As you may know, I’m on a quest to review every brewery in Florida. Unfortunately, a large portion of the Sunshine State isn’t exactly conducive for a day trip to check out a few breweries. Tallahassee, for example, has five breweries but is a five-hour and forty-five-minute drive for me. So when one of my favorite Florida breweries invited me up for the 5th Annual Florida Tap Invitational held in our state capital of Tallahassee, I was ecstatic! The Proof Brewing Company started the craft beer craze in Tallahassee when they opened their doors in 2012. A year later, the husband and wife team of Byron and Angela Burroughs came up with the brilliant idea to have a festival based solely around Florida breweries. Now that’s a great idea, but to push the envelope a bit further, each brewery in attendance is required to bring at least two beers that are either one-offs or don’t go into distribution. Basically, each brewery is bringing only the good stuff. I’m talking 45 breweries, two cideries, and 102 delicious alcoholic beverages.
Tickets for this year’s festival, which was held on September 29th and 30th, fell into two levels. General admission tickets were $55 and included a food and beer pairing the night before the festival, entrance into the Florida Tap Invitational at 1:00pm, and unlimited samples at the festival. VIP Tickets were $100 and included everything above plus entrance into the festival an hour earlier, a 750ml bottle of ‘Royal Blood Line’ Imperial Stout (released to VIP ticket holders only), a plate of food at the festival, and a chance to try the ‘Coffee & Vanilla aged Royal Bloodline’. Either way, you look at it, both options are pretty amazing.
My trip to Florida’s Panhandle started around 9:45 Thursday morning after dropping my son off at school. Thankfully I didn’t face a single issue and arrived at my hotel in Tallahassee at 3:00pm. After checking in to the hotel I headed over to the GrassLands Brewing Co. They were the first of five brewery reviews I had scheduled while I was in town for the festival. I spent the next three hours trying the beer, touring the facility and talking with Gabe Grass who owns the brewery with his wife Saralynn. Three hours are typically longer than I spend reviewing a brewery, but the folks of Grasslands made for great conversation. I headed back to the hotel grabbing food from Whataburger on the way before calling it a night.
Friday morning I hit Denny’s before heading over to the Proof Brewing Company. I arrived at Proof around 12:15 to find a friend from Instagram already sitting at the bar. Lisa and I talked a bit about the upcoming festivities before I got to work on my review. Overall I could not have been more impressed with the beer and the facility. I asked around for Smitty who was my contact at the brewery and who had extended the invitation to me. After a quick hello, he headed back to business. All of the brewers and brewery reps were showing up for a pre-festival get-together and Smitty was running around preparing for the festival.
Through the grapevine, I learned that the Ology Brewing Company was having a couple special releases. I wasn’t scheduled to pay them a visit until Sunday, but I mean come on. Special releases! I arrived at Ology around 3:30 to find another Instagram buddy holding down the fort. Bryan was in town for the festival with his brother from Panama City. I also met Matt who was there representing the Tallahassee Beer Society (@TLHBeerSociety on Twitter and Instagram). The TLH Beer Society knows anything and about the Tallahassee beer scene and they took it upon themselves to show me around town. If you’re ever heading to Tally they are absolutely the ones to talk to about what’s happening in town. The first of the special releases was a 5% marshmallow milk stout called ‘Quantum Mallow’. I’m picky when it comes to milk stouts, but I enjoyed Quantum Mallow and its hint of marshmallow. The next special release was a 4% abv Berliner Weisse called ‘Straw-Barb Wall’ that was brewed with strawberries and rhubarb. Like everywhere else in Florida the fruited Berliner Weisse is pretty popular in Tallahassee and the ‘Straw-Barb Wall’ was a good example of one.
After a bit more small talk it was time to head over to the Lake Tribe Brewing Company. The brewery taproom is only open six and a half hours a week. That’s it! They focus on distribution more than serving in-house. Lake Tribe was definitely the smallest brewery in Tallahassee, but that doesn’t stop them from producing delicious beer. They brew a fantastic DIPA and seem to have their barrel aged sour game down pat. Lake Tribe is also where I met the founder of the TLH Beer Society, Danny. We had talked a bit about the Tallahassee beer scene before my trip up so it was nice to meet him.
From there I followed Danny over to the Madison Social and Township, where the food and beer pairing was being held. On arrival, we were issued our cups and tickets for food and activities. On top of the beer and food pairings, the tickets were also used for the carnival-like beer games. After trying a sample of Proof’s gold-winning ‘Soci-Ale’ it was time for some food.
The first pairing was a Chicken Pastor with Peach and Pineapple salsa paired with the Proof Madison ‘Soci-Ale’.
Next up were jalapeno blackberry Buffalo wings paired with Proofs ‘Mango Wit’. After the wings came a Pork Belly Slider on a steamed bun with pickled veggies and hoisin glaze paired with Proof‘s ‘EightFive-O Pale Ale’.
Last but not least were meatballs paired with Proof’s ‘Lager’. All of the food was delicious and the beers paired with them were spot on. After a few hours, I called it quits and headed back to the hotel for the night.
