finish, just enough to balance out the chocolate. The tiramissu stout was really thick and a little too sweet for my tastes. While it had a nice intense coffee start the end was like sheet cake frosting a little too heavy and it coated the mouth, unbalancing the whole thing.
Angry Chair has a nice small tasting room with a great local presence and a nice set of taps. If you like stouts or sours this is a must-visit in the area. I was also glad that this and many local breweries didn’t treat the gose and berliner weisse beers as super special and still only charged $2 a taster.
Angry Chair Top 2:
German Chocolate Cake
Raspberry Beliner Weisse
Coppertail was the last brewery in Tampa proper I visited but there are plenty more to come in Day 2 that I visited in the surrounding areas. Coppertail is in a large building and slightly bigger overall than Cigar City. I tried a number of beers there but I almost left a bit early because of the massively loud music playing. I tried the gose, berliner weisse, sour session IPA, Free Dive IPA, and Unholy Belgian Tripel. The gose was crisp and refreshing with a nice citrusy finish and a pilsner malt finish. I really liked the flavor of this one. The Berliner weisse was a little lighter in body with less flavor than the gose so I would suggest people go with the gose. It didn’t have much that stood out about it.
The sour session IPA was a really interesting different flavor with powerful grapefruit kick at the front and a mild tart finish. All 3 of the “sours” were highly carbonated and tasty. The Free Dive IPA was a solid balanced IPA with tons of citrus and grapefruit and a medium bitterness. I preferred it to the Jai Alai as it felt the malts were more subdued. The Unholy Belgian Tripel is a super hoppy version of the classic style. It could easily be described as a Belgian style Double IPA. Everything balanced nicely with the American hops taking center stage and balancing nicely with the sweeter finish and Belgian yeast. I really savored that taster.
Coppertail Brewing Top 2:
Unholy Belgian Tripel
Out of the three breweries I visited on my first day the one I found most welcoming was Angry Chair. Not only did they have some very tasty beers they were the quietest of the bunch. They have a very neighborhood feel and don’t try to turn the tasting room into a bar.
Come back next week for my post on Day 2 of my Tampa experience, where I visited other breweries in the Tampa Bay area.
There are a ton of breweries opening all the time and it can be hard for new ones to stick out among the crowd. That is unless they start out making beers as impressive as those from Fall. Fall is probably one of the most hyped up young breweries lately and I figured I would walk away disappointed but found myself really impressed by a lot of what I tasted. I tried two flights while I was there. My first full flight included the Interpretive Dance Session IPA, Jazz Hands Berliner Weisse, English Pale, Spirit of 77 IPA, and Green Hat IPA. I ended with three dark beers including the ever popular 2AM Bike Ride, Apocalypse Pony, and Fall & Oats.
The Interpretive Dance session IPA was surprisingly potent with tons of hop flavor and high bitterness despite a seriously low 3.5% alcohol. It was a solid mix of tropical fruit and citrus with a seriously bitter finish. The Jazz Hands berliner weisse was crisp and delicious with a mild fruity/tart flavor. It also was surprisingly flavorful for a low 3.5% alcohol. This was one of the more flavorful local versions of the style I have had. The English Pale primarily has a lot of apricot flavor with some mild earthy hops and a crisp sweet finish. It didn’t overwhelm with the malts and was overall a very nicely balanced drinkable beer.
Both the Spirit of 77 and Green Hat IPAs were fantastically balanced and delicious. They were both quite similar in many ways, both having a sticky icky sweetness and both not too overwhelmed by the malts. The 77 IPA was fruity with a piney finish and a little more malt balance. The Green Hat tended more towards the juicy guava and pineapple flavors and was overall deliciously fruity. Neither tasted much like any IPA I have had before while they both were excellent examples of the style. After all the hype for 2AM Bike Ride, I wasn’t too excited by it. It was a very smooth light-body stout with intense bitter coffee and a subtle vanilla in the back. It seemed to lack a complexity or roasted malt flavor that I love so much in the style.
The Apocalypse Pony has a strong vanilla flavor with a mellow coffee finish. Again I found the body lacking here and the vanilla was a little too overpowering for me. The Fall & Oats was quite fruity and the fruit was so sweet I almost thought it was vanilla at first. Like the other two I tried, it was lacking the thicker mouthfeel I love in my stouts and didn’t have the chewy oat character I normally love. Despite the stouts being mostly underwhelming for me, I recognize that they are quite popular among other groups. 2AM Bike Ride is a big hit with many of the local beer fans. Still, the two IPAs were so delicious and showed a real skill with blending hop flavors that I don’t see often with young breweries. If you haven’t gotten around to visiting Fall, you should do so soon.
Green Hat IPA
Spirit of 77 IPA
I visited Bitter Brothers with a friend recently, and we both agreed about the most impressive beers in the bunch, which surprisingly were not the IPAs. Though the IPAs were all tasty, some less popular/common styles were among our favorites. We tasted the Berliner Weisse, Session IPA, ESB, Dunkelweizen, coffee porter, Amarillo IPA, and North West style IPA. Bitter Brothers is easy to find right off Morena Blvd in an area not yet surrounded by a ton of other breweries.
