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Hoppers Grille
August, 2000

By Bobby Bush

Hurricane. Fire. Why not a flood? Palm Harbor didn’t look that far from Tampa on my map, but persistent rain turned a short jaunt into a journey. The final and second day of this central Florida Gulf Coast quickie trip-turned-disaster allowed only lunchtime exploration.

I located the brewpub at 36221 East Lake Road but it wasn’t what I expected. The shopping strip establishment at this site was Hoppers Grille & Brewery, I noted as I hurried from my car during a brief respite from the rain. Different title, but heck, any port in a storm, right? I learned as I sat down at the bar of this sizable operation that there had recently been a change of name from the original, lengthy Hoppers Brooker Creek Grille & Taproom. The owners, I was informed by the helpful bartender, wanted to 1) shorten the name, 2) add the word Brewery and 3) expand beyond their two store operation- they own a Hoppers taproom just down the road.

But I was there to 1) taste beer, 2) sample beer and 3) drink beer, so that’s where we started. Twelve of brewer Franz Rothschadl’s own brews were on tap for the asking. So on to the house beers. Royal Bavarian Pilsner presented clear golden color and thin-to-medium mouthfeel. Its ending was more sour than tartly bitter, as it should have been. Hoppers took a 1999 gold GABF medal for Royal Bohemian Pilsner. Though it was unavailable, the ever-attendant bartender advised that this missing lager was darker and better balanced than its Bavarian cousin. Next up was Fischer Hefeweizen, a tangy orange flavor German wheat beer that was not as yeasty as its cloudy vision foretold. An “Authentic Australian lager,” Fischer Helles was clean, boosted by floral hops and dry finish. And while we’re doing Fischers, the Fischer Heller Bock, labeled “strong pale Australian lager,” was powerful in alcohol with a captivating sweet taste. Returning to the homeland, American Summer Wheat was smooth and refreshing, in complete contrast to Katharina’s Wit, a Belgian white ale. Missing its coriander notes, this lemonade-looking beer was smooth in mouthfeel and sour in taste profile.

Cat Tail Pale Ale was a pleasing, hoppy pale, bitter from mid-taste onward. Done American-style, Old Porch Dog Ale was a moderately hopped brown ale. Copper in hue, Tampa Red offered sour apples and dry finish. A 6.8% abv English Strong, Flying Gator Ale was intensely malty with a warm finish. Subtly bittersweet, Helen’s Dunkel, a “dark Australian beer,” was enjoyable with a short fizzy exit. Introduced by its sweet nose, Belgian Tripel Bok had a definite candi-sugar presence. Its complex flavor held hints of peppermint and burnt orange.

Brewer Rothschadl works with a nearly hidden three barrel brewhouse and kegs every Hoppers beer served at the bar. This inconvenience and small brewing capacity is seen, by most brewers, as a great inconvenience, adding extra work in keg filling and cleaning that breweries with serving tanks do not have to contend with. However, it does allow for a wide variety of beers, something Rothschadl has done to great success. From Bavarian to Australian to Belgian, American and English styles, Hoppers has some fantastic beers. With 26 guest beers also on tap, there’s no way that you can go wrong at Hoppers.

Founded in 1994 and obviously a neighborhood pub of note, Hoppers welcomed a growing lunch crowd as I sat alone at the empty L-shaped bar. Rain became a torrential storm, delaying my departure by at least two beers. Localized flooding sent water out of storm drains and into the streets and flat terrain. I scanned the expansive menu, salivating over the long sandwich and entree offerings. Hunger was not an issue, though the appetizer plate of conch fritters that I selected proved both delicious and filling

After a mad, drenching dash to the car, I headed back to my Tampa hotel, hoping to make a quick stop at a brewpub in Clearwater. Tucson’s Restaurant had ceased brewing quite a while ago, I learned as I stepped through the door. I detoured slightly from the quickest route in search of a Hops Grill & Bar, but never found this Florida-chain brewpub in Clearwater.

Catastrophes aside, there’s good beer to be had in Florida. Perseverance helps in the quest.

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

© Bobby Bush

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