Saturday morning, after another stop at Denny’s, I hopped a ride from Lyft and arrived at Proof at about 11:45 to get in the VIP line. After ID’s and wristbands were exchanged, tickets were scanned, and we were in the gates at noon with mini snifter in hand. My first stop was the Proof tent to try out the ‘Coffee Vanilla Royal Blood Line’ Imperial Stout. Coming in at 12% this bad boy had VIP written all over it. Coffee and vanilla for days!
I spent the next 45 minutes or so at the Proof tent trying everything they had to offer. A number of which were absolutely delicious variants of their 4.5% ‘Evil Kiss Berliner Weisse’. The ‘Blood Orange Hibiscus’, ‘Blue Raspberry’, ‘Kiwi Wild Strawberry’ on cask, ‘Black Currant Aronia’, and ‘Key Lime’ were each better than the last.
My favorite of the bunch was the Black Currant Aronia of which I had a couple of pours. It was almost chewy and reminded me a bit of a puree. The 6.4% ‘Peach Mango Coconut Tropical Uprising’ N.E. Style IPA was peach forward with a mango backing and just a hint of coconut. The 8% ‘Oaked Creatures in the Dark’ on Cask was a nice addition to the already tasty base version of Creatures.
The last beer I tried from the Proof tent was the ‘Red Wine BA Litany of Angels’ aged on Cherries. It was a 9% Belgian Strong Ale with a hint of cherries and a lovely red wine backing. I’m always a sucker for a beer aged in wine barrels. In between just about every beer, I downed a snifter of water. Proof smartly placed kegs of water throughout the festival grounds. I really didn’t see anyone staggering during the fest, so the water certainly seemed to do its job.
The Hidden Springs Ale Works table was my next stop for their ‘Brawndo, The Thirst Mutilator’ Gatorade Gose. If water isn’t your thing, this Key Lime Gose brewed with electrolytes will certainly help to hydrate you.
JDub’s Brewing Co. was up next and it didn’t matter if I wanted to try their offerings or not because their Sales Rep Jorge is absolutely the most enthusiastic person I’ve ever met. There is no way to not get sucked into what he’s selling. The 11.1% ‘Siesta Key Rum Barrel Aged Imperial Stout’ he was hawking was damn good. A lot of times rum BA stouts taste ‘off’ to me, but this one had everything going right for it. It was like a sweet chocolatey rum ball. A quick slide to the right brought me to the J. Wakefield Brewing table. Alex and company were serving their fruit punch Berliner ‘Haterade’ and a lemon and lime Berliner called ‘Troll So Hard’. I had tried both before and just like in the past, they both hit their flavor profiles on point. I told myself I wouldn’t try anything I had already had before, but it’s hard to pass up a stout or Berliner from Wakefield. Even though I was scheduled to pay the Deep Brewing Company a visit the day after the festival I still wanted to see what they were all about. Owner and Head Brewer Ryan LaPete was manning the table next to a deep water dive helmet which had been turned into a tap beer dispenser.
He was pouring his 10.2% Belgian Tripel, ‘Holy Spear It’ and ‘Sea Dragon Dragonfruit Gose’. The Gose was spot on with a delicious sweet tart mix of Passionfruit and Dragon fruit with a salty dry finish. The Tripel, on the other hand, seemed to be missing something for me. It just didn’t have that alcoholic spicy bite that I’ve come to love from the style. In saying that, I did enjoy it more the next day at the brewery, but it was still missing that special character for me. I have a feeling my palate had taken a wrecking from all of the Berliners I had tried to that point because I heard a number of times how much people really enjoyed the beer.
Calusa Brewing was up next with their ‘Imperial Barrel Aged Dissonance Breakfast Brown’. Dissonance comes in at a very healthy 11.5% and gives off flavors of bourbon, vanilla, sweet chocolate, cinnamon, and coffee. It’s really a fantastic imperial breakfast brown ale that I need to find a bottle of somewhere. One thing you can always count on when it comes to Angry Chair Brewing is their ‘A’ game. The taps were manned by co-founder Ryan Dowdle, who brought along his 11% ‘Rocky Road Imperial Stout’ and 4% ‘Apricot Berliner Weisse’. Angry Chair, like Wakefield, is another one that stops traffic when it comes to Stouts and Berliners. Rocky Road is a sweet, chewy orgy of marshmallows, vanilla, and chocolate with a nutty finish. I love Apricots and the ‘Apricot Berliner Weisse’ did not let me down. There was an enjoyable amount of apricot with just enough tartness to even everything out.
Arkane Aleworks was up next and I believe this was my first time trying anything from them. If their ‘Gimme Swelter Berliner Weisse’ is any indication of what they have to offer, I want more, please. It was slightly tart with juicy mango up front and a slight Habanero bite on the backend. I love when a beer has just the right amount of heat.
