Brewsky. Suds. Barley pop. A cold one. These names denote what beer has been for most of recent history—Everyman’s drink. Beer was a blue-collar libation meant to be cold, cheap and agreeably tasteless. It was the reward for a hard day’s work. It wasn’t anything to fuss over or savor. Oh, how times have changed.
In the last 20 years, a new kind of American brewer has elevated the humble beer to an art form. The new beers are called “craft” beers, and their brewers say they’re really only re-creating what good beer was like before mass production and marketing aimed beer at the lowest level of taste. These new beers are complex, refined and the subject of endless debate among connoisseurs.
But while hip urbanites in other areas have been exploring these new beers, here in Sarasota we haven’t been so fortunate. Florida has been the last bastion of bad beer in America, explains New York beer writer Joshua Bernstein. That’s mainly the fault of distributors, he says, who have been reluctant to push anything other than tried-and-true macrobrews from Miller, Coors and Anheuser-Busch to restaurants and bars catering to tourists and spring-breakers.
But finally that’s changing.
Several new beer bars have sprung up in Sarasota in the last two years. A number of area restaurants are adding craft beers to their menus, and the Sarasota Beer Festival has celebrated a second successful year.
Craft beer is also appearing on grocery and wine shop shelves; Morton’s Gourmet Market reports a 59 percent increase in craft beer sales since last year and now offers a tasting every month.
“We are drinking better beer now, but it shouldn’t be stuffy or exclusive,” says Howie Hochberg, owner of The Cock & Bull Pub, which pioneered the local craft beer scene in 1997. “Beer should still be accessible and enjoyable to anyone—that’s what makes it great.”
Beer is one of the world’s oldest beverages, and its basic recipe has changed little over the centuries: yeast used to ferment water, malted barley and hops. However, changing the quantity and type of those ingredients—even slightly—can create thousands of distinct varieties. Generally, malts make beers darker and provide deep, roasted and bready flavors and aromas. Hops are bitter and add flowery, spicy and citrusy notes.
ALE The oldest and most traditional form of beer, brewed with top-fermenting yeasts at warmer temperatures. Ales range from light (wheat) to spicy and fruity (Belgian) to dark and complex (stout). Most should be enjoyed at “cellar temperature” of around 50-55 degrees.
Wheat Ale – Light, creamy and refreshing
TRY Bell’s Oberon Ale
Pale Ale – Crisp and balanced. India pale ales (IPA) have more hop bitterness
Ballast Point Sculpin IPA
Belgian Ale – Complex, spicy and higher alcohol
Duvel Belgian Ale
Strong Ale – Big malt flavors with fresh, resiny hops and very high alcohol
Brooklyn Barleywine Style Monster Ale
Dark Ale – More malty and rich with lighter hops
Old Elk Brown Ale
Porter & Stout – Very dark with deep, roasted and even chocolaty flavors and aromas
Left Hand Milk Stout
LAGER A relatively new style popularized mainly by Americans thanks to Anheuser-Busch, Coors and Miller; brewed with bottom-fermenting yeasts at colder temperatures and meant to be enjoyed cold. Lagers are clean, light and refreshing and are not overly malty or hoppy.
Pilsner – Light and balanced by bready malts and noble hops
Coney Island Mermaid Pilsner
Amber Lager – Big, caramel flavor with plenty of hops
Dark Lager – Smooth, soft and malty with little hops
Warsteiner Premium Dunkel
Bock Beer – Strong and malty; finishes sweet
Samuel Adams Double Bock
Hybrid & Specialty These show the ingenuity of the American craft brewer and can retain elements of ales and lagers but often venture into new combinations of ingredients and new brewing processes.
Cream Ale – Light bodied with a little fruity sweetness and hops
Cigar City Double Cream Ale
Steam Beer – Rich, light body with firm hops and light fruit aroma
Anchor Steam Beer
Barrel-Aged Beer – Aged in oak or used bourbon barrels. Beers pick up toasted and vanilla aromas
Cigar City Jai Alai White Oak IPA
Fruit Beer – Brewed with fruit and can vary widely, though raspberries, cherries, apricots and blueberries are the most common
Blue Paw Wheat Ale
Pumpkin Beer – As expected, pumpkin flesh and spices are added during brewing
Post Road Pumpkin Ale
BATTLE OF THE BEERS
Five experts put their favorites to the test.
We decided to put the palates—and livers—of some local beer gurus on the line in a craft beer tasting.
We asked five experts to share three of their favorite brews (all had to be available in Sarasota) with
each other in a blind tasting. Each beer was rated on color and clarity, aroma, carbonation, flavor, balance and overall impression. Scores were given from 1 (worst) to 10 (best).
(Left to Right)
Jim Keaveney (“The Palate”), former bar owner and an official beer tasting champ
Mark Tuchman (“The Connoisseur”), owner of Mr. Beery’s and all-around beer zealot
Darren Fehring (“The Brewer”), former bar owner and brewmaster.
