THE EDITOR’S DESK :: Lots!! Cigar City, Full Sail, Fracas Red, Breckenridge, Burgers & Killer Chips

by Harvey Gold on March 6, 2013

I’ve got a few things to talk about here, starting with my most recent experience, going backward. We’re in Okeechobee FL once again, and the search for local craft beer continues. There’s a lot of good beer in Florida, but it’s very regional, so a couple hours away up or down I-95 might as well be a couple of thousand miles in many cases. There are also a few well regarded brew pubs in the hood, but I’m addressing what can be bought out of a cooler or on a shelf here.

During our last trip in October, I discovered the Jai Alai IPA from Cigar City Brewing in Tampa. This time out – it seems like I only find one local at a time, no Jai Alai to be seen – I hit it out of the park with Cigar City’s Maduro Brown Ale. A Gold Medalist at the 2011 U.S Open Beer Championships, the label reads:

photo“Maduro Brown is an all malt ale brewed in the Cigar City of Tampa. Maduro pairs well with hearty Cuban foods such as Ropa Vieja and Boliche and it makes a fine accompaniment to a premium cigar.”

I wanted to try it with a smoke, so I busted up my palate a little by lighting a Quorum “Little Q” before considering the brew. I blew it here in that I got very little nose from this higher alcohol profile (5.5% ABV) English ale. Later, however, practically huffing the remains in the concentrated atmosphere of the bottle itself, it became clear it’s a mild-nosed brew.

Pouring brown, as advertised, with a nice cream colored head, the first sip knocked my socks off. Chilled at a nice, not too cold, temperature, the first thing that struck me was the immense creaminess of the mouthfeel. It was so velvety, it could have come from a nitro source. Toffee and caramel melding beautifully with what I perceived as a milk chocolate – all presenting with just a touch of sweetness – the Maduro was smooth, creamy and extraordinarily tasty, especially for a traditional English Brown. Incredibly easy to drink, and yes, perfect with the nice little cigar.

Cigar City claims the inclusion of flaked oats in the process is responsible for this “silky body,” also serving to mesh the flavors I speak of above. I’ll take them by their word, and will enjoy this brew whenever I can find it. This one is a real winner! Taking some home, to be sure!

A few days before I lucked out with the above, I posted this on our YBN facebook page, but as we’re here, not there, with a couple of tweaks…

Thus far, the only Floridian beer I’ve found in the Okeechobee ABC store was something very fruit-oriented, and I needed something more traditional after my week of getting ready and then driving the 1125 miles with the dogs to get down here.

imagesSo, I grabbed a six of IPAs from Full Sail Brewing Company in Hood River, Oregon. The nose is very, very fragrant with hops, the head lovely, the color a nice lighter gold. The taste, while carrying a proper IPA bitterness, is really more on the conservatively balanced side, the standout quality being it’s ability – the 6% ABV notwithstanding – to be a properly refreshing and quenching beer – a Florida prerequisite. I enjoyed the Full Sail as it cooled my mouth while smoking a (very nice, btw) Quorum “Little Q” Equadorian wrapped pequenos from Nicaragua. The fact that it isn’t a really challenging brew served well in accompanying a couple meals.

I know it’s hackneyed to write about a craft brew as being “… better than a Bud,” but my first impression was that Full Sail IPA is TOTALLY better than a Bud and does the job of a good blue collar lager or pilsner, while providing significant nose, flavor, and the “hop-zip” expected from an IPA – once again proving you don’t have to go heavy, ponderous, and inappropriate to a climate, to enjoy a finely crafted brew… and as we learned in our session with Asheville’s Highland Brewing, emphasis on balance and consistency can often be a virtue, not a compromise. AND…every bottle we popped turned out to be better than the last! A really fine ale.

While still in Nohio, we ducked into one of our favorite hangouts, The Lockview, and tried a Fracas Red from Black Diamond Brewing out in Concord CA. As I ordered a meaty, strange and exotic meatloaf, mashed and aoli-grilled sammy from these crazies, this big (8%) and unusual ale was a perfect match.

imagesBig hops, very citrusy nose, with a substantial smooth and sweet middle. I assumed all this was from the malt/hops choices and in the dry hopping, leaving that upper sinus harmonic perfume you often can’t get without a lot of hops to either be, or elevate, the character of the brew into the upper regions of the old skull.

Then I read that in the process, Black Diamond includes brown sugar and turbinado – raw, unrefined – sugar. I’m thinking this is where I got the “fruity” sensation, but not the actual presence of fruit itself.

In any event, this was a wonderful, big and delicious brew. It drank so well and easily, I forgot the big ABV it carried and, having two Fracas Reds in pretty quick succession, enjoyed that part of the experience as well. Woo hoo!!

Last but not least, I‘ve been flogging the idea of this burger bucket list as presented in a piece on Akronlife.com. We enjoyed a brew/burger pairing at The Rail, discovered one not on the list, the astonishingly decadent “Benedict Arnold,” a gem, at The Valley Café, and made a bad decision, choosing to try the one at Pub Bricco with a turkey burger.

Breckenridge Vanilla Porter

Breckenridge Vanilla Porter

So, here we do a restart with yet another pleasant surprise, but it wasn’t the burger as much as the brew! This is the same tavern where I originally tried the widely beloved Breckenridge Vanilla Porter for the first time on tap. It’s clear to me now that something was amiss with the actual tapping hardware, giving off the slight metallic taste that ruined that experience for me, and leading me to later post, Bottle v. Tap. This time around, the Vanilla Porter was everything I had hoped it might be, short of being pulled from a Beer Engine. Creamy, malty and solid, with a hair trigger on the red vanilla beans that burst into sweetness at the slightest hint of salty or tart, lingering on until the next sip or bite, not sticky or clingy, just a porter with legs.

As for the burger, this time I tried the beef burger, ordered medium rare with American cheese, bacon, and an egg over easy. It was, admittedly, working at a competitive deficit given that it was a far more spare offering than the Benedict Arnold, which had both the bacon and the fried egg in common. To be fair, probably based on my focus being taken so by the vanilla porter, I wasn’t impressed during the first half of the burger, lamenting that there simply wasn’t enough creamy yoke from the single egg to serve as more than a tease in combination with the other spare ingredients. In the Benedict Arnold there was a dollop of hollandaise sauce to continue the creamy v. meaty textural adventure, and the combo of thick sliced bacon and a slab of smoked ham certainly presented more vivid by comparison.

imagesBut by the last couple or three bites, along with Pub Bricco’s great homemade chips and the porter, everything just fell together as a really nice fit. I can’t say what it was in the burger: maybe the fact that it teased, delivered, teased, and delivered, depending on the bite, making it a more subtle, but still tasty offering. Now, I would NOT put this particular burger on any Top Anything list, but I’ve had burgers at this very same place that I think, with an eye to that goal, might very well qualify based on flavor, texture and creatively interesting combinations of ingredients. But still… a good burger, awesome chips, and a GREAT porter!

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