If you were to list the best beer states, Florida would likely not rank very high. The great Tampa Bay-based Cigar City Brewing is aware of this reputation while also fighting against it. From the "Tampa Bay Brewing History" essay on their website, to the first line of their About page (which acknowledges their state is better known for theme parks), to beers with names like Florida Cracker, to the many Florida-centric ingredients they use, Cigar City is deliberately inseparable from their home state. It's a mutually beneficially relationship. Florida gives Cigar City a unique identity and Cigar City, with their hundreds of unique beers released since opening in 2009, has seriously elevated Florida's beer reputation.
We talked to Cigar City's Vice President Justin Clark while writing Make Some Beer: Small-Batch Recipes from Brooklyn to Bamberg, so check out our book outtake if you want to more about some of the brewery's most experimental beers.
We excitedly sampled four of Cigar City's canned offerings - Jai Alai India Pale Ale and Florida Cracker - along with two of its (many) limited-release beers - Hopped On The High Seas and white oak-aged Jai Alai. Read below for our tasting notes and, if you've sampled these beers yourself, leave your notes in the comments!
The pour, while pleasantly murky, leaves behind a nice carbonated head, with lots of bubbles. "Sunshine" was the first word that came to mind when examining the pale yellow color, and the nose only conjured more images of summer in our heads: lemon, pear, and citrus notes immediately flowed into our noses and made our tastebuds water. With just a tiny bit of white pepper, floral citrus on the palate, the beer made us dream of summer that much more. The group consensus: the Florida Cracker was exactly the way a summer wheat beer should taste (which makes a trip down to Florida all that more appealing to us).
The color is nearly identical to an amber varnish you'd find in woodworking, while the nose comes off like a wet chalk. While the hops nearly gives a 1-2 punch to the nose, the aroma falls off nearly immediately. But upon first taste, the hops produce a very puckered, coat-your-throat feel. The taste gives off an unripe orange -- basically pungent -- pithy taste.
Marigold color -- what a beautiful sight for a beer! Despite its strong tropical fruit notes on the nose, the beer also leaves behind a slight cocoa smell. It's not the most aromatic beer, but the bold citrus upon first sip and hoppy blast on the finish more than makes up for it. While the hops are noticeable, the Jai Alai highlights a strong malt backbone as well.
While the white oak-aged Jai Alai is a sweet contrast to the regular Jai Alai, the white oak aged brew pours a similar amber color to the original, with just a hint of carbonation. It gives off more of a resiny aroma, but also a strong coconut and vanilla aroma (likely due to its aging process). And the coconut only grows in intensity when tasted -- the beer elicited strong reactions, from tasting like a candle to reminiscent of college dorm Malibu Rum. (That could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending how you feel about Malibu Rum). Still, the beer hits the right balance of tropical hops of the original Jai Alai, with the vanilla, oak feel of a barrel-aged beer.