During the March break, the fam and I take off to warmer weather. We all pack into the van and drive 22 hours south to Port Charlotte, Florida. This is our fourth year driving down. Each year, my beer consumption increases. That’s all thanks to a) ABC Liquor 2) Total Wine c) the unsane amount of craft breweries in the US and 4) the fact that you can buy beer pretty much anywhere (unlike Ontario’s 2 places).
Last year, the local paper started a series on craft beer and the father-in-law saved them for me to read when I got there. That’s when I discovered that within an hours drive, there were no less than 7 breweries! A plan was set in motion (in my head) at that point to set up a day or two next year (this year) to go visit some of them.
As March came closer, I started my research for my day trips. That’s when I found out that there was a new brewery opening up in Punta Gorda three weeks before I got there. (For those of you not in Florida right now, that’s less than a 10 minute drive from where I was staying). I had to go there. As luck would have it, the neighbours (neighbors I suppose), who we have a great relationship with, know one of the owners and was just as excited to take me there as I was to go.
So, one night, we got the neighbor’s daughter to watch the brood and we left for a night of local craft beer. Like most small breweries, it’s located in the industrial section of town…no where near a major road. . When you walk in, you see a bunch of tables and chairs, a chalkboard sign and a large horseshoe bar with big windows in behind so you can see the kettles and the brewery.
We sat down and were greeted by Teresa, our waitress for the evening. She went through her “Have you been here before?” and then she got started on what was available to drink. As soon as she mentioned a flight, we stopped her and ordered two. They had 9 beers on tap (5 of theirs and 4 guest taps), one of which I have already had, so we got the other 8.
As we were waiting for the flights, I saw a tall, slender, majestically bearded man come out of the back, grab a beer from the fridge and sit down with some patrons. I said to the wife “Look at that beard. That’s a brewer!”. When Teresa came back with the flights, it may have been mentioned that I was a beer aficionado (read snob) and she may have mentioned it to Mr Beard.
After a few minutes, and a few beers, Mr Beard came over to talk to us. His real name was Bill, and yes, he was the brewmaster. He sat with us and talked with us for almost an hour. We found out pretty much everything there was to know about how they came to be, and the explosive growth they have had the good fortune to come by.
They had opened their doors 6 weeks before our visit and they are already at capacity. They have ordered enough equipment to more than double their current output. Their set up is different from any I’ve seen before: They have a small “experimental” tank where they, well, experiment with different styles and ingredients, a mid-size system where they brew special one-offs and seasonal beers, and their main system, which Bill said that when they started, they were hoping to be putting out 75 barrels a month in 6 months…they are at capacity, putting out more than 300 barrels a month.
When asked where they are “pouring” (what bars they are in, I speak their language), his response was “It’s easier to tell you where we aren’t”. They are in every bar in Punta Gorda and are on taps from Sarasota to Fort Myers (a huge area for a new brewery). The newest addition to the team is a canning line. They had just started canning their Big Boca the week before. That means their beer made the long trip back to London where it saw snow for the very first time!
Time for the beers
Tuhop West Coast Double IPA – 6.8%
Tuhop, an obvious reference to late rapper Tupac, started in their experimental system. It has since graduated to the small batch system, where each time they make it, they use two different hops. This batch was Centennial and Brewers Gold.
It was light in colour and smelled of sweet hops. It was very smooth and light on the way down. It tasted more like a session beer than a double. When the flights were gone, I ordered a full pint.
Big Boca Ale – 5%
This is their flagship beer. It’s a common lager and it looked like it. It was dark brownish and smelled like beer. It didn’t really excite the senses of this seasoned veteran, but I can see how it would be a great gateway beer for the Bud drinkers of the
Ryeght Angle Rye Pale Ale – 7.2%
Their second major beer, and first real crafty beer for the masses. Rye Pale Ales are not your common beer, and they are not for a good beer for non-craft beer drinkers to start with. It was amber in colour and smelled like (according to not-a-beer-drinker) wet socks. I enjoyed the malty rye smell. It was nice and hoppy upfront and bitter booty that was perfect. It was a solid
Bru Man Chu Belgian Tripel – 11%
This Tripel was a light orange colour and smelled like (again, from a non-beer drinker) like an inner tube. I found it to have a light floral smell..that and alcohol! At 11%, it’s a big beer. It tasted light and creamy, almost like a trapist beer would. I really enjoyed this one and brought back a big bottle to share with David
Dubbel Trubbel Belgian Dubbel – 6.8%
I know I should have gone in order. I should have done the Dubbel before the Tripel. This was dark orange in the glass and smelled like a milder Bru Man Chu. It tasted like a milder version too, but heavier. Not bad, but the Tripel was way gooder. (I had to add this beer to Untappd..that’s how new it was)
Big Top Circus City IPA – 6.8% (guest tap)
The first of the guest taps that we tried, Big Top was on my list of breweries to go visit (didn’t get there this year, maybe next). A traditional IPA, it was IPA orange in the glass, but it had no smell to it. It was smooth on the way down, but it had a wicked bitter booty.
Big Top Decklin’s Indulgence Peanut Butter Chocolate Brown Ale – 6% (guest tap)
The second from Big Top and the new reason why I MUST get there next year. Black in the glass, this smelled exactly like a Reese Peanut Butter Cup. It tasted like, holy hell, a Reese Peanut Butter Cup. Damn, that is fantastic! How fantastic? THE WIFE ORDERED A FULL PINT!!!!!
Florida Ave Betchy Brown – 5.8% (guest tap)
Yup. That’s a brown ale.
Next year, I will be bringing some Ontario craft beers with me to share with Bill and his team, especially a Great Lakes Saison Du Pump so they can compare it to their pumpkin saison.