Cigar City Brewing (Spring Break 2012)

Thinking back to last year, I fondly recall our 2011 Spring Break trip to Florida, which was an epic beer adventure that inspired a 6-part trip report:

  1. Moon River Brewing Company, Savannah, Georgia
  2. Sarasota Brewing Company, Sarasota, Florida
  3. The Bottled Beers of Florida
  4. Peg’s Cantina and Brewpub, Gulfport, Florida
  5. Tampa Bay Brewing Company, Tampa, Florida
  6. Dunedin Brewing Company, Dunedin, Florida

The sum total: five brewpubs and 40 different beers, almost all brewed in the state of Florida.

But I had some unfinished business: a visit to Cigar City Brewing in Tampa.

I tried two bottles of Cigar City brews in 2011 and loved them, but I couldn’t squeeze in a trip to the brewery tasting room. I made amends in 2012.

Spring Break 2012 found us back in Florida, which isn’t known for its craft beer. But Cigar City Brewing threatens to change the way you think about craft beer from the sunshine state – there’s more to it than LandShark Lager. A lot more.

A visit to Cigar City Brewing was the top beer priority on my return trip to the Tampa area in 2012 and my expectations were high. We set aside an afternoon for a visit to the brewery before meeting my family for dinner. Despite the call of Cuban cuisine, I didn’t want to leave Cigar City!

The crowded tasting room was abuzz with a friendly, positive vibe. We grabbed a table, but since there was no table service, I jumped in the long line at the bar. The line moved quickly behind an able bar staff, and before I knew it, I was face-to-face with a chalkboard-filled list of beers. What to do?

In situations like this – a visit to a new brewery with a long beer list – my go-to move is simple: start at the top and work your way down the list.

The tasting room offered four-beer flights of six-ounce beers. I’ve tried the popular Jai Alai IPA and Maduro Brown Ale in the bottle, so I started with Hotter than Helles and just went down the list from there, ordering two flights to share with my wife. After savoring the first eight brews, I went back for four more, for a total of 12 beers sampled:

  • Hotter than Helles, a Munich Lager (5.0%)
  • Florida Cracker, a Belgian Wit (5.0%)
  • Table Saison, a Farmhouse Ale (5.0%)
  • Tocobaga, a strong Red Ale (7.2%)
  • El Lector, a Dark Mild Ale (4.0%)
  • Criterium Ale, an American Wheat Ale (5.0%)
  • Bone Valley Brown, a Brown Ale (5.0%)
  • Märzen Spring Lager, a traditional Oktoberfest (5.5%)
  • Minaret, an Extra Special Bitter (5.0%)
  • Improvisación, an Oatmeal Rye India Brown Ale (9.0%)
  • Kalevipoeg Baltic Porter (9.0%)
  • Vanilla Maduro, a Brown Ale aged in French Oak vanilla barrels (5.5%)

I loved the mix of drinkable session beers and stronger complex brews. All of the beers were excellent – among the best I’ve tried in all my time in Florida. Cigar City sets a new standard – and not just for Florida brew. Cigar City will be on my must-visit list whenever I’m in the Tampa area.

Update: September 29, 2012

Dunedin Brewing Sampler Tray

As we roll into the fall season and the last quarter of 2012, I have to catch-up on some beer adventures from earlier in the year…

In addition to Cigar City Brewing, our 2012 Spring Break trip included stops at many of our favorite beer destinations on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Since we hit the same spots during our 2011 Spring Break and I blogged about them last year, I’m not going to write detailed posts about them this year. I’ll just list them here, with a brief note and link to last year’s post, along with some 2012 photos in the gallery below:

  • Dunedin Brewery, Dunedin, Florida – “Florida’s Oldest Microbrewery” has some of the best pub grub of any brewpub I’ve ever visited. Fried Cheese Curds says it all! My sampler: Apricot Peach Ale, Razzberry Wheat Ale, Squeet (whole leaf Amarillo Wheat Ale), Pale Ale, Brown Ale, Vanilla Smoked Porter, and Biere de Cafe (Brown Ale made with chocolate and locally roasted coffee). 2011 blog post
  • Tampa Bay Brewing Company, Tampa, Florida – We stopped here on the way to Cigar City for a quick beer on the patio. But it was packed with fans in town for the Frozen Four and service was a bit slow. The sampler tray was worth the wait! 2011 blog post
  • Sarasota Brewing Company, Sarasota, Florida – We always stop here after going to the beach at Siesta Key. We got a late start to the beach and the parking lot was full, with about a dozen cars cruising the lot for a place to park. I dropped my wife and kids off at the beach and looked for parking for 20 minutes before giving up and driving to the brewpub, just 3 miles away. My sister and her family came to the beach too and luckily, my family was able to squeeze into my sister’s car and ride over to the brewpub with them, so I didn’t have to go back to pick them up. The Belgian Quad was excellent! 2011 blog post
  • Peg’s Cantina and Brewpub, Gulfport, Florida – We brought my younger sister to Peg’s, the “bungalow turned into a restaurant” that features freshly made Mexican food and G.O.O.D. (Gulfport Original On Draft) beer. I tasted the Dancing Cody (IPA), Slow Dancing Cody (hoppy Pale Ale), The Dude (Porter), and a Cigar City Stout. We love the outdoor seating at Peg’s! 2011 blog post

Another beer highlight of Spring Break 2012: Growlers from NoDa Brewing Company (thanks Jen!)

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