Sunday, December 7, 2014

Beer Garden at Rosen Plaza WinterFest

This weekend, I hit a new beer festival in Orlando and actually got to try some beers I’ve not had before. If you’ve never been to a beer fest, that’s more unusual than you might think. Too often, the selection at these things is about the same as what you’ll find in a well-stocked supermarket.

For the Rosen Plaza WinterFest, the International Drive hotel closed off the pool area from 5-8pm and had ten brewers set up shop. For $25 in advance/$35 at the door, you got admission and a sample-sized mug to fill and sample and fill again. The hotel also set up urns of water so you could rinse away the peanut butter porter before sampling the Orange Blossom Pilsner. Full disclosure – a friend who works public relations for the resort, and knows I like beer, got me a free invitation.

Entertainment for the night included the mandatory stilt walkers and pretty girls dressed to represent countries that are known for their beer. Locally-based vocal group The Edge Effect ( performed a mix of covers and originals. Here's a clip of "Moves Like Jagger" from 2013.

At the other end of the pool deck, you could buy international food (Greek, German, Japanese, etc.), prepared from the Rosen kitchens.

So, brews that were new to me –

Two Henrys Brewing Company is based inside Plant City’s Keel and Curley Winery and named for Florida tycoons Henry Plant and Henry Flagler. I started with their Gilded Age Golden Lager – biscuity and malty, but still light and easy to drink. Gilded Age would be a good training wheels beer for folks looking for something local and crafty, but not too far from American convenience store lagers.

I also spotted a growler and got a pour of Two Henrys' Blueberry Vanilla Wheat. Fruity beers aren’t my favorite, but this one wasn’t overly sweet - so if I’m going to drink a blueberry beer, this might be the one.

Dogfish Head from Delaware had a few brews on display, but Piercing Pils was new to me – a Czech pilsner flavored with both pear juice and white pear tea.  It’s fruity, but still crisp. Not sure what’s “piercing” about it, but something for the cider drinker to try.

Alligator Drool is brewed just for Rosen Hotels, currently by Orlando Brewing - one of the few organic brewers in the country. It’s a pale ale, but not an India pale ale, so don’t expect that explosion of hops. More along the lines of Bass or a lighter Old Speckled Hen. ABC Liquors and Total Wine don’t stock Alligator Drool, so you’ll have to hit a Rosen Hotel bar or restaurant to try it … or hope that the Rosen Plaza WinterFest Beer Garden returns for 2015.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Accumulation White IPA Beer Review

For the hoppy holidays, New Belgium Brewing Company (the Fat Tire folks) has brought back a White India Pale Ale. Whites aren’t traditionally hopped, but it almost makes sense since hops are associated with that piney Christmas tree bitterness. Sriracha, bacon, and hoppy beers … when American tastes latch onto something, we hold tight.

Accumulation White India Pale Ale pours a clear, straw yellow with definite aromas of citrusy hops and just a little grain. The flavor is definitely hoppy too, but as much lime or grapefruit as pine. It’s crisp, but not as bitter as full-on IPAs can be to newbies.

If you like hoppy beers and IPAs, you’ll probably like this. If you don’t, Accumulation is a little less harsh, but isn’t likely to change your mind. It’s a nice switch-up from Sierra Nevada or Sam Adams Rebel IPA, but I’m also OK that Accumulation is only around once a year.

Bonus video content! Here's a New Belgium video about pairing Accumulation with enchiladas and avocado margaritas. Yep, pairing beer with hooch!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Cucumber Saison Beer Review

Cigar City Brewing, out of Tampa, is always trying new things, so sure, let’s try throwing cucumbers in a beer. After all, it works for gin, right?  Like I laid out here, saisons are typically brewed in winter for summer drinking. The yeasts tend to be a little spicy and it’s not unusual to throw something unique in there. Therefore, cukes.

Cucumber Saison pours out a cloudy straw color with a tight, sudsy head. The smell is like pickles – not vinegar sharp, but more the green skin aspect of pickles than the melony inside.

That first sip is just odd. It’s light and summery with the spicy sasion yeasts and that definite vegetal, alkaline flavor of green cucumber skin. It’s not unpleasant and kind of interesting, but I’m just not sold on the idea of gerkin beer. Glad I tried it. Glad it’s a single one pint, six ounce bottle and I don’t have five more waiting for me in the icebox.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Newcastle Bombshell Beer Review

Heading into the week of July 4, I’ve got a few beers on deck to try – Abita Seersucker, Flying Fish Exit 4, The one that’s been waiting the longest is Newcastle Bombshell, another in the seasonal releases from the folks best known for their Brown Ale. Bombshell is only scheduled to be available until the end of July, so here we go.

