As I sit here at the Southwest Florida International Airport waiting for my flight home, I reflect upon an awesome trip filled with some “phenomenal” beers. This beer trip was extra special for me because I visited all of the breweries with our grandfather, who lives in Naples, Florida.
Wayne, Dan, and I inherited our love for beer from our grandfather, and even though he has a strong love for Budweiser, he is very willing to try pretty much any beer. He enjoys Magic Hat #9 and Yuengling, so I guess that’s a good start.
As you read this report you may think to yourself, “Man, how did they visit all these places in only 5 days?” The answer is, I have an amazing chauffeur and husband, Rich. He put 1,400 miles on our rental car.
Our first brewery visit occurred almost as soon as we arrived. My grandfather’s favorite local brewery is Marco Island Brewery located in Marco Island, Florida (or “Marco’s Island” as he calls it). Established in 2010, the brewery serves both their “home brews” and guest beers.
Their current selection of home brews included a hefeweizen, which was citrusy and refreshing, but flat and watered down. It reminded me of a Blue Moon, not a true German hefeweizen. I missed the yeasty, banana flavors I love.
They also had a “light” IPA that had a nice hop flavor and a flavorful red ale. Some of the guest beers included Widmer Pitch Black IPA, Victory Brewing Co. Golden Monkey, and Breckenridge Vanilla Porter.
The next day we drove… and drove… the 250 miles from Naples to Key West. The scenery was breathtaking.
We visited the southernmost brewery, Kelly’s Caribbean Bar, Grill, and Brewery in Key West, Florida. Located just a block off the famous Duval Street, this building was the birthplace of Pan American Airlines and where the very first Pan Am tickets were purchased.
The place was acquired by Kelly McGillis of Top Gun fame and her then husband in 1993. The brewery is run by her ex-husband while she lives in North Carolina with her partner, but you can still see pictures and memorabilia of her career on the walls.
They had three of their own beers on tap, which I sampled for only $3! Their Southern Clipper Wheat was a little flat, but refreshing. The Key West Golden Ale was “eh,” but the Havana Red Ale, which is their flagship beer, was my favorite.
They also serve craft beers from all over, and the menu boasts some delicious fare including the Mahi Mahi Po Boy that Rich had. The fish was swimming in the Atlantic at 5AM and was on his lunch plate at noon.
On the following day, we spent the morning in the Everglades searching for gators and riding airboats, then headed northeast to Boca Raton where we visited the Funky Buddha Lounge and Brewery. This location opened in February 2010, and we visited during Happy Hour, which offered 2 for 1 beers and $10 hookah (no, we didn’t partake in the latter).
The Floridian Hefeweizen offered that banana goodness I was looking for with hints of fresh oranges from the Florida orange blossom honey they use in the brew. The Hop Gun IPA offered nice grapefruit and orange notes to balance the hops. The Red Dawn Ale had hints of apricot, berries, and caramel, while the Piiti Porter was creamy with coffee, caramel, and chocolate notes. My favorites were the fruity, sour Cranberry Berliner and the delicious Bob’s Backyard Mango Chili Wheat. Yum.
After talking to the staff at the Funky Buddha Lounge and Brewery about the new location in Oakland Park, I knew we had to visit. After a hearty Italian meal and a stop at Boca Beach, we headed to theFunky Buddha Brewery in Oakland Park, Florida.
This location, which was originally going to be condominiums, is now the brewery’s production facility. While the taproom does not serve food, there is always a food truck out front. Nacho Biznesswas serving up some delicious-looking tacos, burritos, and quesadillas while we were there.
Ok, so the beer… Oh the beer. I had some very tasty, creative beers including Bonita Apple Bum Apple Pie Ale, NIB Smuggler Chocolate Porter, and No Crusts PB&J Ale. My favorites were Last Snow, which was a coffee, coconut, chocolate porter, and Piña Colada Wheat, which was… yes… phenomenal. They had guest drafts, too, but why bother? My only complaint was that many of their beers were very sweet, leaving me craving water and something salty.
The following day we headed north to Tampa where we toured the Yuengling Brewery in Tampa, Florida. Our tour guide, Jennifer, took us on a 45-minute tour of the 1958 facility, the second of the three Yuengling brewing facilities.
The brewery continues to be family-owned, serving 15-states on the east coast, as far west as Ohio. There is an expansion in progress at this facility, including the canning line that was added 6 months ago. There are rail tracks that run through the property, bringing malts from Minnesota and hops from Washington.
A highlight of the tour was walking through one of the labs where chemical analysis, determination of ABV, and taste testing are done. Yuengling uses pale, caramel, and black malts, as well as Cascade and Cluster hops in their brews (except for the Oktoberfest, which uses hops imported from Germany).
Interestingly, brewmaster John Houseman came up with a well-received IPA recipe, but the brewery chose not to produce it because they didn’t want it to complete with their “other ale”. The Lager, Light, Premium, Black and Tan, and Bock are made at the Tampa facility. Following the tour, we sampled brews and purchased swag.
Our next stop was the Tampa Bay Brewing Company in the Ybor City section of Tampa, Florida. Our grandfather and I shared a sampler tray of 12 Tampa Bay brews. The brewer, Dave Doble, son of the owners, also flies and delivers cargo planes around the world.
My favorite beer of the sampler, Midnight Crossing, was inspired by a stormy trip home from one of these deliveries. The 90 IBU black IPA was roasty, hoppy, and delicious. Other notables were the Old Hoppler (a double IPA), New Zealand Pale Ale (nice sour grapefruit flavor), Iron Rat Imperial Stout (chocolate and coffee notes), and Wild Warthog Hefeweizen (made with Weinstephan yeast).
We sat right by Anita, the new canning system. Old Elephant Foot IPA is their first canned beer. Overall, this was a great spot to grab lunch and have a few beers.
Our final brewery stop was Cigar City Brewing in Tampa, Florida. The tasting room consisted of two bars, a Cuban cigar maker, and brewery tours.
There were 23 Cigar City beers on tap and one from 7venth Sun from Dunedin, Florida. While listening to awesome tunes by the likes of Beck and the White Stripes, I tasted the Guava Berliner Weisse, a tropical, sour wonderland, Tropical White Oak IPA, tropical, oaky, hoppy delight, and Chicory Chocolate, a nice blend of coffee and chocolate, leaving a tobacco-like aftertaste.
The beergasm for me was the Cucumber Saison. Wow. This beer was refreshing, crisp, and truly enjoyable. It reminded me of a watermelon ale without the sickening sweetness. I grabbed a bottle for a future tasting segment. I just hope Dan and Wayne love it as much as I did.
So on our last day right before heading to the airport, we did stop at one final brewery, the Naples Beach Brewery. It was closed. For some reason they are only open on Fridays and Saturdays. Apparently it’s a homebrew store, too. I guess I’ll have to try again next time we’re in town. I can’t be too disappointed, however, because we had an amazing trip.
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