THE EDITOR’S DESK :: Beer in the South or My Florida Vacation, Pt.1

by Harvey Gold on March 23, 2012

When we go to Florida these days, we may spend a minute or two in the Lauderdale/Pompano Beach area, but where we stay is in America’s Deep South: Okeechobee, Florida. Much like my hometown of Akron, people like to make fun of Okeechobee. Though over time, one learns that a community is based on the people, and we’ve come, over the years, to meet a bunch of interesting, genuine, and truly good folks.
“But how about that BEER ISSUE you ALWAYS annoyingly belabor?” you ask.

Not an area big on craft beer selection in the past, I wrote earlier about finding a bunch of offerings, previously unseen in these parts, from Roscoe’s Hop House. I had noted their IPA had been brewed out in California by World Brews. I followed my head scratching about this “brewer” promising to follow up on the “who” and the “where.” After reaching out to friends in Rochester, we now learn that their award winning Pale Ale is brewed more locally (to Rochester, that is) by Genessee. We still don’t know if Roscoe’s is simply a brand for marketing by a distributor, or someone with a vision who needed to go to other folks’ “houses” to brew and bottle his or her beer recipes.

We followed that 6-pack of their IPA—which was, as I also wrote previously, unspectacular but did the trick—with a gaggle of Terrapin Rye Pale Ale, out of Athens Georgia. Also an award winner, I chose it over the Roscoe’s Pale Ale based on how tame Roscoe’s IPA had been, hoping the rye in the Terrapin might give us something of an edge. For the first 5, I have to say, drunk on 5 different occasions, also unspectacular…then, oddly, with the last bottle – I don’t recall what the circumstances were under which I cracked it – I detected a very nice, almost fruity sweetness to it on the middle of the tongue. Raised an eyebrow.

Most fellow reviewers have agreed with me on it’s lack of a sharp distinction, describing a citrus and something of a malty sweetness. Odd I didn’t get that ’til the end. Still, even with the brow rise, not so big a deal at the time.

A Respite?

When I visited the ABC store upon arrival, I had noticed a 4-pack of Samuel Adams Wee Heavy, a beer I very much liked when reviewed a few months ago. So after killing off the Terrapin, I picked up a four as a treat. I had been drinking my craft brews, described by the locals as dark beer with less than a great satisfaction thus far, eschewing the bounty of Milwaukee’s Best (The Beast), Busch and Miller Light I found all around me 24/7. By the way, none of the neighbors would accept even a taste of what I had been drinking.

The Revelation

My first sip of the Samuel Adams was shocking. The flavor was as I remembered: wonderful, big, malty, caramel sweet, with enough hops to give it a little flowery sweetness to the nose, the vapors carried strongly by the big alcohol content. But then…that very same alcohol component seemed to take on a life of it’s own, far more separate and strong than I had experienced in previous nicely balanced drafts of this ale. From there, the caramel and malt seemed to make the experience ponderous, the whole thing heavy to the point of syrupy! What was happening to me? I labored through this previously (and again, to be) thoroughly enjoyed beverage and while all the elements I had loved about it were clearly there, the entire experience was not. A little bit of panic. If I didn’t enjoy this, nor the other two award winning craft ales I tried…WHAT IN THE NAME OF ROBERT E. LEE WAS HAPPENING TO ME?!!

Let’s Cut to the Chase

Of course, there’s such a thing as air conditioning, and there are plenty of craft brew enthusiasts and brewers in the American South and Southwest. But what I learned here was a PURPOSE for beer, one that’s based on climate and lifestyle. Lots of people in the south, when work is done (and even when it’s not), will walk around for hours with cans of low alcohol standard issue American Lager. It quenches the thirst; the alcohol level, while certainly enough to offer a buzz should you drink a enough of it, usually sits at around 4-4.5%, so definitely a session beer. It isn’t throwing all that sugar, caffeine, or worse yet, rat-killing levels of artificial sweetener into your system as soda does, and is, based on the buzz I think, for the most part, more interesting than water.

Most craft beer is 5% or more in alcohol level. I sat at the table during this trip noting that for every brew I drank, my father-in-law would have to drink 1½ Beasts to “keep up” with me. When I moved to the Sam Adams, our equation was: 12 Busch Lights = 5 Sam Adams Heavies.

The big brews make for a short date. My reaction to the Heavy, and perhaps the other ales? Hot climes and intermittent air conditioning caused a drinking version of climactic blood thinning, approaching native Okeechobeean levels.

For my tastes, the one solution I’ve come up with is Stone Levitation Ale. It’s only 4.4% ABV and, while considered an American/Red Ale, dark enough that the neighbors down there won’t be swiping them…I think, that explosively grapefruit nose, start, and edge makes for a really refreshing brew that should be drunk cold, and is my favorite relatively low ABV beer out there. Any suggestions of others will be gratefully received, as alas…there wasn’t any Stone in Okeechobee, folks.

Still, I get the point of all those people I’ve chosen to pick on—lovingly, of course. Some of them have weapons. Just wish I had a taste for the stuff they drink. Way less expensive, too. And the best part, culturally speaking, is they don’t give a hoot or a holler over whether I think their beer is good or not—great folks!

Proving the New Rule

We were all sitting out one evening when my friend and BBQ artiste extraordinaire, Boo, came over with Antonio Y Cleopatra Grenadiers. We enjoyed this balmy night, drinking (yes) Milwaukee’s Bests and passing shots from a pint of Jameson back and forth, and while nibbling on delicious, home canned, Swamp Cabbage (hearts of palm pickled in vinegar with a jalapeño thrown in for good measure) that Boo also brought along with him, I considered the two jars of jalapeños sitting before me that he was sending home with us.

Nirvana

The “problem” here was the Antonio Y Cleopatras. There’s so little there—making fresh Grenadiers so unbelievably smooth—they’re dangerous to the inhaling ex-cigarette smoker…but in that turned-around-cigar-world respect, it was heaven. The Jameson was a sweet, biting, delight, the smoke just floated in and out of my lungs, and The Beast adequately played the role of the crappy tasting (yeah, I’m not caving completely) glass of cool and refreshing water, with a couple bubbles.

Good to be home, but we miss all our good old friends down in Okeechobee. Next…the Food Report!!

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Drew Pohle March 28, 2012 at 8:24 am

Please, next time your in florida, contact me, We will go and drink only FLORIDA beer, Holy Mackeral, Cigar City Brewing, Orlando Brewing, Swamphead, Seventh Sun, Dunedin and many more. We have so many great florida beers, Cheers, DREW

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admin March 28, 2012 at 9:07 am

Drew – Thanks for the note and hopefully we’ll do just that. We’ve been given some guidance from Gerard Walen @ http://beerinflorida.com/, but just simply couldn’t make it to any Florida area outside of Okeechobee with enough time to find any. We’ve also invited Gerard to contribute an occasional piece for Your Beer Network. Please feel free to submit something as well. We’ll be happy to run something that, at the very least, represents the missing link in these Florida pieces: “YES, there is craft brew in Florida and here’s what they’ve got!”

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