Bombshell is a blonde ale with a retro pin-up girl on the label and a relatively-low alcohol content (4.4%) – both positioning it for summer drinking. It’s pale yellow in the pint glass with a bit of skunky funk (brown bottle, so it’s not UV damage) and cereal malt.

On first sip, it’s got a bit of sharpness and yeast, almost like a sourdough bread. Carbonation is low, so it’s easy drinking. Nothing really lingers on the tongue, so it finishes clean and that next sip comes faster than a heavier, winter beer.

Bombshell is a brew you could spring on folks who drink nothing Bud Light and say they want to branch out, but never do. Fun, but when it disappears from shelves in August for the next seasonal (warewolf, maybe?),  you’ll be OK waiting until April 2015 for its return.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

JJ Grey's Nare Sugar Brown Ale Beer Review

This is musician JJ Grey ...

… and this is his beer, Nare Sugar Brown Ale.

Born in Jacksonville, Grey has teamed up with Rock Brothers Brewing (a Tampa company that pairs musicians with custom brews) and Cigar City Brewing (the Tampa brewery contracted to make the stuff). The novelty for people who don’t know Grey’s music is that Nare Sugar Brown Ale is made without added sugar. That caught my eye because brown ales are generally too syrupy for my taste.

This is literally heady stuff, foam spilling out of the unagitated can when I opened it.  Once the inches of foamy head from the emergency pour died down, the aroma is very malty and roasted. There’s just a little bit of light getting through, like a deep cola.

For no added sugar, it’s still plenty sweet. The coffee and roasty char flavors are there too, but seem lighter and brighter than a lot of brown ales. I think part of that lightness is the bitter hops cutting through the sweet and cocoa. I get vanilla and a mild mineral note at the finish.

Still too sweet for me, but drinkable. Five percent of net proceeds are donated to the Snook Foundation for the Preservation of Florida Fisheries – a gamefishing non-profit.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Rogue Beard Beer Review

See that smiling guy in the photo up there? He’s Rogue Ale’s Brewmaster John Maier and the yeast in this beer was originally found living in his beard. Yeah, that's pretty damn gross, but all yeast is damn gross if you really think about it – eating sugar and peeing out alcohol. Then again, where would modern civilization be without yeast? Probably without a headache Sunday morning.

John’s been brewing beer since 1978 and hasn’t shaved once in that time. That means John and beard have been around 36 years of yeast. Maybe a little something literally rubbed off. Stop wincing! I’m the one who’s got to drink this thing.

Beard Beer pours just a little cloudy, a dim yellow-orange. The aroma is a little boozy with the banana whiff of a hefeweizen. You can tell it’s a wild yeast because it’s throwing off all kinds of flavors you don’t expect in a commercial beer – pepper, canned peaches, a tongue-coating bit of tart, and a yeasty funk. Overall, it’s really not unpleasant – more malt and yeast than hops and no lasting aftertaste.

I’ve tried Beard Beer. Kinda liked it. Now, I don’t have to do it again … for a while, at least.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Homefront India Pale Ale Beer Review

Homefront IPA is flavored with hops, orange peel, and baseball bats. Yep, genuine, maple Louisville Sluggers. I’d always thought bats were ash, but according to, maple “makes it a powerful bat less prone to flaking and one, many players say, that improves their performance.”

Homefront IPA is produced for Memorial Day release by unrelated brewers around the county, banding together with all proceeds donated to local chapters of Operation Homefront – a nonprofit that assists soldiers, vets, and their families with food and financial assistance , auto and home repair, vision care, moving, and more. My beer came from Tampa’s Cigar City Brewing.

But how’s the beer?  Really, really nice. On the pint-glass pour, it’s bronze with a tight, white head and an orange, hoppy (of course) aroma that edges into cloves. On first sip, the hops hit right away, expanded on by the orange peel, but there’s also a fullness of flavor that has to be the wood.

It’s definitely a maple essence, but subtler than syrup or maple candy – more like a mellowing of the hops’ harsh edges. That malty biscuit flavor is there too, but I really like what the bats add. The orange peel starts coming through even more as the beer warms a few degrees. Alcohol content is 6.2%, a little higher than your average lager, but Homefront IPA hides the heat.

This is the first novelty ingredient I’ve seen in a while that really works – really makes the beer better instead of just unique. It’s not cheap. My six-pack of cans was $10.99 - but it’s brewed locally (wherever you find it), tastes good, and actually helps some folks a little. That’s not a bad was to end a Sunday.