Joe Seidensticker (“The Newbie”), co-owner Libby’s Café + Bar, now offering craft beers
Howie Hochberg (“The Godfather”), owner of The Cock & Bull Pub, Sarasota’s first craft beer bar
Here’s a look at what our judges had to say about the top three scorers and a few of their other favorites.
Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout, North Coast Brewing Co., Fort Bragg, Calif. . An overwhelming favorite, this dark and complex beer was called a “benchmark of the American-brewed imperial stout” by one judge. Smoke, coffee and chocolate notes are lifted by the airy head and coat the mouth, though the high 9 percent alcohol helps this potentially heavy beer feel lighter and crisper than it should. A peak experience from start to finish.
Golden Monkey Ale, Victory Brewing Co., Downingtown, Pa. . Phrases like “I love this beer” and “This beer is freaking awesome” dominated the discussion of this Belgian-style tripel ale. The Belgian yeast gives the beer sweetness, although it stays fairly dry with typical spice and citrus notes. Very drinkable for a beer with 9.5 percent alcohol content.
Swamp Ape IPA, Florida Beer Co., Melbourne, Fla. . A uniquely sweet-bitter flavor pushed this Florida-brewed favorite up the list, but make no mistake—this one is for hop heads. The slightly caramel malts give the beer its copper color and help to balance out the notable hoppiness of this double IPA. Another high-alcohol brew at 10 percent—approach this monster with caution.
(7.7) Old Guardian Barley Wine Style Ale, Stone Brewing Co., Escondido, Calif. . A sipper at 12 percent alcohol, this ale shows great flavor balanced by citrusy hops and honey malts. Coats the mouth, yet refreshing.
(7.4) Dale’s Pale Ale, Oskar Blues Grill & Brew, Lyons, Colo. . Pronounced a “beer nerd’s beer” by one of our judges, this one was tasted out of a can—which our experts said helped it retain a good balance. Still, some thought it was overly carbonated and should have tasted “bigger.”
(7.2) Ommegang Witte, Brewery Ommegang, Cooperstown, N.Y. . A refreshing and coriander-spiced Belgian white ale that may be hard to come by if rumors of its distributor pulling out of Florida are true. Get it while you can.
Where’s The Brew?
Top spots to find craft beers.
The Cock & Bull Pub
975 Cattlemen Road, Sarasota
Open 5 p.m. Wednesday-Friday; 8 p.m. Saturday-Tuesday
No phone; email through website
40 taps, 900-plus bottles
Pizza, sandwiches and soups
Live music on weekends
Open the fire engine-red front door of Sarasota’s first craft beer bar and you may hear angels singing as you stare at seven tall glass coolers filled to the brim with beers from around the world. Bartenders will educate your palate while local bands jam in the outdoor beer garden.
2831 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota
Open 2 p.m. Monday-Saturday; noon Sunday
30 taps, 30-35 bottles
No food, but Big E’s Café next door and nearby restaurants can deliver
Open mic Tuesdays, live bands Saturdays
In just a year, Growlers has become a hit with students from nearby colleges as well as European transplants looking for an old-school neighborhood pub with dim lighting and thick brews. Wednesday’s trivia night is popular, as is Thursday’s gathering to watch It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia on TV during season.
2645 Mall Drive, Sarasota
Open 3 p.m. all week
24 taps, plus 3 specialty taps, 25 bottles
No food, but 19 restaurants within a block can deliver
Occasional music, no set schedules
Mr. Beery’s is all about the beer, with the slogan “no crap on tap” and bartenders eager to teach the basics. Clean, relaxed atmosphere—we like the comfy couches in the lounge. If you’re lucky, owner Mark Tuchman might offer up one of his 200 rare beers that aren’t for sale in Florida.
Shakespeare’s English Pub
3550 S. Osprey Ave., Sarasota
Open 11:30 a.m. Monday-Saturday; noon Sunday
11 taps, about 65 bottles
Shakespeare’s offers delicious English food and a healthy selection of American craft brews and some European classics. The long bar is the centerpiece of the cozy space, but it can get crowded even in the summertime. A few booths and outside tables allow some space to relax and savor a well-poured pint.
2257 Ringling Blvd., Sarasota
Open at 3 p.m. all week
11 taps, soon expanding to 17, 90-100 bottles
No food, but local chefs often cook on the outdoor grill
Music during special events
Downtown’s only craft beer bar, Shamrock Pub is also one of Sarasota’s most intimate pubs. Owner Derek Anderson has done a good job turning the 1970s-era spot into a friendly neighborhood bar, while keeping the dark cypress paneling and original wood floors that give it cozy charm.
