Monday, June 21, 2010

Ain't No Sunshine

Florida is known for a lot of things: beaches, alligators, the Golden Girls...but beer is not one of them. Sure, there have been some acclaimed breweries to open in the Sunshine State over the past couple of years (Saint Somewhere in Tarpon Springs and Cigar City in Tampa come to mind. Hmm, maybe you just need to be in the Tampa Bay area to brew good beer here), but by and large Florida has always been sort of a beer wasteland, and it kind of makes sense. The state's primary industry is tourism and most folks heading down for a nice, tropical vacation don't have an Imperial Stout or a hoppy IPA on the brain.

The other craft beer issue in Florida is simply finding the stuff, be it anything brewed within the state or beyond. Walk into your typical liquor store or supermarket (at least in the Orlando area), and you'll be greeted by a boatload of Bud, Miller, Coors and Corona. You might find a smattering of Samuel Adams products or maybe some Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, but more often than not that's just about it. So for my recent trip down there I knew the pickings would be slim, yet was semi-lucky enough to stumble upon a store that stocked some craft stuff, including locally brewed beers from the Florida Beer Company out of Melbourne, FL. Although I seemed to recall some lukewarm things at best about the brewery, I happily grabbed one six-pack each of the Key West Southernmost Wheat and the Hurricane Reef Pale Ale. Unfortunately, my cloudy memory turned out to be mostly right.

The Southernmost Wheat was up first and it actually starts out nice enough in both the aroma and flavor, with wheat notes blended with hints of lemon, lime, yeast and some sugary candy from the Belgian yeast. The problem begins at the end of each sip, which comes across as a bit too lime-y with even a bit of saltiness in the mix at times. Not awful, but certainly off-putting and it definitely took away from the overall flavor of the beer.

The next issue was the mouth feel. This one was light bodied, as it should be, but waaaay over-carbonated to the point that it was noticeable time and time again and made it seem at times as if you were sipping a Sprite and not a beer.

In the end I didn't hate this one as the flavor was pretty good for the most part, but the little things here and there as noted above made the Southernmost Wheat less than memorable and more of an average beer than I was hoping it'd be.

So, maybe the Hurricane Reef Pale Ale will be a little better, right? Wrong.

The only place where the Pale really excelled was the appearance, which came across as a nice looking, lighter bodied English Style Pale Ale with a decent copper color and a nice frothy head.

Flavor and aroma were downhill from there, coming across as average at best and at times worse than that: malty and biscuity with hints of grass, but there was an odd butter/rubber/perfume blend that jumped in here (and I've seen it in a few other beers too) that just seemed out of place. The base of the beer was pretty good but the mashup of other, odd/off flavors that were thrown into the mix really took this one down a few notches and made it a pedestrian beer overall that I just wasn't crazy about.

Sadly, I'd almost certainly pass on both of these beers on my next beer excursion in Florida, and they've left a bad (or at least bland) taste in my mouth for the Florida Beer Company as a whole. I love to drink local as often as I can when I travel, but will be looking elsewhere in the future.