Friday, February 12, 2016

Oceanside White IPA

When I saw a few of Tomoka Brewing's Port Orange beers show up on the shelf of my local South Florida liquor store, they were must grabs. Several years ago, I tasted some of founder Jen's beers when they were still homebrews. Elvis Peanut Butter something if I recall...

I decided to check out Oceanside White IPA first considering my mother drank my Hazy Sunshine Wheat while I was out of town (soon to be replaced though). The can has a nice beach/ocean photo with a peach background. The story on the back sets your expectations, setting you up for a refreshing beer to quench your thirst in "Florida's Eternal Summer." 7% alcohol. 75 IBU. "The Path to Enlightenment is a River of Tomoka Beer!"

Fruity citrus aroma full of grapefruit zest. Sweet orange and tropical pineapple flavors start. Perhaps maybe a touch of sweet honey too. "Assertive Hop Punch" is the perfect description for what follows. Tons of grapefruit, super bitter and zesty. Citrus is on display big time!

Full of flavor. And while bitter is clearly the winner in this beer, there is a really nice behind the scenes sweetness to stand up to it. Check it out! I'm definitely going to check out the brewery too when I can!

Pair O' Dice Brewing

I definitely slept well last night after our final brewery stop at Rapp Brewing. To start out Day 2 of #EpicTampaBreweryTour, I arranged to stop by Pair O' Dice Brewing in the morning on a day I knew their tasting room was closed but figured they were probably brewing.

Our host was Co-founder and Head Brewer Ken Rosenthal, who did not disappoint with the required brewer's beard! Ken sat us down in the tasting room and told us a little about his background as well as what's happening at the brewery.

Ken has Masters in Electrical Engineering and started brewing in 2004 with Anheuser Busch in Jacksonville. That is where he learned the art of technical brewing; you could tell that he was very particular about recipe perfection and not really into beers with lots of additional ingredients that are all the rage now. He also said they only brew beers he likes, which does not usually include beers that are overly sweet.

Ken and his wife Julia were both actually working for Bud at that time and got the bug to one day open their own brewery. They moved to Austin mid 2000's and Ken mentioned working with Jester King, 512 and Uncle Billy's Breweries to some extent. He also said that the "Pair" also visited the West Coast breweries of San Diego regularly and that Pair O' Dice has a heavy inspiration from those trips.

Anyway, Ken and Julia began to save for their own brewery many years ago and actually started planning an opening in 2009, four years before actually opening on Halloween, 2013. Both are from the Tampa area and knew that they wanted to have their own space in Southwest Florida.

As they returned home time after time to visit family, they got this idea that they were returning to Paradise. But they were worried "paradise" in a brewery name might conjure up a Hawaiian or Southern California image when they wanted a West Coast inspired brewery clearly planted on the East Coast where they could deliver those beers as fresh as possible.

Pair O' Dice came to mind from the word Paradise one day and the rest is history. Ken said they aren't Vegas high rollers but that opening this business was definitely a gamble, 7 years of saving and just a small business loan, no other investors. Plus you could tell that Ken's vice was clearly Beer! Ditto here! Oh, and I already alluded to the fact that The Rosenthals are a Pair, so there's that too! Thus the brewery name and theme.

At some point during the conversation, Ken started pouring some beers to try. Pair O' Dice currently has several beers in local distribution including two that they are canning. He mentioned that some of the bigger local craft breweries have been more than willing to share equipment, expertise and knowledge, a common theme I heard from many brewers on this trip.

Flight One (though it wasn't really a flight, more continual offerings): Clearwater Honey Cream; Hop Bet Red IPA; Cascade Amber; Little Joe Oatmeal Stout; Lowball Session IPA; Bonus: Cavisté Belgian Quad

Clearwater Honey Cream has an awesome honey flavor, crisp meets floral, very refreshing. Ken mentioned that with only five months in distribution in 2015, this beer accounted for 16% of their sales for all of 2015. Definitely Money! Delicious, and I think my wife's favorite of the day (which didn't even begin yet!)

