The guest (ale) column returns after an extremely long absence, caused mostly by my own laziness and An’s exceptionally thorough blogging. The intervening months since the last post have not been teetotal however: Ales, mojitos and margaritas have been consumed throughout Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi; friends have arrived and departed; lots of stuff has broken on the trailer. There have also been many lovely sunsets and much wildlife spotting but I’ll leave that to my wife’s posts.
Having spent almost two solid months in Florida, I feel qualified to offer some thoughts on the beers of this surprisingly large and varied state. I was never expecting Florida to match the brewing heights of Virginia or North Carolina but I was still initially disappointed. I am a man who likes to drink local (or at least beers that are brewed in the same state) and during our early weeks I struggled to find any supermarkets that stocked Floridian beer. When it was stocked, I sometimes wished it hadn’t been. Bottled Funky Buddha and Key West beers, which were in turn bitter and metallic, came and went. I despaired to the extent that I bought a case of Sierra Nevada, resorting to the produce of the Californian mountains, 3,000 miles from my current location. Local, it ain’t.
The ailing ale outlook did not, however, cast a shadow on our travels: The welcome visit of Bear Dog (aka Tim Fawcett) and family into New Orleans from their home in Los Angeles gave us a chance to atone in some small way for our complete uselessness in not visiting them during the six years they have been resident in the US. Catching up with an old friend always improves the taste of a beer and even having a glass disintegrate in my mouth (thank you The Olde Brothers Brewery in Navarre) couldn’t dampen the mood.
It also offered a window into family life with a man who often shares my outlook on life. This made me think: a) I hope my children are as well behaved and hilariously cute as Tim’s and Gemma’s and b) how on earth will I cope with having to wake up early every day for say, five years? This could have a severe impact on ale consumption…
Unfortunately for Tim the only 2 real beer finds in Florida occurred after his family’s departure back to California. I discovered JDubs brewery near Sarasota when I asked for a ‘local ale’ in one of our favourite beach-side bars, Sharky’s, in Venice. Brewed only a few miles up the road it was a not-too-hoppy IPA, readily available in cans in some of the local supermarkets. Even An liked this one, which is the sure sign of an ale destined for greatness/mass market appeal. Some of you will have read that last sentence and have been shocked at my purchase of beer in a can. For me, beer should come in bottles and buying beer in a can is a bit like watching ‘I’m a Celebrity’ – I may do it from time to time but I’d never admit to enjoying it. Tim insisted that it is actually better in many ways for pasteurised beer than bottles – an opinion also espoused by the Oskar Blues Brewery in Brevard – and so maybe my inner beer snob will have to be quiet for a while.
The other notable beer discovery was the Big Top Brewery. Located, like all good American breweries, in a slightly down at heel industrial estate on the wrong side of town, the kind of place where you begin to think ‘we’ll either find this place and it’ll be great or we’ll get car jacked’ – either way it will be a night to remember. Fortunately the Yukon is still with us and this small, idiosyncratic brewery and tap room was great. From the very welcoming bar maid, the local bee keeper there to deliver some emergency honey for the latest brew, to some well-heeled and Trump-loving locals who couldn’t get enough of the Virginia Growler (see ‘Nice Growler’ post), it was a night to remember. It’s not often an early evening midweek visit to a brewery has ended with the proposition “We should hang out and take drugs – his driver will come pick you up”. Fortunately for our likelihood of remaining in the country, but unfortunately for the excitement rating of this blog, our evening ended with nothing more wild than some not so magic mushrooms on our pizza.
Despite the patchy beer, we have enjoyed Florida more than I think either of us expected. Its natural beauty is often overlooked by those from the UK who see it as Disneyland and Miami Vice (it is a bit like Miami Vice in Miami to be fair). Our nearly two months have kept us warm(ish) and provided us with many great memories. As spring appears tentatively on the horizon and we begin the long drive west, the guest ale column will return with more musings on life on the road, beer and hopefully some on music (Bunko, you can skip the next one).