If you are one of the "lucky" people that gets to work or live in Miami, then you will most likely agree that the traffic and congestion of the city can be extremely irritating, oftentimes to the point where it may even drive one insane. The daily struggle just to make it to and from work over the months accumulates, leaving one itching to get out of this concrete jungle, even if it's just for a weekend. With Ultra Music Festival quickly approaching, Karla had realized that her boss "accidentally" gave her that weekend off. This was it. This was our chance to escape the city. We had to seize this opportunity, so we decided to ditch the music festival crowds, in search of a much more relaxing time that involved generous amounts of craft beer.
With a few days to go till the weekend, Karla booked us a room at our go-to hotel in Tampa for Saturday night. On Friday night, we just took it easy, packed our bag for the trip, and got a good night's sleep. We woke up recharged on Saturday around 9 am, grabbed our bag, packed a cooler, made a quick sandwich, and hit the road around 10:30 am. We were finally on our way out of the Miami madness that is Ultra weekend.
The first stop on our trip was Calusa Brewing located in Sarasota, about five minutes off of I-75. I gotta say that I really love what this brewery is doing right now. These guys are making some incredible IPAs, sours, and stouts. They also have an extensive barrel-aging program, producing barrel-aged stouts and saisons/farmhouse ales. Some of the highlight beers that we had were: Focus (Citra/Mosaic IPA), Zero-Zero (Mosaic Double IPA), Ignorant Clod (Barleywine), Dissonance Breakfast Brown (Brown Ale), and Ninth Tree (Hazelnut Stout). We grabbed a couple of 4 packs of Focus and Ninth Tree to go, a bottle of Ignorant Clod, and hit the road again.
Our next destination was Green Bench Brewing Company in St. Petersburg, where we were meeting up with Green Bench's head mead maker, Brian Wing and his wife Tatiana. I cannot say enough good things about these people and the beers, meads, and ciders that they are producing. Top-notch all around. We actually had an in-depth conversation with them, which will be released as its own post in the coming months on The Bitter Notes. While we discussed the future of the mead & cider project at Green Bench, Brian shared with us a multitude of beers, meads, and ciders. Some of the highlights for us were: Sauvage Miel (Saison/Farmhouse Ale brewed with Honey), I Am Brut! (Cider), I Am Brut! with Raspberry (Cider), Florida Mead Project: Passion Fruit (Mead), and Testing Batch 788 (IPA). Brian was even kind enough to gift us with a bottle of Les Amis Grisettes, a wine barrel-aged Grisette collaboration with Side Project Brewing, and a bottle of The Obscure, a rum barrel-aged Barleywine collaboration with American Solera, which was totally out of this world. I may get some shit for saying this, but I think that it's the best barleywine that I've ever had.
After having an engaging and informative conversation with Brian and Tatiana, it was time for us to hit the road again. Our next stop was Arkane Aleworks located in Largo, Florida. These guys had some solid IPAs and sours on draft while we were there. I'm definitely interested to see how the brewery grows and develops in the future. We only had time for a beer each so I had a "Do the Damn Tang" (Tangerine and Soursop Milkshake IPA) and Karla had a "Tropic Like It's Hot" (Pineapple and Coconut Sour Ale). Luckily for me, Karla was the designated driver so I was allowed to freely imbibe during our trip. After I finished the rest of my (and her) beer, we were about to call it a night, but I suddenly found myself craving some dessert beers from Angry Chair, so I convinced her to make one last stop there before checking into our hotel. It had only been a week since Tampa Bay Beer Week had finished up, so we were in luck with a pretty stellar draft list. I ended up getting a Barrel-Aged Fionn (Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Hazelnut and Coffee Porter) and a Double Barrel Popinski (Bourbon Barrel and Maple Rum Barrel-Aged Russian Imperial Stout), while Karla got a Vassago (Raspberry Berliner). These guys are absolutely killing the pastry stout game, among other styles as well. I blended the Barrel-Aged FIonn and the Double Barrel Popinski together after drinking half of them, and I've got to say that I was really impressed with the results. After downing that glass, it was finally time for our night to come to an end.
The next morning, we checked out of our hotel around 11 am, and then ate some brunch at Ella's Americana Folk Art Cafe in Seminole Heights. The fried catfish was delicious, by the way. Anyways, after fueling up on some soul food, we decided to check out 7venth Sun's new Tampa location. The new taproom and brewery is rather impressive and much larger compared to their original location in Dunedin. It's nearly 18 times larger, coming in at 18,000 square feet. The quality and creativity of the beers that these guys have been producing over the years has always been first-class. I'm really looking forward to the beers that will be coming out of their barrel-aging program, which is a collaborative effort with Cigar City since they donated the foeders to them [7venth Sun]. Some of the highlights that we had at 7venth Sun included: Anyone's Guess (100% Brett Fermented Saison/Farmhouse Ale), Logjammin (Farmhouse Ale with Blackberry and Currants aged on Oak), Barter Bait (Passionfruit and Vanilla Berliner Weisse), and Remote Viewing collaboration with The Answer (Peach Apricot IPA with Citra and Mosaic).
Our next and final stop was a "two-for-one" kind of deal. First, we had a couple of beers at Hidden Springs Ale Works, and then walked a few blocks over to Garagiste Meadery to finish off the day before taking on the drive back to Miami. While at Hidden Springs, I had the Deja Moo (Milk Stout with Smoked Chipotle Peppers and Cacao Nibs) on nitro and Karla had the Minor Threat (Saison with Banana, Clove, and Coriander Spices). She enjoyed it so much that we ended up getting a crowler of Minor Threat to go, in addition to a bottle of Oubliette (Sour Blonde aged in Sauvignon Blanc Barrels with Passion fruit and Blackberries), a bottle of Blitzkriek (Bourbon Barrel-Aged Flanders Red with Cherries), and a couple of 4-packs of Kitten Kong (Milk Stout with Marshmallows, Graham Crackers, Chocolate, and Coconut) and Nefarious (Double IPA with Citra, Simcoe, and Centennial).
After dropping off our loot from Hidden Springs in the car, we wandered our way over to Garagiste Meadery for a couple glasses of their sweet sugary mead. I had myself a Reboog Razz (Peanut Butter and Red Raspberry Mead), while Karla had a "Can't You Hear the Thunder?" (Pyment made with locally produced honey and a blend of Australian Cabernet, Shiraz, and Merlot wine grapes). Both of them were delicious. They were pretty much the cherries on top of our little brewery-hopping tour. And just like that, our time in Tampa had come to an end, and the reality of the four and half hour car ride back to Miami had finally hit us. We love you Tampa and St. Pete! We'll be coming back for all of your beers again real soon!