Hop Bet Red IPA is the other beer they can. What a nice caramel base with spicy, floral, grapefruity citrus balance. Cascade Amber is very smooth and flavorful. Little Joe Oatmeal Stout is super smooth, coffee forward and leans bitter.

Ken said they are working on a series called Hop Streak designed to showcase hops. Lowball Session IPA, brewed with 100% Mosaic Hops using the Hop Bursting technique, was the first in the series and so popular that they have it in their regular tasting room rotation. Sharp lemon, grassy bitter, very refreshing. Ken gave a brewing lesson and explained that flavor comes from hopping in the last 20 minutes of the boil. Monster Roll IPA and Up Hops the Devil Barley Wine are two newer entries into the series recently available.

Finally, we tried Cavisté Belgian Quad. Cavisté is the French word for Cellarman. While Ken isn't a "sweet beer" kind of guy, tradition does trump that sometimes. Dark crystal malts were added to this beer and definitely left behind some residual sweetness. Dark fruits, big body, very tasty.

We got a tour of the brewing space afterward too, along with a brewery dog named Simcoe. Pair O' Dice built their space with expansion already in mind. Lots of room, lines already in position to be hooked up to future tanks, space for a dedicated canning line, etc.

We really enjoyed our visit and are grateful to Ken and Julia and their team for organizing everything and taking the time to show us around. Oh, and the beers were really great! Definitely stop by!

Next stop... Green Bench Brewing!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Rebel Grapefruit IPA

Samuel Adams' Rebel IPA recently got a grapefruit kick. Today I'm checking out Rebel Grapefruit IPA. 6.3% alcohol. 52 IBU. Enjoy Before May 2016.

Nice generic fruity and hoppy aroma. Tons of grapefruit rind and citrus bitterness come right from sip #1. Grassy, astringent too. A little sweeter orange flavor does eventually show at the finish, especially after warming a bit. I definitely recommend letting this beer warm up some as it's otherwise a one note beer. Not overly bitter, just with that astringency. Not bad, not awesome.

Rapp Brewing

After leaving Barley Mow Brewing and polishing off an entire pizza, my wife and I headed to our final day 1 stop, stop 7 on #EpicTampaBreweryTour, Rapp Brewing Company! We arrived maybe an hour and a half before closing. There were some people in an area adjacent to the tasting room, but we had our pick of seats at the bar! Right up front!

Our bartender was very friendly and knew everything about all of the beers. She told us about their award-winning beers and some history and also suggested some options to try. I asked sarcastically about the really creative beer naming process at Rapp. I mean with names like Double IPA and Bock Bier and Belgian Pale... She told me that they don't spend time or energy doing that because they always have 20 beers on tap and they are constantly rotating them. So just style names, for the most part, define the lineup.

I don't usually introduce myself at breweries, not that it would matter, but I like to see how a place runs with no special treatment or behavior. However, after I got home, it was pretty easy to figure out who our host was. Candice Moran, Tasting Room Manager and daughter of Brewmaster and brewery namesake Greg Rapp, was pouring for us!

So #RappOnTap, 20 tap options. We were told that we could do a flight of 4, 6 or 9 beers. Or that we could come back with more friends and do a flight of all 20 beers! We opted for a flight of 4! For some reason, I didn't bring anything to write with into Rapp, so had to take all my notes like a techie on my phone. Sucked!

Flight One: Gose; Mango Habanero Blonde; Double IPA; Chocolate Peanut Butter Stout; bonus taste of Caribbean Ginger Beer.

Gose was tart and not sour, very tasty. Mango Habanero had a subtle spiciness, just perfect (unlike that Sculpin monster I tried recently; this wasn't an IPA but it's still OK to make the comparison); Double IPA had a terrific fruity sweetness and a bitter answer to that; Chocolate Peanut Butter Stout, which I read somewhere has a ranking of #8 in the world, well, that was fucking money! So luscious, creamy, rich, just delicious! Oh, and Caribbean Ginger was spicy, malty and sweet, pretty nice.

Anyway, Double IPA and Chocolate Peanut Butter Stout were my favorites. I definitely will go back during the day next time and do the flight of 20!

