Trekking the state for the state for the love of the craft (in preparation for our own brewing future)

Story by Philip Pietri & Logan Crumpton • Photography by Philip Pietri

Ask anyone from out of state what three things come to mind when they think of Florida. Those three things will likely include Disney World, orange juice, or snowbirds. As a native of this wonderful state, this stigma disappoints me. Sure, people like a slice of paradise when they retire. And, of course, there’s no shortage of that vibrant fruit we see speckling the vast orchards along the rural expanse. But come on. We’re so much more than the mouse! It’s becoming quite evident that our state is evolving out of those tired clichés and venturing into bold, new territories. One of the many exciting things shaping our cultural landscape is the current craft-beer boom.
CaptureFlorida has become the prime breeding grounds for some of the most delicious, complex, and insanely creative craft beers, gaining the attention of a larger national scene. Each of our major metropolises houses one or more substantial microbreweries, some of which are fully staffed warehouses, brewing dozens of unique batches.
What does all of this mean for you? Well, if you’re of age and you have an interest in this culinary art form, it’s time to brush up on both your palette and your knowledge of the process. As a Lakelander, you live right in the heart of the state with easy access to Florida’s arterial transportation routes. So, accompanied by our magazine’s trusty Taste Editor, Logan Crumpton, I took to the road to map out your guide to exploring the facilities that produce some of Florida’s finest craft beers that you’ve likely plucked from the grocery store or sampled at one of Lakeland’s bars or restaurants.
In the tradition of a good road trip, we’ll recommend some places to stop along the way for interesting things to see or do, as well as places to get a good bite to eat.
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Cigar City Brewing
3924 W. Spruce St., Tampa, FL 33607
Our first stop is arguably Florida’s most recognized brewery and quite possibly the poster child of how craft beer is growing at breakneck speed in our state. In just under six years of existence, CCB has won countless awards and medals, solidifying itself as not only a great independent American brewery but also constantly being voted as one of the top three breweries in the world.
And it’s only twenty-five miles away! Not to be missed is an extensive tour of the brewery itself. We were fortunate enough to be guided by Founder and Owner Joey Redner, a Florida native who started out not enjoying the beer that was made available to him. After taking trips to the West Coast and working a stint at the oldest craft brewery in Florida, Dunedin Brewing, he and his Head Brewmaster Wayne Wambles have changed the entire beer culture in Tampa Bay. Once inside the brewery, prepare to spend much time enjoying the core lineup as well as some remarkable one-offs for which CCB has been made famous, such as a collaboration with Terrapin Brewery called Southern Slice. The collaborative brew is a Dopplebock infused by way of a gigantic homemade “Randall” made with vanilla beans and nine hundred pounds of pecans.

