Monday, July 25, 2016

Brewery review: Brew Hub (Lakeland, FL)



Brew Hub (25)

Florida is home to some large scale production breweries, such Cigar City in Tampa and Florida Beer Company in Cape Canaveral. It’s also home to a lot of small scale breweries and brewpubs, many of which are making some great stuff (others… not so much). One Sunshine State brewery that tends to get overlooked is Brew Hub here in Lakeland. Most of what they make is contracted; meaning, they brew beer for other breweries. However, a lot of that beer is actually really solid, as is their own (albeit limited) in-house suds.
I’ve been to quite a few contract breweries around the country and I must say Brew Hub’s facility is among the most impressive. This might be due to the fact it’s practically brand new since it opened in 2012. The façade of the building looks almost like a store at a mall rather than a brewery. The tap room and adjacent facilities have a modern, sleek, clean look. They don’t seem to be trying to create any kind of faux atmosphere as you’d see at an older and/or niche brewery. Though, the lack of a definitive style does give it a rather rigid, corporate vibe. Especially considering the only view is of I-4 across the street.
Still, the taproom itself is pretty nice. Plenty of seating; a huge bar; a decent selection of refrigerated bottles and cans; souvenirs; and their very own food truck. This truck is essentially their in-house kitchen since it never seems to leave and I’ve never seen any other vendors brought in. The menu is small, but clearly foodie-centric with mostly meaty dishes and a couple veggie options. I’ve had the Cuban ($11) twice and it’s been really good. I also tried the Chicago-Style Italian Beef ($12) “dipped” which was definitely spicy, but very tender and savory (I recommend trying it dry if you don’t want a messy meal). I’ve been with friends who’ve had the Beer Braised Sausage ($10) and the Chef’s Specialty Meatballs ($11) and both were met with high praise.
Their taproom has a pretty large selection of 24 draughts available. Of those two dozen taps, about four of are Brew Hub beers, the rest are the brands they make for other breweries as well as the occasional guest tap (Rodenbach Grand Cru was one such guest last week). Since they make a variety of styles for so many breweries, there’s usually a pretty decent selection to choose from. I notice that IPAs, pale ales, blondes, ciders, lagers, and wheat beers seem to be the most popular styles. This isn’t all that surprising since both Brew Hub and their clients’ target audiences seem to be fairly mainstream drinkers. At any given time there might be a porter and/or a stout on tap, but dark and/or heavy beers aren’t usually in regular rotation as far as I can tell (with a few exceptions). You don’t see too many Belgians, sours, wild ales, S/H/Vs, or eccentric and experimental styles here.
Normally, when I review a brewery or brewpub I give quick synopses of all the beers I had. But I’ve been to Brew Hub so many times in just the last few months that the list would be a few dozen entries long. Instead, I’m just going to list the top 10 beers I’ve had here:
  1. Tomoka Oceanside White IPA
Billed as a “white IPA” (witbier/IPA hybrid) this seemed more like a straight AIPA to me. That’s okay, because it was still plenty tasty with a nice citrusy hop flavor that was easily drinkable. RATING 3.5/5.
Brew Hub (34)
  1. BJ’s Nitro PM Porter
This beer shows that you don’t have to put a trendy flavoring ingredient to make for a good, traditional porter. Though I guess you could call it trendy since it’s on Nitro. RATING: 3.5/5.
  1. Brew Hub ApRYEcot
Billed as a roggenbier (a mostly unknown German rye style), the copious apricot makes it taste like a fruit beer. That’s okay because the apricot taste is, IMHO, pretty delish. RATING: 3.75/5.
Brew Hub (27)
  1. M.I.A. Mega Mix
This is a solid American pale ale; really hoppy and approaching IPA territory. Great for hop heads, though I think most drinkers will enjoy it. RATING: 3.75/5.
  1. Brew Hub Phins & Feathers
Another pale ale with plenty of hops. Lemon and grass seem to be the dominate flavors. Unlike the previous entry, this one is better suited to the hop connoisseurs.  RATING: 3.75/5.
Brew Hub (16)
  1. BJ’s Harvest Hefeweizen
I was not expecting to find such a tasty, to-spec hefeweizen here. Huge bubblegum and banana notes; sweeter than most and lighter on the spice. Very refreshing and quaffable in the Florida summer. RATING: 4/5.
  1. Toppling Goliath Pseudo Sue
This beer is generating a lot of buzz and for good reason. It’s a delectable pale ale with both genuine hop flavor and a hefty IBU factor. I would really like a bottle or can of this. RATING: 4.25/5.
  1. Brew Hub Keybilly Island Ale
When I saw this on the menu I assumed it’d be a lime bomb or maybe just a generic blonde with some lime thrown in. Boy was I wrong. There’s definitely a strong lime flavor here, but it’s totally authentic – it does not taste like extract flavoring. I also get a cinnamon-like character which makes it taste a bit like key lime pie in a graham cracker crust. I’m glad this is now available in cans! RATING: 4.25/5.
Brew Hub (4)
  1. JDub’s Up Top! IPA
Brew Hub certainly makes a lot of pale ales and IPAs, but this is probably the best of them all*. It’s got everything you want in an IPA: plenty of hop bite, supportive malt balance; comfortable mouthfeel, and a versatile palette. RATING: 4.25/5.
    Brew Hub Umatilla Coffee Barleywine
  1. Brew Hub Umatilla Coffee Barleywine**
It’s no secret I love big, sweet beers. Barleywine, when done right, is a delicious, complex style. I can’t recall having had one with coffee added, though Brew Hub definitely got the proportion right here. It’s got the sweet fruity character you expect in a barleywine, plus some milk chocolate, and an iced coffee-like taste on the finish. Seasoned beer drinkers will probably enjoy this immensely; but be careful – it’s pretty strong at 11.4% ABV. RATING: 4.5/5.
*NOTE 1: I should point out that Brew Hub contract brews Cigar City’s Jal Alai IPA, which is a world class example of the style. However, I decided not to include it on this list because I’ve had it many times prior. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who appreciates IPAs and visits the Brew Hub taproom.
**NOTE 2: 22oz bottles are available for only $5! That’s a fantastic deal and I highly recommend picking up a bottle or two. There is also a bourbon barrel-aged edition, but it’s quite expensive at $18 (not sure why there’s such a high markup on that one, but maybe I’ll splurge and get it someday).
So if you’re a Floridian beer lover, it’s worth your while to visit Brew Hub.