Recently named one of USA Today’s Best Beer Festivals in the US, the Florida Brewers Guild Craft Beer Fest in Tampa’s Cotanchobee Park draws record numbers of beer lovers and for good reason. As a kick off to Tampa Bay Beer Week, the Brewers Guild Festival brings in brewers from all over the state pouring crowd favorites, as well as new, sometimes experimental brews, and we couldn’t be happier!
From this years beer fest, several breweries (and beers) stood out for their creativity, as well as taste.
Best of Florid Brewers Guild Craft Beer Fest
Peach Hibiscus San Marcos Sour by Aardwolf Brewing, Jacksonville
In addition to being one of our favorites this year, Aardwolf’s Peach Hibiscus is also one of the prettiest beers at the festival. With it’s hibiscus pink coloring, it packs a lightly sweet-tartness that I wish (to the beer gods) was being canned. I’m not a huge fan of sweet beer, sweet wine, or sweet anything, so its sweetness is ever-so-slight and its peachi-ness is also just as subtle. At only 6% abv and NO IBUs, this wild ale is absolutely perfect for summer (and a Florida beer fest).
Love at First Pint by Marker 48, Spring Hill (Hernando County)
Who in their right mind combines chocolate, cranberry, and graham crackers in a red ale? Better yet, who drinks it? The answer to both is Marker 48 and me. I’ve always had an “I’ll try anything once” attitude, so when the brewery who brought us IPA aged in a Florida spring brings a beer that sounds odd (for even me), I stepped up and had a glass. I like red ales anyway, but the combination of the red caramel-iness with the chocolate, cranberry, and graham crackers was PERFECT. It’s like the chocolate complimented the caramel-red, and the graham cracker sweetness softened the cranberry acidity. Coming in at a low 5.2% abv, this would be an incredible beer for a summer campfire, but sadly, it’s not canned or bottled.
Neopolitan Complex by Mad Beach Brewing, Madeira Beach (Pinellas County)
Remember Neopolitan ice cream from childhood? Yep, Mad Beach just made it into beer, and it’s freaking awesome! Using an oatmeal stout base, Mad Beach infuses this classic with strawberries, vanilla beans, cocoa powder and cocoa nibs, and it tastes JUST LIKE NEOPOLITAN ICE CREAM! Normally, I keep away from darker beer in the summer, but at only 5% abv, this nostalgic classic is the exception. I’m also seeing Neopolitan Beer Float in the future.
Returning Favorite Brews
Florida Grapefruit Gose by Crooked Thumb Brewing, Safety Harbor (Pinellas County)
Last year, when I first sampled this decidedly citrusy gose, I fell in love with it and wanted it for my go-to “Summer Beer”, but was totally bummed that it was only available at the taproom. Now, to see it back at the festival and available in cans, I see all sorts of fun concoctions with it. This light 4.3% abv is the perfect mix of citrus and salt and begs to be taken to the beach. In fact, this one might be turned into grapefruit-ritas for our Mother’s Day beach day!
Baby Cakes by Walking Tree Brewing, Vero Beach
We were fortunate enough to have first tried Baby Cakes when one of the owners came to our annual Craft Beer & Cheer Party, and to see it win a Gold Medal at this year’s event is not surprising. This 5.1% abv oatmeal stout just enough sweetness and chocolatey goodness that deserves every award thrown at it.
Havana Lager by Concrete Beach, Wynwood (Miami)
After sampling Concrete Beach several times over the past few years at the FBG Beer Fest, we decided to make the trip to Miami and visit the brewery for ourselves (check out our visit here). After visiting the brewery and sampling just about everything on the menu, I was thrilled to see that they were bringing Havana Lager. The actual name of this beer is “Havana Lager Suave,” and the name suits it! This 5.2% abv is smooth, rich, and reminiscent of the amber lagers in Cuba. It’s malty, crisp, lighly caramel, and absolutely perfect for summer.
Up & Coming Brews & Breweries
Campfire Brown by Southern Lights Brewing, Clearwater
At almost 3 years old with a tasting room only open since August 2017, Southern Lights is one of the newest breweries in the Tampa Bay beer landscape, and in a sea of breweries out-doing one another with barrel aging and hopping, it’s nice to have a brewery challenging my taste buds. Southern Lights’ Campfire Brown is a SMOKED beer. Now, I’m not sure exactly how they did it, and I’m certain it has something to do with smoking grains and such, but they’ve managed to produce a beer that reminds me of smoky, peaty Scotch from Islay. At a 5.8% abv with very little bitterness, this beer may not be one that I would want on my pool float, but it is definitely one that I want with a plate of cheeses or even some lamb stew.
Guava Milkshake IPA by 3 Keys Brewing, Bradenton
There is literally nothing about this beer that should make sense. Seriously, guava, vanilla, lactose, and a NEIPA!?!? As a native Floridian, I am drawn to anything with guava in it, so even though I’m not a huge IPA fan, I had to try it, and I’m glad I did. It’s creamy, lightly guava flavored, yet fruity, and not overly hoppy or bitter. A bit of side news, 3 Keys Brewing also serves up a full menu of pub food, burgers, and pizzas using their own beer, so look for us in Bradenton this summer!
Black Coral Rum Porter by Pareidolia Brewing, Sebastian (Indian River County)
Call me crazy, but when I sampled this one, I immediately imagined myself as a pirate. There’s something piratey about this beer, maybe even a little Pirates of the Caribbean. Maybe it’s the name. Maybe it’s the rum. Who knows… All I know is that I like it. I’ve been on a porter kick this past year, so when I see porter mixed with rum and a little coconut, I get excited. This 5.2% abv glass of rummy goodness would be the perfect example of a Florida Porter, if that actually existed. It’s dark, sweet with rum and hints of coconut, and slightly smokey and will be the reason I head to Sebastian this summer.
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