Joey Redner, CEO

Joey Redner, CEO

Top pick with food pairing idea:
Their Humidor Series IPA aged in cedar, or the highly sought-after Tocobaga Red Ale, which is finally being made into cans, would pair perfectly with manchego stuffed piquillo peppers or smoked swordfish tacos with pickled jalapeno, from their very own brewpub just north of the flagship brewery. Or, you can find a rotating selection of CCBs beer at the Refinery, a Seminole Heights landmark which thrives on forward thinking, taking chances, and the evolution of dining.
(While you’re in town, check out: Tampa Museum of Art \\\ Ybor City (Cigar City) \\\ Big Cat Rescue)
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Swamp Head Brewery
3140 SW 42nd Way, Gainesville, FL 32608
DSC_1004The one and only issue with Swamp Head is finding the place. Gainesville tried to make it difficult by having two numbered streets directly parallel to each other. Aside from that, Swamp Head Brewery is perfectly located, just off 1-75 and a mile or so from the University of Florida’s main campus. We walked directly into the tasting room and were greeted with the calming scent of cypress wood as it lines the walls and is used to make up the bar and tables. We also were handed snifters of Darkwater IPA, which was voted best beer in Florida in 2011, a Black IPA that tightrope walks the line between porter and pale ale. There is a distinct mission Swamp Head emphasizes, which became evident as we spent time with Tap Room Manager Alex — that of letting nothing go to waste and of supporting anything local they can. One way is by donating their brewing leftovers to the University to feed the beef cattle, for instance. In the tasting room you must try a flight of their core five they serve year round, which includes Cottonmouth, a biscuity Belgian-style Wheat Bier that will fill your nostrils with the scent of freshly zested oranges and newly harvested hay. Swamp Head prides itself on quality control, holding the reins of every step of the process from brewing to packaging, making this charming brewery inherently Floridian.
Top pick with food pairing idea:
I would pack up a few growlers of Midnight Oil, a traditional Oatmeal Stout, which will wake you up from any haze with a powerfully hypnotic waft of espresso, similar to a freshly brewed Cafe Americano, caused by their cold-extraction process. Serve the Midnight Oil slightly chilled with warm fudgy chocolate cake and a scoop of vanilla-bean gelato as an end to a beer-paired dinner.
Where to eat:
You should always listen to the locals when it comes to finding the best places to eat. It doesn’t hurt that these two places proudly have Swamp Head on tap at all times. Alex suggests if you find yourself hungry for the best Gainesville has to offer, go to the Lunch Box for, well, lunch. For dinner, you have to make a stop at Blue Gill Quality Foods for contemporary Southern food put on a pedestal.
(While you’re in town, check out: Hippodrome State Theatre \\\ Florida Museum of National History \\\ Ichetucknee Springs State Park)
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Intuition Ale Works
720 King St., Jacksonville, FL 32204
DSC_1023Intuition Ale Works was the pioneer of transitioning to the ever more popular canning process in Florida, holding claim as the first when they began early in 2012. Then again, Bold City also holds the title as Jacksonville’s first craft brewery. When we arrived in Jacksonville, it was pandemonium. Intuition Ale Works was in the middle of their third year anniversary, and Bold City, which is within walking distance, was also having an in-house party, blocking off most of the culturally diverse Riverside district. That didn’t stop us from sampling some great beers. We were amazed at the selection we could choose from at Intuition. With around twenty taps flowing, we first enjoyed a Riverside Red Ale, reminiscent of New Belgium’s Fat Tire with a slightly crisper bite of malt and more hops coming through right up front. You must try whatever fruitful version is available of their Session Saison. The saison standing on its own is a perfectly balanced all day and everyday type beer with light body and just a hint of that grassy farmhouse funk and high effervescence levels. Combine that with an infusion of sweet cherries and we were all set.
Top pick with food pairing idea:
To cut the bourbon sort of alcoholly taste you get when you age beer in barrels, I would pair
it with a medium-rare, griddled, grass-fed beef burger, topped with chorizo, smashed sweet
plantain, melted provolone, and sriracha-cilantro mayo.
Where to eat:
Burrito Gallery, for yellow curry chicken burritos! After a night of sampling, nothing makes
one feel more complete than saddling up to the bar in a great diner. The Fox in the Avondale
district impressed with their food, and hit me with an eerily early ’90s sense of nostalgia.
Their “NAM” burger inspired our food pairing. Next door to The Fox, hit up Mojo No. 4 at
suppertime or even late night for “urban” bbq featuring our favorite part of the pig — smoky
rib tips.
(While you’re in town, check out: Tour the City on Sky Rail (free) \\\ Chamblin Bookmine \\\ Five Points)
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Tomoka Brewery
188 E. Granada Blvd, Ormond Beach, FL 32176
