Let’s talk for a minute about Florida’s craft beer scene. I recently took a trip down to the Fort Myers area of Florida, with no intention of turning the trip into a multiple brewery, multiple city, trek throughout the state, but that’s just what ended up happening. The trip was a whirlwind consisting of visits to Tampa, Miami, and Sarasota, as well as a number of places in Southwest Florida. In all, I managed to visit 20 different breweries over the course of a week; some amazing, some just ok, but none bad…well none awful at least. Here I want to give a little wrap up of a fantastic trip.
Don’t worry, one thing I’m not going to do is go brewery by brewery droning on about every little detail. I do want to list a couple standouts to me and then I’ll speak in general terms about some of the other experiences.
My favorite brewery of the trip: Angry Chair Brewing.
If you’ve seen any of the recent videos on YouTube at WGOB Network (I’m not above blatant shameless plugs) I’ve already sort of touched on how much I enjoyed Angry Chair. It was Tampa Bay Beer Week when I visited so the taproom was crowded, but not uncomfortably so. The old school hip hop was pumping at the perfect volume. Every beer I tried was delicious, and I know how that sounds but I truly can’t think of one that I didn’t like. My favorite beer was Loveless, which is a session IPA and is, in my opinion, very underrated. The beer that really caught me off guard though, since I hate stouts and porters, was a crazy hazelnut and coffee imperial porter aged in bourbon barrels called Barrel Aged Fionn. This to me shows just how much an amazing atmosphere can change your impression of what you’re drinking. Would I have felt the same way about Fionn if the first time I ever had it was on my couch…I’m not so sure. Angry Chair was and is a brewery that I could spend hours in and go to multiple times a week. It’s probably best for my wallet that I don’t live near Tampa.
The honorable mention: J. Wakefield Brewing in Miami.
I mean honorable mention by the absolute slimmest of margins because I loved J. Wakefield for a lot of the same reasons I loved Angry Chair. The music and atmosphere were both fantastic. I felt like the decor in J. Wakefield came directly out of my brain. There’s smaller paintings and full murals of Star Wars characters that are basically works of art and toys and props intermixed everywhere. The beers were some of the best IPAs I had on the trip so of course I loaded up on cans on the way out. Definitely a place I wish I lived closer to.
Surprise brewery of the trip: Fort Myers Brewing Company:
Located in….you guessed it, Fort Myers, FL. FMbrew as they call it on the instagrams was the second place I hit on the trip. When I think back to the Southwest Florida Ale Trail, Fort Myers Brewing is the place I keep going back to in my mind. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Fort Myers Brewing had a great atmosphere. A very spacious taproom with garage style doors that opened up onto a patio type area. There’s something about grabbing a flight and sitting outside in the warm Florida weather that I really miss as I stare out my window at the snow on the ground. By pure dumb luck I was there on a Sunday, which is the only day they have Get Lei’d, a pineapple gose, available. I definitely fall into the “like but don’t love” category when it comes to most of the gose style but I really enjoyed this one.
A slight negative from the trip:
Generally speaking, I like to stay positive here. Even when reviewing beers I don’t like, I tend to try to explain what I’m not into as opposed to outright bashing something. I say that to say this: I did have a negative interaction with a bartender (is there a better word?) at one brewery. The brewery name isn’t important as much as the interaction. He was the stereotypical hardcore beer guy that believes his style (whatever that is because he never said) is the only “real” style of beer. The interaction went something like this:
“Welcome. What can I get ya?”
“So what do you have here that I absolutely can’t leave without trying?” (The question I ask in nearly every new place I enter)
“Well, what’s your style? What do you like?”
“I like many styles but I guess if I had to pick one I’m definitely an IPA guy.”
-So far so good but here comes the holier than thou line…
“Ohhh of course. Yeah I find that’s what people say when they like to say they’re beer guys but don’t really like real beer.”
“Ahhh got it. Just let me get a flight of 1-4. Thanks”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m very aware that being into IPAs brings with it a certain negative connotation to a segment of the beer world so I’m used to and frankly a little indifferent to it at this point. I like what I like. Saying that, I’m not sure I should have to deal with it from the guy who’s behind the bar of an empty brewery that I walked into to spend money. God forbid I like a style of beer that doesn’t jive with this person’s definition of real beer. It should come as no shock based on the way I always talk about atmosphere that this was my least favorite brewery of the trip. I disliked all the beer and couldn’t leave fast enough. Interestingly, the people that own this brewery own a second location in Punta Gorda, FL under a different name. I also visited that brewery and had the exact opposite experience. The bartender there was very friendly, welcoming, and interactive. So, even though it was basically the same beer at both locations, I enjoyed it exponentially more at the second brewery. Atmosphere, atmosphere, atmosphere.
Assorted final thoughts:
Listen, I know it’s the climate down in Florida that helps with this but, games! Every brewery had games outside. Cornhole, life size Connect Four, giant Jenga, etc. I can’t stress enough how enjoyable something as simple as having a bunch of games is while drinking.
I’m not sure what Brown Bag Popcorn Company is but I’m pretty sure nearly every Florida brewery had this also. It was fun to see what different flavors each place we went had. After all, we all know popcorn is one of several perfect drinking snack foods.
Whoever came up with the Southwest Florida Ale Trail concept needs a raise. It’s a perfect piece of marketing. You get all the breweries in Southwest Florida to essentially partner up and put them in a “passport” that people have to go around and get stamps from. It feeds directly into the collector gene that exists in a lot of beer people’s brains. As an added bonus, after reaching so many stamps, you earn a commemorative glass, and then discounts, and a commemorative growler. How can you beat that?? It made smaller breweries that were unknown to me become “must hits” in order to get a stamp. Again, perfect marketing.
This was a lengthy one. The point I want you to take from all this is: close your browser and immediately book a flight to Florida and get some of this Floridian medicine in you. The beer scene in Florida is booming to say the least. So, grab some killer stouts at Angry Chair. Try some sours or IPAs at J. Wakefield. Spend the $50 for a bottle of Hunahpu’s at Cigar City. Definitely get on the Southwest Florida Ale Trail. Above all else, go down to the Florida climate, enjoy some awesome drinking atmospheres, make friends, pet dogs, and chat beer with the likeminded people that surround you; that’s what all this is about after all. Oh, and don’t forget to subscribe to WGOB Network on YouTube; you’ll need something to watch on your flight after all.