My wife and I are on vacation in Florida and yesterday I spent the better part of the afternoon visiting Cigar City Brewing in Tampa, FL. Tampa is about a 90 minute drive from where we are staying. I planned to arrive as soon as the tasting room opened. Cigar City is very small and has limited distribution. Their bottles and taps can be found in Florida, Alabama, Philadelphia and New York City. I've had a few of their beers, mainly traded from friends.
The brewery is located in a very small industrial-ish park near Tampa's airport, just off of I-75. I arrive to an open garage type door and the smells of brewing. I really had no interest in doing a traditional tour. I've done lots of tours, I've brewed several batches of homebrew, I know how beer is made. What really interested me was the obscure special release brews and some good conversation with the employees.
|Not in Ybor Since 2009!|
|I should have just backed my car right in.|
|I wish this truck would visit Baltimore.|
I walked in to the tasting room at 11AM. There were a few jolly employees hanging out and a few "drop by" customers picking up some bottles and growlers to go. The tasting room is a fairly simple bar. Several medals and plaques hang on the wall. A decent amount of merchandise (hats, shirts, etc) hangs on the wall near the door. A cooler has a good selection of goodies to take home. A chalk board lists what available on tap, as well as pricing for growler fills. The bartender greeted me and asked what I'd like.
This tasting room is different from what I'm used to, it's a pay-for-your-drink experience. I honestly prefer this kind of tasting room...I'm not limited on sample size or number of samples. There's also no limit on the amount of beer you can purchase to go. Oh boy. I'll tell you this now, every beer I tasted was at minimum "very good" for the style. Many of them were excellent and superior representations of their styles. It just feels like they hit the mark of everything. Here's what I had the pleasure of tasting:
Jai Alai IPA - this is their American IPA, which is the base for many of their experimental and "one-off" brews. Its crisp and tasty, very easy to put back. Clocks in at a more than-modest 7.5% ABV
Humidor IPA - this is the Jai Alai aged on Spanish cedar. Had some very nice earthy wood notes which added some depth to the flavor profile
French Oak Jose Marti - CC's American porter aged on French oak. Delicious vanilla and wood notes throughout. I enjoyed this quite a bit.
Hillsborough River Dry Stout - not a huge fan of the style, but I had to try it. Surprisingly tart. Crisp and clean with a bit of richness. Very impressed with it.
Cubano-Style Espresso Brown - Another Maduro spin-off, this one it out of this world delicious. Aged on vanilla, cacao and coffee beans. This is a good breakfast beer.
Minaret ESB - a pretty standard English bitter. It was enjoyable, but I doubt I'd get it again.
Big Dummy - this was a tribute brew for a departing-brewer named Tim. It's an "American" amber made with Belgian candi sugar and a strain of Belgian yeast. Quite yummy, but it was almost too rich.
Tocobaga - a very malt heavy American amber which is balanced out with "tons" of hops. Smelled and tasted dank...like it could treat Gloucoma.
Table Saison - I'd had a few of their saisons before (Guava Grove and Sea Bass), but this like most here was new to me. Sorachi ace and Citra hops made this one of the most enjoyable saisons in recent memory for me.
Jai Alai White Oak Aged IPA - one of the stand outs of the day for me. The Jai Alai is a very good IPA, throw it on white oak, bam! This was delicious. This makes me remember why I've enjoyed oaked IPAs so much in the past. Southern Tier's Oaked Unearthly was a favorite for years. This one stomps all over STs, but clocks in within a sessionable range. I grabbed some bottles to bring home.
Guava Grove - I'd had this saison before, and I enjoyed this fresh tap tasting. Wonderfully tart and crisp.
Florida Cracker White - total Summer session beer right here. A Belgian white brewed with coriander and orange peel. Not an original idea at all, but the execution is spectacular. I wish there were more options out there like this in the craft beer market.
Big Sound Scotch Ale - for years I've disliked the style. I recently had Oskar Blues' Old Chub on vanilla and that changed my outlook. This is BIG for the style in my opinion at 9.5%ABV. Delicate caramel, toffee and vanilla notes. I grabbed a bottle to bring home.
Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Brown - I was so excited to try this one. Yet another spin off of the Maduro Brown. The finish on this brew is spot on, it's a damn oatmeal raisin cookie. Holy crap. They nailed this one. I took a 32 oz growler of this back "home". Erin and I split it as a nightcap.
Rum Barrel Hunahpu's Imperial Stout - This one wasn't on the draft list. It just arrived in front of me, and I did not ask any questions. A very, very, very solid RIS aged in rum barrels. So deep, so tasty. Very rich and boozy. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I wish I could have taken some home.
Chocolate Maduro Brown - Maduro with cacao. Simple and delicious.
Some "guest brews" from Swamp Head in Gainesville, FL. I'd never heard of this brewery so I figured I'd give them a try.
Big Nose IPA - seems like an average craft IPA. It was good, but I've had better.
Cottonmouth Wit - again, average for the style. Crisp, clean and refreshing.
I really like the variety that Cigar City offers. It appears that they like to experiment. Take a look at the list of their brews on BeerAdvocate. They use the Jai Alai and Maduro Brown as bases for lots of different beers. I'm happy that I got to try a few versions of both. My favorites were the White Oak IPA (Jai Alai) and the Oatmeal Raisin Cookie (Maduro).
Cigar City has a line of brews called 110K+OT which I had read about. Currently they are on batch #4. The style changes with each batch. I'd seen the list of these brews but was really curious about the origins of the name of the series. Was there a 111K, a 100K? Was this a batch code? Couldn't be the batch size? Well....apparently it was named in "honor" of a particularly aggressively-self-confident member of the craft beer community who openly claimed that he made $110,000 a year plus over-time. This claim was made in an open forum where others in the industry were discussing their salaries. Apparently this guy is a competitive talker and a one-upper. I found this to be quite humorous. I was able to grab two bottles of 110K+OT Batch #4, which officially is an imperial amber ale but came out more like a barley wine.
A policy that I found odd was with the growler fills. You have two options 32 oz or 128 oz. According to the state of Florida, a 32 oz growler is one serving. A 128 oz growler is likely to be consumed by more than one person. They prohibit the 64 oz growler because they believe that it would be consumed by one person, which would be excessive. Jeebus...I really get annoyed with dumb alcohol laws. I mean...I could walk out of there with a single serving 32 oz growler of a 10% ABV beer, which the state of Florida thinks that I will drink all by myself. Ass-backwards. But, I'm just happy that growlers can be filled. Cigar City will fill your own glass, as long as it's 32 oz or 128 oz. They have both sizes available for purchase for $4 and $7 respectively. I must say that their growler-filling etiquette is perfect. Filled all the way to the top, oxygen mostly removed and the cap is shrink-wrap sealed. I wish more places would do this.
Towards the end of my session at the bar I was asked if I wanted a tour. The bartender then said that I could wander the brewery floor on my own. I took the second option and got some shots of the tanks, and LOTS of barrels.
If you'd like me to post pictures of each of these brews I tasted check my Twitter feed. I figured that I'd leave them out of this blog post for now since I posted pictures on Twitter as I was drinking
That's it. My visit was awesome. I was able to take my time to taste all that I wanted and was able to take A LOT home with me. Thanks to the kind folks at Cigar City for their hospitality. I look forward to coming back. This was worth the drive for me, and I hope to make it an yearly thing.