DSC_1054Initially this newcomer to the craft-brewing scene was not on our itinerary. Yet we decided to make a detour down the east coast to investigate the situation after numerous positive tales from friends who had already sampled some of their wares. Founded and run entirely by Peter Szunyogh and Jennifer Hawkins, we were given a lesson in hospitality with Peter’s stories of how the brewery came to be and why he shares empty tap space with only Florida-based breweries. He also schooled us on beer and food pairings, as he is a trained pastry chef. Tomoka was by far the smallest operation we toured, but that does not stop this team from pumping out high-flavored brews. They installed equipment to fit their unique needs of also being a full-service restaurant. We got a sneak preview on some future offerings, including a Buckwheat Double Bock, with touches of molasses that gave it a mild sweetness to cut through the strong lager. Of course, the buckwheat added an abundance of fresh, grassy tones to lighten things up. Peter also poured a deeply aromatic dark brown he affectionately called his easy-drinking stout. An apt description, as it was without question one of the smoothest stouts I’ve had. Too often you only can find drinkable stouts in the colder months. Well, Florida doesn’t have many of those, so it’s appropriate that this will be in the repertoire year round.
Top pick with food pairing idea:
As we were taught by Peter, beer actually is more compatible to accompany a cheese course, as it cleanses and scrubs the palate with the addition of carbonation, which wine lacks. Serve an aged cheddar, veiny blue, or even a stinky creamy brie with roasted nuts, dried fruit, and honey paired with the Buckwheat Double Bock.
Where to eat:
You should not pass up ordering one of Tomoka’s handmade pizzas. As lifelong Floridians, the only logical choice was a pizza topped with collard greens called “The Soul of the South.”
(While you’re in town, check out: Kayaking on the Tomoka River located in Tomoka State Park \\\ The “Loop” — one of Florida’s most scenic driving roads and trails)
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Cask & Larder
565 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park, FL 32789
DSC_1066Cask & Larder is on an entirely different plane than any other establishment that claims to be a brewpub or public house. It’s unfair how fantastic every single aspect of this operation is. The choice to make Cask & Larder the location of our finale caused me to yearn for another tour shortly down the line. The food is clearly Beard Award worthy, as they have concretely established themselves as serving upscale yet unpretentious Southern food of the highest caliber. With the reputation Brewmaster Ron Raike has among his contemporaries, you can’t argue as to Cask & Larder’s legitimacy. What makes Ron’s work so special is his mad scientist–like approach to imparting unconventional flavors while holding true to the traditional style of beer making he learned while studying extensively in Belgium. There really isn’t a tour per se to be had. However, if you plan ahead, you can reserve their private dining room which is surrounded by beer-making equipment. My suggestion is to find a comfortable seat in the bar, followed immediately by navigating your way through the thoughtfully prepared beer menu. A word of warning: They go through the varietals rather quickly, constantly trying new formulas and combinations. Do not be surprised if you don’t see the exact same beer twice. That isn’t a bad thing though, since, as they say, “Variety is, of course, the spice of life.” One beer that seems to be constant is the Lone Palm Golden Ale, which is a bright and crisp blonde that goes well with just about anything.
Top pick with food pairing idea:
I have found the Olde Southern Szechuan Wit a few times at C&L. It quickly became a contender as one of my all-time favorites, as it balances drinkability with complexity. Order a round of freshly shucked bivalves on the half shell from various oyster farming hotspots, with house-made classic mignonette and cocktail sauce. C&L even makes their own crackers! If you see rock shrimp on a menu, you order. C&L’s version is a wonderfully perplexing cross between cocktail and scampi, as it’s drenched in clarified butter and fresh, vibrant herbs. To really give your belt a nice workout after such an extravagant trip, end it with fried chicken-liver biscuits with Duke’s Mayo and pickled watermelon rind.
(While you’re in town, check out: East End Market \\\ the Enzian Theatre and the Florida Film Festival \\\ Orlando Museum of Art (OMA) \\\ Orlando Science Center)
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After looking back at the times had during the entire trip, a constant theme carried us from brewery to brewery. The word “collaboration” kept coming up in every conversation. There is a clear sense the Florida brewer is part of some unsaid sort of brotherhood, involving friendly competition used to make everyone smarter and better at the craft. The other glaring similarity noticed was that each brewery had such an intense longing to completely pour every ounce of Florida possible into every drop of beer. Which leads to the question, when are we getting one of these in the city of Lakeland? 
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