Wednesday, September 12, 2012

USA Summer 2012 -- South (Cigar City Brewing)

I visited the US this past summer. As always, I was on the trail of good beer, searching out locations I'd planned to visit and also discovering places I'd heard of from friends.

I spent a few days in Tampa, FL. Flew in from ATL and went directly to Cigar City Brewing, which is located in a smallish sort of industrial/business park about fifteen minutes by car from the airport.

Cigar City was the brew du jour, or rather du an, last year on Their seasonal brews, such as Hunahpu's Imperial Stout and Passion Fruit and Dragonfruit Berliner Weisse, are very highly sought after, and seven of their beers are currently in the RateBeer Top 50. None of these were available at the Tasting Room. However, there was more than enough to sample among the 24 taps, which included seven guest beers.

At 2pm., on a hot Wednesday afternoon there were only a few customers; but by 4pm it was getting noisy and crowded. The service was okay. One server was quite friendly, but later a few more came on, and they seemed rather uninterested in discussing and/or answering questions about the beers. I did, however, have a very informative chat with a packaging guy from the brewery next door who was taking a smoke break. There was only one single solitary menu sheet, but fortunately almost no one else wanted to see it. Also, a fairly strong scent of cleaning solution permeated the air, though I noticed it less as time passed.


Anyway, forget all that. This place is about great beer. Tasters of four were available for $6. I tried twelve and they were all good, some wonderful. Here are a few of the standouts:

Cubano-Style Espresso Brown Ale
Smells like freshly-ground roasted beans, with some maltiness. Copper-brown color. Flavors: good coffee again with some caramel. The coffee is well-integrated, tasty, and doesn’t become too harsh (it's not over-boiled), even though this is not easy to do in a light style. The most coffee-like coffee beer I’ve had.

Cherry Cordial Stout
Big nose of plums, grapes, and some tobacco. Deep dark fruit flavors, anise, and some yeast. On the edge of beer and something wilder. Might be a bit young. Would like to try this in a year or two.

Tocobaga Red Ale
Dark hop notes swimming through the reddish brown liquid, some overripe citrus fruit, and a hint of manure. Starts sweet, and then the bitterness creeps in to take over. Very sharp flavors are very well integrated. Rich and tasty.

finally, one of the more unusual brews was....

Cucumber Saison
Big cucumber aroma, also some burnt rubber, and it’s strangely good. The cucumber flavor mimics and/or complements the hopping. Lemon, pepper, grassy notes, too. Ends in a rather earthy fashion. Dry, crisp, and refreshing. One of the more unusual combinations of beer flavors, and it really works well. 

Also, if you are traveling through the Tampa Airport, you might visit the Cigar City Airport Pub, located on Concourse C (or, as they phrase it, Airside C). They stock four CCB regulars, one seasonal, and an airport exclusive, Tony Jannus Pale Ale. There is a tiny (1.5 barrel) brew system, and apparently this is the only brewpub in a US airport.

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