A while ago, I was given the opportunity to go to the third annual Hogtown Craft Beer Festival at the Kanapaha Botanical Gardens in Gainesville. The fest is the grand finale of Gainesville Craft Beer Week running from March 29-April 5. The 29th starts with a pub-crawl of Gainesville’s finest drinking establishments, with beer specials running all week. I went with a beer savvy friend from another ABC in Gainesville, and we were ready from some great beers and equally delicious food.
We got there a little before the official start so we could beat the mad rush, get a decent parking spot and scope out the brewery booths and food trucks to kind of get a game plan where we wanted to visit first. We presented our tickets and received our wristbands, a mini acrylic tasting cup and a “passport” with the breweries and the beers they would be sampling. There were secret brews, but I will touch on that later. I was happy to have the passport so I could put a hash mark by the ones I liked.
I was representing ABC, so I was as professional as possible. I had a stack of my business cards prepared for handing out to brew masters and representatives. If I liked their product, I definitely wanted it on my shelves and even if they did not bottle, a keg of their brew would be even better for my new growler station.
With 10 minutes remaining before everyone was operational, we went to the first food booth, Stubbies and Steins, an excellent German themed pub in Gainesville with superb German cuisine and an extensive tap and bottle menu. We ordered some fresh grilled bratwurst with curry ketchup and grilled onions on thick cut crusty rolls and washed it down with lots of water to get our stomachs ready.
The fest was divided into pods representing breweries from different regions around Florida, as well as different regions nationally with one international section. There were 11 total pods. I had sampled most of the national beers before so I definitely wanted to start with local breweries I had not even heard of. Our first stop was Tomoka Brewery of Ormond Beach where I had to try their Elvis Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich Brown Ale. It had a pleasant peanut butter smell and a nice nutty taste with hints of overripe banana. Next was their Tom Yum Thai Gose, which was excellent with a nice little spice and saline taste.
Next was Persimmon Hollow Brewing Company form Deland with their Funky Freddie Fitz Belgian Stout, which is a style I have not had too much of. This one was spot on. Next was Charlie and Jake’s from Melbourne, with an amazing Celtic Sweet Chocolate Stout. Then was Ormond Brewing Company from Ormond Beach where I sampled their Tomahawk Red Ale. The brewmaster and I got to talking and he revealed my first secret tap of the event, an awesome American barleywine. I passed by the breweries I have already had like Cigar City, Tampa Brew Bus and Florida Avenue, to get to Green Bench Brewing from St. Petersburg. I tasted a variety of their brews including Le Blanc Belge, an oak fermented Belgian IPA, also Stay Dry Irish Dry Stout and Temple Mound Brown Ale. Next was Rock Brothers Brewing from St. Pete with their High Road American Pale Ale and Nare Sugar Brown Ale.
We walked by massive lines of people, and I noticed one of my good friends with his wood fire pizza truck. His girlfriend was frantically giving out samples to a very long line of hungry people while he was cooking up pies in the truck. I happily greeted him and he gave us some piping hot slices. Not being discreet enough, I got some dirty looks from the people in line, but I gobbled up the pizza and slinked away.
With the delicious pizza in our bellies, we were ready for more tasting. We ventured over to the panhandle and south Florida pod where we tried Bourbon Barrel Creatures in the Dark, a chocolate stout from Proof Brewing in Tallahassee. We also tried their Mango Wit, which had an excellent mango finish, perfect for summer. On to Due South Brewing from Boyton Beach where we had Mexican Standoff, an imperial porter with cocoa, vanilla, cinnamon and chili peppers, which was fantastic. We also had their Caramel Cream Ale, which was almost decadent. Next was the local pod with Alligator Brewing out of Tall Paul’s Brew House in Gainesville, with a mighty tasty Pineapple Basil Saison and Procrastination Brett Pale Ale. Then there was Copp Winery and Brewery from Crystal River with their G’Morning Coffee Stout, then Swamp Head Brewery from Gainesville, Devil’s Nettle Florida Bittered Gruit. That completed our tour of Florida for now.
The whole time I had been seeing good friends, beer distributor reps who work in my store and the truck drivers. We stopped and talked about things we liked and did not like. I was resistant to look at the national brands but I saw Bell’s, which had one of my favorite brews, the Oarsman Berliner Weisse. I went over to sample and started chatting with the brewery rep when I jokingly said, “Too bad you don’t have any Hopslam.” To my surprise he looked around, produced a bottle from under the table, and poured us some. Score!
We sampled more food, including some rich clam chowder, an oyster shooter and a tuna poke, then we quickly ran through the Jacksonville pod, tasting Engine 15’s Nutsack Brown, Intuition Ale Works’s Smoked IPA and Green Room’s Count Shakula, which smelled exactly like Count Chocula Cereal!
It was an awesome experience and loads of fun. I was happy to try so many excellent Florida brews and kept it local. My next goal is to visit these breweries and support the growing craft beer nation.
Adam Shugan, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits beer consultant
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