Jess and I took a much needed tropical vacation to Fort Lauderdale and the surrounding Gold Coast region. Not content to settle for Yuengling, we quickly began researching our craft beer options. Turns out, Florida's craft beer selection is fairly similar to Indiana's, with a few notable exceptions. Exceptions like Cigar City, Oskar Blues and Holy Mackerel. Here's a brief rundown of some of the beers we drank and places we visited.
Before we left, we found a nice beer event calendar at the South Florida Beer Blog, thanks to Google. It indicated that we would be arriving in Fort Lauderdale on the same day that a Holy Mackerel "keep the glass" style tapping was going on at Hurricane Grill and Wings (like BW3 but with way more sauces) up in Boca Raton. Not only was their Special Golden Ale being tapped, but it was also 25 cent wing night! Double bonus! The Golden Ale was an incredibly smooth Belgian golden ale, sweet but not cloying or heavy. At 8.5% ABV it was strong but not boozy. Holy Mackerel only does Belgian style beers, and as of this year they have 3 beers in their line up (up from 2). We had a second Golden Ale and on our way out the head brewer told us to check out the tap handles on the side of his car - and we did.
Our adventures brought us to one beer superstore in Fort Lauderdale - Total Wine and More. Our number one goal here was clear and that was to obtain Cigar City beers. We picked up a 750 mL of Guava Grove and Big Sound. Guava Grove is a saison, flavored with one of Florida's favorite fruits. The guava gave it a nice sweetness not easily reproduced in any other manner. Banana and strawberry were present against the spicy wheat-like background. A bit of tartness rounded out this beer and kept it from being too sweet. This was exactly the kind of unique offering we were looking for.
Big Sound is quite literally the Imperial Stout of Scotch Ales. Nothing could have prepared us for how heavy and thick this beer was. Tons of toffee, brown sugar and vanilla in the nose. It even looked thick pouring in to the glass. If you can imagine every flavor you expect out of a scotch ale times ten, this is it. Caramel, toffee, vanilla, molasses, chocolate, brown sugar and even some peat. Very strong and sweet. While we both quite enjoyed this beer, it's one to share. 10 oz would probably be enough.
Original Fat Cats
I wish this place had a website. We almost didn't go just because we couldn't find much info online other than it's THE craft beer bar in Fort Lauderdale. I'll do my best to do it justice. This place is a dive in the best sense of the word. Walls covered in stickers and skateboards. An old beat up solid wood bar and huge window/door openings that made the entire front end of the bar open up to the street. Dogs are allowed (I can't stress how awesome this is). Blues on the jukebox. Don, the resident craft beer champion, works during the day when the regulars are in and will talk with you about anything. Super friendly guy. Over the past 10+ years he has been slowly converting the beer selection into craft. Starting out with only a few bottles, they're now up to 75 beers, of which 2/3 are craft and hand picked. Just about everything on tap is craft. And if that's not enough, most beers are $1 off during Happy Hour and if you come in before 10PM you get that discount all night (even if you leave and come back). The downtown area they are located in even allows you to drink in the streets, even though that does carry the additional requirement of plastic cups. This was by far our favorite bar in South Florida.
I started off with a Shipyard XXXX IPA (on tap) and Jess had a custom creation called Dogmilk (half Dogfish Head 90 Minute and half Left Hand Milk Stout). The Shipyard was great but the Dogmilk was even better. Someone in Indy should start making this. In fact, try it out at home, you won't be sorry. I followed this up with a Cigar City Maduro Brown, which is an awesome brown. The body is as heavy as a thick oatmeal stout, and the flavor is somewhere between brown and stout with strong roasted notes, a heavy nuttiness, balanced sweetness and even a hint of coffee. I had another when we came back later that evening.
We hit up Tryst in Delray Beach on Yelp and Beer Advocate's recommendation. This was probably the only true gastropub we stopped by. The food was excellent, and Happy Hour prices were even better. Jess had some great fish tacos and I enjoyed a huge bowl of pad thai. On tap, we enjoyed our fourth, and final, Cigar City beer; Jai Alai IPA. This beer was a solid, well-balanced IPA. Great with both our dinners. We couldn't bring ourselves to buy the $75 bottle of Cigar City Hunahpu.
On the way out of Delray Beach, we stopped at Brother Tucker's in Pompano Beach. I'm going to take a break and not talk about the beers we ordered. Brother Tucker's offered a really cool and unique experience. The place is located in a tiny strip mall and is as small as the smallest strip mall bar you can imagine in Indiana. Located in side this tiny bar is food renowned across the region. Originally recommended by Don at Original Fat Cat's and the guys at Beer Advocate, the daily soup is made with locally sourced ingredients and will never steer you wrong. By offering up this great food, Brother Tucker's is turning on the most unexpected crowd to Belgian and craft beers. A small tap list of only 4 beers and a lengthy bottle list are the predominate beverages here. The tables were mostly full of people you wouldn't expect to see drinking craft beer, and yet everyone, men and women, were drinking great selections. I personally had an Aventinus on tap, served in an official Aventinus glass, and Jess had a Norwegian porter we had never heard of. But the most important thing going on here is that Brother Tucker's has made craft beer acceptable and enjoyable to people who would never have tried it otherwise. This, in itself, is an amazing feat.
We picked up a bottle of My Antonia from Total Wine, who is supposedly the only retailer in the area that carries this beer. This beer is billed as a continually hopped Imperial Pilsner, and certainly lives up to that title. Through the continuous hopping (the same process their IPAs undergo), strong mint, citrus and bitter notes give this beer a much more bold flavor than you would expect from a pilsner. The light pilsner body gains a lot of flavor from an increased malt bill, which helps it stand up against the huge hop presence. This was a very enjoyable beer, even though it was a bit too strong for the fish I tried to pair it with.
Lagunitas 13 was another beer we picked up on our beer run. 13 is a "mondo large red ale" and is one of those beers that ends up exactly like you think it will. A huge, malty red body completely masks any alcohol present with its caramel and cherry sweetness. Massive hops push this thing into IPA range, making the end result similar to a red double IPA. The kind of beer you'd expect from Lagunitas, and that's a good thing.
Ok, this is it. This is the last beer that we're going to cover and it's ending our trip on a sour note. Quite literally. I don't know if it's intentional or not, but the St. Somewhere Saison Athene smells like lemon juice. Literally, like lemon juice. And it's not just the aroma that carries that acidic citric bite, the beer tastes like someone spiked it with lemon juice as well. You can trust me on this because I literally drink straight lemon juice. I tried to push past this and enjoy the apple and black pepper spiciness, but it was difficult. Jess couldn't manage past the lemon juice character and I had to finish hers. I struggled, but managed to avoid a drain pour. There is just simply too much lemon juice in this beer.
I hope this overview helps overcome any assumptions that Florida has a crappy craft beer market. We had pretty low expectations but the market is actually a blossoming one. We spent a week in Florida and tried a lot more beers (a crapload of Oskar Blues, for example) and visited a lot more establishments than we covered here, but the article is already long enough. We were more than happy with the variety of craft beer we experienced along with our relaxing, tropical vacation.