“Beer is your friend.”
That’s Tampa Bay Brewing Company’s genius slogan, which ranks up there with the greatest brewery slogans of all time, landing somewhere between Red Stripe’s “Hooray Beer!” and Colt 45’s campaign that centered around Billy Dee Williams drinking his favorite malt liquor with a bunch of ladies and saying, “It works every time.”
I’m not sure that there are any scientific studies to back up the claim that “beer is your friend,” but the slogan just feels right, in a Homer Simpson/Duff Beer co-dependency sort of way. That’s the wisdom that only age can bring you. Tampa Bay Brewing has been at it since 1995, evolving from a home brew shop into a small brewpub that has recently expanded its production capacity and started distributing throughout South Florida. If TBBC is famous for one thing, it’s their Gourds Gone Wild, a seasonal pumpkin ale that a lot of people really, really like. They’ve also done pretty well on the competition circuit, pulling a bronze for their pale at GABF a couple of years ago and earning high marks for half a dozen styles at this year’s US Beer Tasting Championship. They’ve also knocked out some cool collaborations with heavy hitters like Cigar City and Pipeworks Brewing. But if you don’t live in South Florida, you probably haven’t had the chance to taste their wares. And that’s a shame, because as I discovered while sampling a handful of their beers recently, this small brewery does hops just fine, but they have a knack for the outrageous.
So, here are my notes on four beers from Tampa Bay Brewing. Repeat after me: “beer is your friend.”
“Reef Donkey” sounds like some sort of horrific sexual innuendo, but it’s actually the nickname fishermen have given to the amberjack, a saltwater fish that’s known to put up a fight. At least that’s what the can says. I don’t know shit about fishing, so I’ll have to take their word for it. This pale won bronze at GABF a few years ago, and has a sharp, citrus nose that promises all sort of zesty, fruit characteristics…none of which can be found in the sip. The pale is slightly malty upfront, but lacks the hop zing or citrus elements I was hoping for. Meanwhile, a thin mouthfeel makes the whole thing feel a bit watered down. Listen, this beer is easy to drink; it’s light and straight forward and if you’re dealing with Florida’s horrendously hot summers, it might be exactly what the doctor ordered. I was just hoping for a pale with a bit more backbone.
Full disclosure: I’m not a huge fan of porters, but gingerbread porters are a different bag altogether. I love them, and this one is really well executed. I think it’s brewed with cinnamon and nutmeg, because it smells like your grandma’s house on the night before Christmas. All cookies and diabetes.
There’s actually a bit of spice to the nose, like there might be a kick, but it’s a really smooth beer, with a full, silky mouthfeel. There’s chocolate and something milky up front, and then the nutmeg and cinnamon kick in, hitting you as much in the nostrils as they do on the back of your tongue. There’s a bready element, but not biscuits or crackers. It’s more doughy than that, but not sweet like cookie dough. It’s more reminiscent of the thick, doughy bread that monks are known for baking. There’s even a slight warming affect on the back end of the sip, to help fight off those chilly South Florida nights!
This beer I like. I could drink this beer every Christmas.
I don’t know if Old Elephant Foot is another fishing term or not, but this IPA is one of TBBC’s core staples. It’s a West Coast IPA brewed with Northern Brewer, Centennial and Cascade hops before being dry hopped with more Cascade and Centennial. This is a real deal American IPA, in the old school sense of the style. Forget the fruity citrus bombs that are in vogue right now, this beer is a palate wrecker. There’s plenty of malt on the front end to lure you into the beer, but none of that fruity, tropical soft-handed tricks brewers are famous for these days. It’s bitter and bracing. Honestly, this isn’t the IPA I expect from a Florida brewery, seeing as how that state produces the majority of our citrus fruit. But I dig bitter IPAs, and the execution is solid. You just have to decide if this is the kind of IPA for you.
Good god, this freaking beer. Beer Ready to Drink is a milk/coffee/peanut butter imperial stout that pours like ink (like the stuff Harry Potter uses to write letters) and hits you hard with a 10.5% ABV. Even better, every big ass can comes with a tiny bottle of hot sauce. You can drink it straight, or add a few drops of Tabasco. Crazy, right? Crazy good. It smells like coffee and peanut butter and tastes like coffee and peanut butter. At one point, I actually thought there was some peanut butter stuck on the roof of my mouth. And yet, I didn’t get fatigued while drinking this can. Usually, I’ll get a few sips into gimmick beers like this and be over it, but I dig Beer Ready to Drink from beginning to end. Especially after adding some hot sauce, which provides a bit of balance and actually thins out the mouthfeel a bit. It contributes heavily to the nose as well.
Yeah, this beer is a bit of a gimmick. I mean peanut butter. And a hot sauce chaser. But who says a gimmick beer can’t also be a great beer? You might only want one of them, but you’ll love every sip.