We left with a "next time" hotel recommendation at the Sirata Beach Resort. Instead, we slept in a crappy La Quinta on a noisy highway with warnings that there would be no water pressure from 8 -10 am the next morning! Genius!

Day two starts tomorrow with a stop at Pair O' Dice Brewing!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Habanero Sculpin

Ballast Point's Sculpin is a great beer! I love spicy hot peppers! So Habanero Sculpin seems like a dream right? Well, let's see. I grabbed a bottle a few days ago. The label shows that same scary Sculpin fish as their other expressions of this beer. At the bottom... "Heat May Vary" LOL. 7.0% alcohol.

Nice fruity aroma, need to look for the spiciness. HOWEVER, WOW, you don't need to look for the spicy heat when you take a sip! Habanero Heat is dominant, prominent, massive from the time it touches your lips. Speaking of lips, mine are still burning along with a persistent sting in my throat!

Heat doesn't really subside, but after a few sips you will probably start identifying the citrus and orange and other beautiful Sculpin flavors being held hostage by this invader. While perceptible, the base beer is totally muted and covered up. And what a shame. Even if Ballast Point cut the amount of peppers by 90%, I think that would still be too much to make an interesting drinkable beer. Pass for sure!

Barley Mow Brewing

After leaving 7venth Sun Brewery, my wife and I headed toward Largo's Barley Mow Brewing, stop 6 on #EpicTampaBreweryTour. When I was planning this trip, I asked Twitter for recommendations and to critique the schedule I had laid out a few weeks in advance. Twitter follower and Tampa area beer geek "Ginger" JMcDiddlez (go follow, I'll wait) insisted that Barley Mow was a MUST STOP, rivaling Cigar City and the best the area has to offer. "I promise. Barley Mow is OUTSTANDING. I put them on Cigar City level. They are amazing." When I plugged the address into my map, yeah, no brainer!

Barley Mow's tasting room has a fairly roomy inside space and a large outdoor patio as well (their website says that's called "The Nest.") The guy sitting next to us at the bar was more than willing to share little tidbits about the brewery and area in general. He let us know that the bartender was one of the brewers, so should we have any questions, not to be shy. In addition to the small-scale brewing done on-site, with the tanks in full view around the tasting room, Barley Mow also has a 30 BBL production brewery.

There was also a woman working behind the bar, presumably one of the owners based on our conversation. She "caught" me taking notes while drinking, you know old-fashioned pen and paper. "Uh-oh! Should I be worried? Well, I didn't brew it so it's OK!" That's a 6th-brewery-memory-a-week-later, pretty-close quote!

Anyway, we ended up in a discussion about the history of the brewery. I think I heard that Barley Mow was one of the first five breweries in the area, opening right at the start of the craft beer boom in Tampa in 2011.

I asked about the cooperation of local brewers. The woman I identified as the owner above mentioned that it's been great, citing an example where in the beginning they used to take their kegs to 3 Daughters Brewing because that brewery offered to share their automated keg washing machine in the spirit of helping out fellow brewers! Pretty awesome stuff!

Flight One: Quackalope IPA; Passion Fruit Blonde; Calliope Tart Cherry Wheat; The Huntsman (Hoppy Red): Foolery (American Barleywine)

Quackalope has a nice fruity sweetness overcome by big bitter hoppiness, very flavorful; Passion Fruit Blonde has lots of, um, passion fruit flavor, not too sweet; Calliope was nicely tart and full of cherry flavor, not close to sour if you were worried.

The guy at the bar recommended The Huntsman and it did turn out to be my favorite. Really rich caramel to start followed by an awesome hoppy bitter finish. Great see-saw battle between sweet and bitter. Finally, we tasted Foolery. Full of butterscotch sweetness, really delicious, lots of flavor, and alcohol, though that was craftily disguised.

On the way out, we checked out the outside beer garden area. We also got a dinner recommendation for DeLosa's Pizza down the road! My wife and I polished off a pretty big mushroom pizza no problem!

Next stop... Rapp Brewing!