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Nov 29, 2014

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Tampa Bay
September, 1999

By Bobby Bush

This Orlando journey has one more phase before time and Hurricane Floyd chased this beer cruiser home.

Interstate 4 West runs directly to Tampa before petering out as I-275 in St. Petersburg. It was the old town, Ybor City, as it was called in what once was a melting pot of diverse cultures and the home of Americaís best cigars, that I was after. With remarkable ease I found my first target, but departed almost as quickly. New World Brewery had ceased brewing sometime in early 1999 and now functions as a 16 beer multi-tap room. An inviting local dive, but not what I was looking for.

Just a few blocks away I found my Florida home away from home. Tampa Bay Brewing Company started business in February 1997 in a historic building that had served as a stable in a previous life. Teddy Roosevelt housed his horses there in the Rough Rider days. With tons of love, sweat and beer, brewer John Doble and his mother/partner Vicki, along with other family members, renovated the brick stable into a two story restaurant/brewpub thatís a beer loverís paradise. Along with 15 imports and Samuel Adams, TBBC offers ten of their own brews plus one on cask. Beers rotate all the time- John brews over 30 different beers each year. Those on tap during my visit were a hoppy amber Redeye Ale; One Night Stand, a deep gold American pale ale; True Blonde, a succulent kolsch; moderately hopped ESB; the rich, filling Jack the Quaffer, an Old World London Porter; dry hopped and tart The Mad Hatter; Iron Rat Stout, Irish style, also served in the smoother, warmer cask version; bitter attacking Old Elephant Foot, an IPA; an ultra sweet, swiftly finishing Belgian Strong Ale; and deadly 9.8% abv barleywine called Moose Killer.

John works with a ten barrel brewhouse, utilizing four fermenters and, hereís the difference, 16 serving tanks. Thatís twice the serving vessels that most brewpubs have, giving the busy brewer storage and flexibility to brew various styles and experiment to his heartís content. Each month Tampa Bay moves 80 barrels of their own beer in what John describes as a ďdestination orientedĒ brewpub. Not really a local hangout or a tourist trap, patrons seek out the 6,500 square foot brewpub, known not only for excellent beer but innovative food creations, many incorporating beer as an ingredient, as well. My steamed clams, served in a beer pitcher, and crab cakes were superb.

After nosing around the upstairs bar, which features a balcony overlooking 15th Street New Orleans-style, I paid my respects to John and Vicki, and left Tampa Bay Brewing with a heavy heart.

One last stop before calling it a night and the end of another adventurous brewpub crawl. In the great state of Florida there are at least twelve Hops Grill & Bar establishments. Part of a 60+ chain, I chose the Hops in Lakeland for no particular reason. Ignoring the all-you-can-eat ribs and chicken special, I slithered up to the bar and ordered a pint of A1Ale, which at this location was called Alligator Ale (wonder why?). Billed as full body, this was a pleasing though unexciting session pale ale. Unlike other Hops Iíve visited, the beer was not served in an iceberg encrusted mug, just a nice cold pint glass. Regardless which Hops you visit, the beer, but maybe not its name, is the same. In addition to the A1Ale, er, Alligator, thereís the beginnerís Clearwater Light, bigger Lightning Bold Gold and medium bodied Hammerhead Red.

The bartender was helpful, providing a basket of free chips and salsa. He explained that their brewer, Al McKendrick, also brewed for the Bradenton Hops, which I assumed wasnít too far away, though there are three Hops in nearby Tampa. At least he didnít try to entice me with their menu of mixed beer drinks like Razzberry Ale (beer with liqueur), Peach Delight (with schnapps), Tequila Gold (without the worm) and the absolutely essential Red Draw (with tomato juice). Look for an in-depth article on the Hops chain in a future article. Taking award-winning Ybor City Brewing, a micro with state wide distribution, into account, Central Florida is a pretty good place for beer. Cheers!

This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.

© Bobby Bush

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