Collated together under the Gulp Coast initiative are some 35 breweries spread through a 30 mile stretch of coastal towns: from Tarpon Springs in the north to St Pete Beach in the south. The enterprising St Pete & Clearwater tourist board have created a handy passport that you can order online or pick up along the way and get stamped en route to win prizes / brag and compete with your friends.
I started my discovery one wet Friday night in Tampa. Often overlooked in favour of local big-hitters Orlando and Miami, this city is positioning itself as Florida’s foody and cultural capital. If you’re here for the beer don’t just jump in your car and head for the beach – Tampa has more than enough to warrant a night or two of your time. After all this place is home to the mighty Cigar City, brewer of Florida’s most commonly found craft IPAs: Jai Alai.
With one night only and having just flown in from London I had to be selective. Skipping Cigar City I chose 3 venues to visit: 1 for notoriety, a second for something different and the last somewhere less known.
1. Angry Chair. These guys have been getting attention internationally as their big boozy stouts have started making their way to some craft beer festivals in Europe. I was a leeeetle bit disappointed that they had none of their own stouts on tap but it pushed me to their amazingly distinctive Rainbow Sherbet Berliner weisse, made with actual rainbows. Just the right amount of sour and sweet with that tingle you expect from a tube of refreshers. After trying the Space Grass, their best selling IPA, I sated my thirst for stout with guest brewer Westbrook Brewing’s Siberian Black Magic Panther aged in Scotch barrels. Deliciously smokey – a real peaty hit that is not for everyone.
2. Garagiste Meadery. I first had mead years ago in the New Forest, England, having only ever heard of it as a Medieval tipple. Jump forward 20 years and I hear that mead is becoming the new thing on the craft beer scene… even though it is more like a wine than a beer. The team at Garagiste are taking it to another level. Signature peanut mead… mead aged with Luxardo cherries… mead aged in bourbon barrels… dark fruits and chocolate mead… amazing stuff. And the staff that I met were super friendly and enthusiastic about their product which is always a winner when you’re visiting and exploring. I got a bottle of the Black Widow mead, aged for 12 months in port barrels, as a souvenir.
3. Hidden Springs Ale Works. Rounding off my night in Tampa I’d asked around for somewhere new. Hidden Springs had a cool little tap room with an almost steampunk vibe; the flight trays are done like a chain of cogs for instance. Beer selection was great so I veered from their super milky Tiger’s Blood coconut Berliner weisse to the Bear Lasers IPA, then back to the weisse for a more tart Sexual Manatee before finishing with a Deja Moo milk stout brewed with smoked chipotle.
What a night, and what a start to my Gulp Coast exploration. Looking forward to tomorrow…