Florida pulls in visitors from around the world and across the USA. It’s balmy climate, beach towns and theme parks attract those looking for no-hassle holidays: the perfect setting, you might think, for selling generic and flavourless ice cold lagers by the dozen. So it may surprise you to know that the Gulf Coast region of the Sunshine State is actually one of the most brewery-rich areas in the USA. Not only that, these brewers are churning out some of the most exciting flavours around.
From Tampa I made the easy drive out to the coast and the little known town of Dunedin. This gorgeous and affluent town is a slice of Americana with huge antebellum homes, a gorgeous Main St with multicoloured wooden shop fronts and oak trees hanging with Spanish moss. If it weren’t for the fact this is the only stretch of this coast without a beach it would be tourist-central. The beach is barely 10 minutes away but that is enough to keep Dunedin a little off the radar. For me the seven breweries all within 10 minutes walk of each other was enough to get it squarely onto my radar. Perfect for continuing my Gulp Coast odyssey.
After eating way too much Mexican food (is there any other amount?) at Casa Tina I waddled up the road to find Caledonian Brewing, a business capitalising on the local Scottish heritage. The large bar and open space seemed perfect for their prime location on Main St: I bet it gets crowded in here of an evening. At 1pm there was a nice buzz with families playing board games and regulars at the bar. I worked through a selection of their IPAs which have deliberately low IBU (bitterness), which is kind of challenging as IPAs are defined by their bitterness. It’s not to my taste, but I like the effort. There Goes My Zero boasts no IBU while Citredonia, brewed with tangelo (I had to Google it too), had a bit more pizazz with the added citrus.
Soggy Bottom Brewery is a couple of minutes walk from Caledonian but offers a grungy, altogether darker, vibe in its tap room. Bar seats made of barrels with Florida plates on the back and signature green chalk and paint around… I feel like this bar was born from the swamps of the South. The beer list was strong with all the usual styles plus plenty of adjuncts like a pineapple IPA and a cinnamon and apple brown ale. I particularly enjoyed the toasted coconut porter.
7venth Sun Brewery has a small taproom but a big reputation and is the only Dunedin brewery I had heard of before arriving. I perched by the window to watch the world go by and enjoyed their Red Headed Dragon Berliner weisse, brewed with dragonfruit. Amazingly, for a not particularly pungent fruit, you could really smell the dragonfruit. Good beer! I also had the Crusher Destroyer, a saison made with pink peppercorns that accentuate that saison spiciness.
As night falls and I’m flagging a little the last thing I needed was cosy… but that’s what I got at Woodwright Brewing Company. This amazing brewery is in the traditional wood wright’s workshop so you can drink by the bar, get a table in the corner, take your beers up to the loft or – which is ideal in January – gather round the log fire outside. For ultimate cosiness I went for their Germanic schwartzbier, followed by an Imperial stout. Loved this place, and Interior Decor of the Day Award goes to… Woodwright Brewing Company for their super-cool hop-shaped light shades!
Last stop was Cueni Brewing Co where I got chatting to some locals who told me about a secret bottle share up at Tarpon Springs, and did I want to go? Now. Even after today’s sesh I was clear enough to say no thanks, although a little bit of me wonders what I missed out on. Another time. Cueni is accessed from the Pinellas Trail, a historic walking trail through the centre of town. The tap room is basic but makes the most of the space and they have a nice beer garden at the back. I just had time for a Monkey Skull Baltic Porter which I rated pretty highly for its smooth finish and perfect sweetness. Not enough brewers making Baltic porters but they’re due some popularity I think, as Imperial stouts get maxed out.
The noise from the bars tells me there is so much more to see and taste here, but bed is calling. Early start tomorrow to make the journey south toward St Pete Beach.