THE EDITOR’S DESK :: Last (?) Stand in South Central (Florida, that is)

by Harvey Gold on March 14, 2014

Claydough-Man-on-the-Beach32As evidenced by more than a couple past reports here, our adventures in South Central Florida (Okeechobee to be exact) have held mixed results, many of them resulting in us trying beers that come from nowhere near here. Now we have to consider that, first, the greater Okeechobee area can’t top 7-8000 people and our trips to much more fertile brewlands such as Port Saint Lucie, Fort Pierce and Stuart have been infrequent and generally on missions that have, sadly, precluded stopping at the likely suspects for some Florida craft beer, so these reports shouldn’t reflect in any way on what appears to be a pretty vital brew culture down here, much of it, it seems, easily found on a Micro level.

As this will be, possibly, our last visit down here for a time, I’ll review our “discoveries” on this trip, all great, if not regionally revealing.

Upon arrival, we stopped at the local ABC store, Publix and The Walmart just checking in to see if there was anything new since our last trip 7 months ago, and found pretty much nothing. On a run to Sam’s Club in Port St. Lucie, however, we were pleased to pick up a case of New Belgium Fat Tire, something we recently wrote about, thrilled over NB’s freshly paved presence in the Midwest east of Chicago. Shortly after, my brother in law found some of their Spring Blonde at the local Publix, so we were OK for a time on the beer front. I’m not a huge fan of that style, wishing it had more flavor to it, but still, sure beats the hell out of….

Being ever so slightly out of focus seems appropriate to the occasion.

Being ever so slightly out of focus seems appropriate to the occasion.

Grabbing a few hours to take refuge in Stuart, a largely upscale, well settled area on A1A, the great Florida coastal road, we took some time to walk beautiful Jensen Beach and then had lunch at a real Florida Spring Break style (airplane hangar sized) restaurant bar, pretty empty mid-afternoon, mid-week, in February. To wash down a tripple pork Cuban style panini with home made chips and onion bacon dip, I had a Rasta Rage One Love Ale from Bluepoint Brewing. Yup, it happened again. Travel 1200 miles south in order to, yet again, have a satisfying beer brewed in… Patchogue, Long Island. Oh well.

A nice, perfect for the occasion, rye ale, with a decent 7.5% ABV. It balances the green, sticky Rasta friendly (“What does he mean by that?) hops with the anchoring and mellowing of substantial malt, the rye, in this case, not providing the edge we’ve experienced in some other rye offerings, but adding to the character of the “malty goodness” of this ale .

I would’ve enjoyed the well balanced and very pleasant flavor notes with a little higher IBU (40) but still…the brewery donates a percentage of what they earn from this beer to benefit orphaned and otherwise needy kids in the Caribbean, an even better reason to buy and drink this tasty brew, a fortunate pairing with the pork belly, pulled pork, bacon, mustard and pickles of this excellent sammy.

"Hoochbrandy" with decorative containers

“Hoochbrandy” with decorative containers

Another interesting moment, which I’ll likely go into with much greater detail at a later date, involved my pal… we’ll call him Boo, for these purposes, making a brandy by taking a couple gallons of homemade wine he got from a friend and putting it through his still. This turned out to be clear, high octane hootch with excellent flavor. A few wood chips in the jar and a few days later it mellowed a bit, looked somewhat more like what it was intended to be, and was still some tasty stuff.

Next up: As many of you know, I’m a single malt scotch guy. A bit of a snob really, probably the lowest cost offerings I enjoy are Bowmore The Darkest (15), Talisker 10, Mortlach 15 (Gordon & MacPhail ), and my dearest of friends, Laphroiag 10. This, of course, means I find lots of bars without something interesting on that front, so my default spirit of choice is Irish Whiskey. Jameson is fine, the cheaper Bushmills better, as it’s less sweet and a delight, being so inexpensive. I once tried a collection of “higher end” samplers and found them all to be far too sweet for my tastes.

bushmills-10-year-old-irish-whiskey-70clNot long after our arrival here I checked out a liquor store other than the local ABC. When I asked if they had Bushmills, the clerk directed me to a box of it on the shelf. Thinking it was my standard fare $18 bottle, boxed for gifting, I happily took it to the counter. When the ring up placed it over $40 I finally looked at it, seeing it was their 10 year old single malt version. A “what the hell” moment turned into a great discovery. This edition of Bushmills is smooth, balanced and delicious, with what I describe as a fruity, apple flavor that rides the sides of the tongue. And it’s not too sweet, people!!!!
Highly recommended.

My last discovery (probably, as I’m leaving to head back north. Get this weather business together, folks), was not so much booze, but came to me on a visit to the WONDERFUL Fresh Market grocery/gourmet store in Coral Springs. Most normal groceries have a candy rack with Snickers and Reeses at the check out as point of purchase, along with some magazines with hideous pictures of surprisingly fat and wrinkled superstars. This one had Vosges Haut Chocolate’s Smoke & Stout Caramel Bar:
– Rogue Ale’s Chocolate Stout beer
– Alderwood smoked salt
– Burnt sugar caramel
– Dark chocolate (70% cacao)
so, of course, we bought a bar.

620_2112_largeI’ll make it quick. First, I like a lot of what Rogue offers, stands for, and steps out and experiments with. You may recall I bought some preserves in Scotland produced by Bowmore that tasted very much of the single malt in question, so I was intrigued.

The chocolate of this bar was good, not overly great, the shiny, slightly chewy lecithin emulsified chocolate some in the business call “coating.” Very good, but nothing overwhelming on that end. But when it came to the filling, where all that exotic stuff listed above dwelled, boy oh boy was that tasty. I could not point out where the stout and smoked salt came in, but while there was your standard issue caramel flavor as a finish, the thrust of it was much more, sweet, rich, delicious.

A nice bar… “Less than 5% alcohol.” No kidding.

imagesSo I figure one day I’ll be sitting in front of a fire in an old tavern in say… Pevek, on the East Siberian Sea, and spy a tap with a palm tree on it offering “Genuine Floridian Cocoanut/Mango Salsa Double IPA” with hops grown in the Okefenokee Swamp. Maybe THEN I’ll be able to properly address another Florida Craft beer.
Until then, try our friends at Beer in Florida. They’ll take good care of you.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Gerard Walen March 14, 2014 at 12:18 pm

Why, oh why do you insist on continuing to travel to one of the few remaining areas of the state not awash in locally brewed beer?
If you traveled to Stuart, you were so close to Tequesta Brewing Co., about 20 miles south, and Sailfish Brewing in Fort Pierce, about the same distance to the north. Both makers of some damned fine brew.
I mean, there’s a map!
http://beerinflorida.com/florida-brewery-map-list/
Thanks for the shoutout. Maybe next time, you can visit elsewhere, and I can guide you to some brewtiful places.
(Note to self: Okeechobee needs a brewery).
Cheers!

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admin March 18, 2014 at 1:21 pm

My father and mother-in-law lived down there until she passed a few years ago and we, on this last trip, liquidated his presence down there as he’s now living back north in a retirement community. Almost all our trips down have been with a mission, usually having to do with health emergencies and have limited our mobility and, when we have strayed a bit, the time to research before we headed somewhere, like Stuart, where we grabbed an hour on the beach after making a deposit at an institution that has no presence in Okeechobee. That said, I think we, over these last few years, learned a lot down there, and had more than our fair share of drinking and culinary experiences, however random and rawboned as they seemed to be. Glad you’re there, Gerard.

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Gerard Walen March 18, 2014 at 1:44 pm

Well, I’m sorry to hear that. Please come back some time when you can take a vacation and explore our local beer scene.

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