World of Beer
8217 Tourist Center Drive, Bradenton
Open 3 p.m. Monday-Friday; noon Saturday-Sunday
40 taps, more than 500 bottles
No food, but can get pizza delivered
One of 13 locations around West, Central and South Florida, World of Beer is a clean and inviting place to sip quality domestic and import brews. Several HDTVs also make it a good place to watch a game, but it can get crowded on busy weekends. The bartenders are very knowledgeable about craft beer.
Sarasota Brewing Company
6607 Gateway Blvd., Sarasota
Open 11 a.m. Monday-Saturday; noon Sunday
Six to seven taps, a few domestic brews
No music, but there is NFL
Sarasota’s first brewery offers a good-quality selection of traditional, if not wildly unique, American and European-style beers in a comfortable and family-friendly environment. Brewmaster Vince Pelosi rotates seasonal styles throughout the year, and there are also brewery tours available. The atmosphere leans towards a sports bar on game days, and a late happy hour runs from 10 p.m. to midnight.
Beer for Sale
ABC Fine Wine & Spirits
8470 37th St. E., (941) 359-6700;
2720 Bee Ridge Road, (941) 924-8300; 3555 Clark Road, (941) 925-9944.
Open 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday; noon-9 p.m. Sunday.
The Butcher’s Block
3242 17th St., (941) 955-2822
Open 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
Morton’s Gourmet Market
1924 S. Osprey Ave., (941) 955-9856.
Open 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday.
5200 Clark Road, (941) 926-9421
5495 Lena Road, (941) 727-8797
Open 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, Saturday; 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday; noon-6 p.m. Sunday.
Short Stop Market
521 S. Orange Ave., (941) 955-6881.
Open 6 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Thursday, Saturday; 6 a.m.-12 a.m. Friday; 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday.
Total Wine & More
8539 Cooper Creek Blvd., (941) 351-7895.
Open 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday.; 9 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday.
Whole Foods Market
1451 First St., (941) 955-8500.
Open 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday.
Five great ways to pair craft beer with food.
Sorry, wine fans, but here’s the hard truth: Beer is better at pairing with food. Think about it—what wine could ever stand up to Mexican food? Japanese? Indian? Cajun? With beer, there’s a style to match every cuisine. As acclaimed Brooklyn brewer Garrett Oliver writes in The Brewmaster’s Table, being a foodie and knowing only wine is like “trying to write a symphony using only half the notes and half the orchestra.” Locally, a growing number of restaurants are pairing beer with food. Eric Bein, chef/owner at Station 400 near downtown, declares the versatility of beer is unmatched, and he offers some classic and not-so-classic pairings to prove it.
Gulf Shrimp Tacos & American Pale Ale
With their bright citrus aromatics, pale ales are a terrific partner to seafood. Cascade, chinook and centennial hops brighten the flavors of the tacos’ lime and cilantro while blending with avocado and the ocean flavors of the shrimp. The big hop flavor lifts the heat of chiles, allowing the complex flavor to dance on the palate.
Top Pick • Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
Eggs Benedict & Weissbier
Beer and food work together at any time of day, including during a lazy Sunday brunch. Wheat beer has a golden hazy color with light bitterness and is followed by a lingering sweetness. The high carbonation lifts the wonderful “mouth coating” of a perfectly poached egg and buttery Hollandaise sauce. Salad greens, with their pleasant bitterness, and a sharp vinaigrette would also complement this style.
Top Pick • Paulaner Hefe-Weizen
Oysters & Pilsner
A classic pairing. Simplicity, purity and cleanliness describe both the food and beer. With palate-cleansing bitterness, bready flavors and invigorating carbonation, pilsner is quick and snappy on the palate and allows the delicate oyster to linger. West Coast oysters—creamy, with mild salinity and cucumber flavors—work best. An Irish stout like Guinness is the oyster accompaniment across the pond.
Top Pick • Stella Artois
Barbecue Ribs & Porter
A no-brainer. Porter’s roasted overtones, restrained bitterness and silky texture successfully tackle the smoky notes of barbecued ribs while blending with the juicy pork slathered in sweet and tangy sauce. For beef brisket with a crusty bark, go with an amber ale, like Full Sail.
Top Pick • Samuel Smith’s Taddy Porter
Whole Roasted Florida Snapper & Saison
Saison, meaning “season,” was originally brewed in the winter months and meant to last through the summer with no refrigeration. For this reason, the brew offers a brilliant bitterness, bright and spicy aromatics, earthy undertones and a racy acidity. Saison with a Gulf-caught yellowtail snapper roasted whole and finished with lemongrass and served with mango salsa is a true sensory celebration.
Top Pick • Saison Dupont
Whether beer comes in a bottle or can, always drink from a glass. But picking the right glass is important. Here are the four best styles: pint—for traditional lagers, pilsners, IPAs and wheat ales; snifter—for higher alcohol beers like imperial IPAs, barleywines and imperial stouts; goblet—the wider mouth allows aroma to flourish for porters and stouts; white wine glass—perfect for 4-6 oz. tastings with friends.