The Berliner Weisse was a smooth mix of ginger and grapefruit with a mild tart finish. It had a bit more flavor than the typical new brewery version of the style and a lot of subtleties as well. The session IPA has a nice mix of pineapple and grapefruit with a strong bitter finish. I found this one a little too bitter for what it was but I enjoyed it a little more after it warmed up. The hops come on nice and strong for sure. The ESB was super smooth and flavorful with a nice balance of caramel malts and apricot from the hops. It had a lot more flavor than most local versions and we left wanting more.
The Dunkelweizen was also quite impressive with a sweet plum taste and smooth sweet banana and molasses finish. Both of these styles are quite difficult to execute well and often local ESBs are flavorless or Dunkelweizens are too sweet or lack balance. Neither of these beers had those problems. The coffee porter is available on draft and nitro but I asked the bartender which she preferred and she suggested the draft, so we had that one. It was quite tasty with a strong nutty coffee flavor and a medium body. The taste was almost like a cold brew coffee.
The Amarillo IPA was super fruity with flavors of mango and tangerine. It is a solid version of the local style, low on the malt bill and very hop forward. The North West IPA is the amber color beer you see. It was nicely balanced and bursting with herb and pine hops with notes of sage and a strong bitter finish. They were both enjoyable IPAs though neither of us was craving these as much as the ESB or coffee porter. The IPA you prefer will depend on your preference for hop flavors. Thankfully the North West IPA did not taste like a lot of the boring old-school Portland IPAs that rely too heavily on pine hops.
For a brewery that has only been open a month or so, we were both quite impressed by the beers. Come visit Bitter Brothers with a friend and share a few tasters.
Occasionally I have need to update a post on a brewery that has changed significantly since the last time I posted. Back when I visited Toolbox it didn’t seem very likely that the entire core of their beer would change so drastically. But brewers are people too and disagreements occur that lead them to move on to other breweries, as was the case when one of the head brewers from Toolbox left. I don’t intend to get into the specifics of what happened as that is none of my business but I do want to explore for you the big differences in the types of beer available at Toolbox. For those interested you can read my original Toolbox post. I have updated it with a note to indicate that the information is outdated.
You may recall previously that Tart X was the basis for many of the fruited sours that were available at Toolbox. This seriously tart base beer made for some quite tart fruited sours. Now the brewery appears to focus on a few different types of beers, Berliner Weisse, Gose, and barrel aged sours. I didn’t try everything on the menu in my recent visit because at $3 to $5 per taster depending on what you were ordering that could get quite expensive. But I could easily tell that trying the gose, berliner weisse, and barrel-aged sour they had on was an important part of understanding their new direction.
I tried five different beers on my latest visit, Free Range Lettuce, Funky Wit, Cumcumberliner, Life Gose On, and Bramble on Rose. The Grass Fed Lettuce is described as a dry-hopped sour pale ale with amarillo, galaxy, and hallertau blanc hops. However, I found it lacked both the flavors of the three hops and the sour kick I expected. It was a quite funky pale ale with really mellow hops and a bitter finish. Perhaps I missed it when it was first put on but hop heads won’t find anything exciting here. The Funky Wit is a twist on the traditional Belgian Wit with the addition of the Brett yeast. In this case the wild yeast gives the beer a very slight funk and a bit of bright fruit notes. Otherwise the beer has a nice high carbonation with light spice and a mild sweetness at the end. Quite a delicious beer and quite different in flavor from typical local versions.
The Cucumberliner is a Berliner Weisse with cucumber, 18 pounds per barrel to be exact. I found the beer to be a delicious mix of tart and intense cucumber flavor. It had a bit of a mouth puckering effect and a nice hint of citrus at the finish from the underlying beer. This was one of my favorites of the day and I left with a bottle that is thankfully reasonably priced at $8 for 16 ounces compared to other sours. The Life Gose On is described as a tart wheat ale with coriander and sea salt. I found it mildly salty yet balanced with a mild tartness and light citrus notes. I think the saltiness was what kept me from getting the citrus gose they had in bottles at the tasting room but I look forward to trying other varieties. As you can see on the beer board two of their other beers were fruit varieties of the berliner weisse. I did not try these in my visit.
I ended with the Bramble on Rose, a barrel aged wild ale with local blackberries. I found it to be absolutely delicious and I was glad I went straight for a full pour the first time. It was bursting with blackberry flavor and had a nice light sour that balanced with a nice light sweetness. The barrel really gave the beer a nice smooth finish. Probably the closest comparison I could make with this beer is the Cascade Blackberry Sour I had recently, quite high praise as Cascade has been brewing this style of beer for many years. I left with a bottle of this beer despite the $22 price tag because they indicated the bottles were going fast and I felt myself wanting more after I finished the first glass. You probably won’t find this beer available when you visit but if you do see a barrel-aged variety you should absolutely try it. Hopefully over time the amount brewed in each batch will increase.
One other thing to note here is the absence of the IPA and Stout that Toolbox brewed before. If you happen to visit with a friend who doesn’t like sours, I hope you are visiting multiple breweries in your trip as there are plenty of great breweries in the area that brew fantastic IPAs and Stouts. Now that I have become familiar with the world of sour beers I think it is fantastic that they have gone all in with sours and decided to no longer brew an IPA. After all they are surrounded by many great breweries that do the IPA properly.
Bramble on Rose