Monday, November 23, 2015

My beer experience down south thus far

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Enjoying a Florida-brewed witbier by the pool.

I’ve been out of Albany for three weeks, so I thought it might be fun to regale you all with some tales of my beer experiences from somewhere other than The Empire State.

THE ROAD TRIP
iphone 023I departed Albany on November 3rd and stayed with family in Binghamton for the night. On the 4th I drove to Roanoke, Virginia as my first stop on the southward tour. I did a search for craft beer places in the area and was surprised to see that there were quite a few production breweries of various sizes, as well as beer-centrics bars and restaurants, though I didn’t see any actual brewpubs. I decided to check out Blue 5 Restaurant which is in downtown Roanoke.

This place was pretty nice; dark but well-designed and not pretentious (well, maybe a little). Like any good beer bar, they offer everything on tap in 4oz pours. You can get a flight of four 4oz pours for $10. The selection was pretty good – not exactly Bier Abbey or Beer Belly good – but good nevertheless. One thing that stood out to me was the actual beer menu: it was brightly-colored with all the official brewery logos and icons and the beers were listed by style instead of tap number (I wish other beer venues would sort their menu like this!). They also made a point of stamping “TAPPED OUT” on the menu if a keg had kicked (again, that’s so helpful).

Here’s a quick rundown of what I had:

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Overall, this place was very nice and impressed me. If you’re ever in Roanoke, I recommend stopping by.

iphone 036The next day I drove down to Savannah, Georgia. I decided to go to Moon River Brewing Company, which is a brewpub in the downtown area. Though I’ve obviously never been here before, I do have a slight connection to this place. There was a web show I used to watch several years ago called Beer America TV which was shot at this brewpub and hosted by Moon River’s brewmaster John Pinkerton and Paul Leone – who is now the director of the New York State Craft Brewers Association (small world, eh?).

Of course I ordered a flight of everything they had available on tap. Once again, here’s a quick rundown:
The first three beers were all very good, but the last four were only okay. They were interesting to be sure, and certainly not bad at all, but none of them impressed me that much. However, I appreciated the fact they were fairly experimental in style – which is quite daring for a brewpub who likely has a mainstream audience when it comes to beer. If you’re in Savannah, Moon River is worth visiting.

FLORIDA BEER

I’m currently staying with family in the Haines City area of central Florida. Where they live is quite remote and everything is a long drive away. Not surprisingly, this is a total desert as far as craft beer goes. Though I was surprised to see the local Walmart offers a mix-a-six of certain beers for $10. There wasn’t much good stuff to chose from other than New Belgium. I picked up a 12-pack of Samuel Adams Boston Lager in cans so I can have something to drink when I’m not doing a review.

My Walmart beers.
My Walmart beers. See reviews of them all at ChadzBeerReviews.com

One of the reasons I moved to Florida (among many) is due to the fact I already have some friends and acquaintances down here. I’ve been able to go to both Tampa and Orlando and meet up with some fellow beer bloggers as well as other New York expats and other friends I’ve known over the years. I’ve managed to check out three more brewpubs with them:

BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse

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I never really understand chain brewpubs. The entire point of a brewpub is that it’s one location making their own unique recipes. Are all the beers for this chain mass-brewed at one big production facility and then shipped to all their locations? Considering that I didn’t see any brewing equipment at the Kissimme location, that might be case. Anyway, I had never heard of this place before and didn’t even realize it was a chain until I got there. I was impressed by the size and the design. It looks brand new, though the menu is pretty standard in every way.
All four beers were alright, but none of them were that memorable (though that brown ale was pretty good). This is the kind of place you could take your non-beer friends for a night out as it’s similar to Applebee’s or Buffalo Wild Wings or other such chains. However, I’d say there’s really no reason to go out of you way to try this place.

Cigar City Brewpub

If you’re a true craft beer aficionado, no doubt you’re familiar with Cigar City Brewery out of Tampa. Their regular offerings have been known to show up in Albany occasionally, though you’ll have better luck finding them downstate and in The City. Their brewpub is a “spinoff” of their main production brewery – it’s not the original location at all (the bartender told me it used to be a TGIFridays, actually). I do plan on visiting the brewery proper someday, but I was in Tampa for a job interview and wanted to grab dinner and some drinks before I headed home and this place was on the way. How could I not stop here?



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Unlike the previous venue, all the beer is actually brewed exclusively for the brewpub. Here’s what I tried:
I will say that of all the venues I’ve visited so far, Cigar City Brewpub was definitely the best. If you’re ever in Tampa, this is a good restaurant to hit up.

Davenport’s Ale House

Pretty ironic that this place is called “ale house” when nearly everything on the menu is adjunct macro lager. I will say the food and service were pretty good, but the beer selection leaves much to be desired. See for yourself:

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I only stopped here to meet my buddy Mike that I had met on Twitter a while ago. He works for a beer distributor and had a bunch of single bottles he wanted to give me to review. Thankfully, the beers he gave me all look pretty promising:
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The Cask & Larder

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From what I’ve been told, Orlando is slowing starting to experience a beer and food renaissance. Smaller districts outside of the city are a bit Brooklyn-like in their organization and have plenty of trendy bars and restaurants. This venue was very impressive as soon as I entered it. Fancy to be sure, but still casual enough to appeal to the acolyte. It seems to be marketed not as a brewpub, but as a gastropub that happens to brew their own beer. There were plenty of beers on tap to choose from, but if you want a sampler flight of five 4oz pours for $12 you’ll get an arrangement they want you to try:
I was pleasantly surprised by the high quality of all these beers. The first two were especially good; so much so that I wished I had had a growler in my car at the time to get some to take home. I was also surprised to see a pumpkin ale on the menu as well as a Baltic Porter (both of which were very good, by the way).

What I didn’t particularly like about this restaurant was the fact none of the food we received was hot. In fact, nearly every dish was just kind of warm. I mean, it’s nice to be able to eat something as soon as the waitress brings it to the table without it destroying your tongue because it’s piping hot. Still, why is a high end place like this serving food that’s noticeably low in temperature?
I will say that all the food was quite delectable, though – so I’m not complaining about the taste. If you’re ever in Orlando and want to go to a place nicer than the average chain restaurant, Cask & Larder is probably a good choice.