My sleeper beer of the day came from the Swamp Head Brewery. They brought Peat Dunwoody’s Somoa Cookie Wee Heavy to the festival. The Scotch Ale is a favorite style of mine, so I was excited to see that a brewery actually brought one. This wasn’t just any Scotch Ale either. Swamp Head took their base beer, which is already aged in 20 y/o bourbon barrels, and threw in chocolate and coconut. Oh My God was this beer delicious! It tasted like the cookie, but with the malty bourbon sweetness of the base. From what I understand, this is brewed only in small batches. ‘Pete Dunwoody’s Samoa Cookie’ needs to be bottled and when that happens, I’ll be driving up to Gainesville for the release!
The Saltwater Brewery and Head Brewer Dustin Jeffers brought ‘Hazelnut Coffee Mayday’ and ‘Swags Spa Day’. Spa Day was a 3.7% Golden Ale brewed with cucumber and mint. Think of the cucumber water you’ve had at the spa and throw in mint and you get the idea. The cucumber and mint played off each other quite well. ‘Hazelnut Coffee Mayday’ comes in at 9% and is a hazelnut coffee drinkers dream come true. This beer punches you in the face with hazelnut and coffee and yes, that’s a good thing!
The Red Cypress Brewery brought a 7% Saison called Wild Ones: Foeder #1. It’s oak aged and fermented with Brettanomyces for a year. You get a nice earth and oaky funk with a slight tart.
Oyster City Brewing was up next with their bourbon barrel aged Brown Ale, ‘Midnight at the Oasis’. There’s a smooth bourbon bite with roasty malts, coffee, and vanilla. It was an easy drinker at 11%.
Odd Breed Wild Ales co-founders Matt Manthe and Daniel Naumko brought their ‘Prickly Pear Farmhouse Ale’ and ‘Viognier Barrel Aged Wild Gold’. The Prickly Pear is 6% and aged in French oak barrels before being refermented with Prickly Pears. There is some serious barnyard funk with a slight fruity tartness at the end. I wanted a bit more of the fruit to match up with the funk though. The Viognier is aged with their house wild yeast and souring bacteria for 11 months in Viognier wine barrels sourced out of California. The result is easily the sourest beer of the day. Oaky goodness bursting with flavors of tropical fruit and citrus. Odd Breed is scheduled to open later this year in Pompano Beach. They will be exclusively brewing fermented and oak aged ales. Currently, they still have openings in their bottle club. If you’re a fan of sours this is the club for you!
One of four founders and Head Brewer, John Denny, was on hand to pour for the First Magnitude Brewing Co. John was pouring a ‘Vanilla Black Rye Ale’ and a ‘Passionfruit Sour Pale Ale’ with Mosaic hops. The ‘Vanilla Black’ was the perfect mix of chocolate, vanilla, roasty malts, and a spicy rye kick. I love what rye does to a beer when it’s used correctly. The ‘Passionfruit Sour’ played well with the fruitiness from the Mosaic hops with just enough of a sour character. I really loved First Magnitude when I reviewed them last year and I certainly enjoyed both of these offerings as well. If you haven’t checked out Gainesville’s craft beer scene, you’re definitely missing out!
The Tampa Bay Brewing Company’s ‘Navin’s Sorrow’ was my last beer of the festival. At 12% Navin’s is a bourbon barrel aged split between an Imperial Stout and a Barleywine with raspberries and salted caramel added. Both the raspberries and caramel came through with a chewy roasty dark cocoa. It was a delicious way to end the 5th Annual Florida Tap Invitational.
While finishing my last beer, a couple of waters, and a BBQ pork sandwich with mac and cheese (part of VIP ticket) I hung out in Proof’s taproom watching the Seminoles squeak out a win. I was supposed to join Bryan and a few others for a bottle share later that night, but I was still up in the air on whether I was going or not. I was scheduled to review Ology Brewing at noon on Sunday before heading over to Deep Brewing for their review. After the game was over I ordered a Lyft and headed back to the hotel. It didn’t take long to decide that I was going to grab Chick-fil-A for dinner and call it a night.
I woke up Sunday morning and checked out of the hotel. I headed over to Denny’s once again for breakfast. What can I say? I’m easy. After eating and catching about an hour of my Miami Dolphins crapping it up in London, I headed over to the Ology Brewing Co. Being that it was noon on a Sunday, there were only a few other people at the brewery, which made knocking out my review pretty easy. It also helped to have the primary owner and Head Brewer, Nick Walker, on hand. I finished up in an hour and a half, which is record time for me to complete a review. Nick asked if I wanted to try the apricot and peach sour that is currently in barrels. That was an offer I could not refuse. Forty pounds of each fruit went into the beer. Forty pounds! It was delicious and luckily for you folks in Tally, Nick says it will be his first bottle release. Do not miss that release! Trust me.
I finished up my flight and headed over to the Deep Brewing Company to review my 5th and final brewery on the trip. I knew that Deep was releasing ‘Holy Spear It’ for their first ever bottle release so I wasn’t surprised to see a line along the building when I pulled up. Come to find out the line wasn’t for the bottle release but for the Tally Mac Shack (@TallyMacShack on Instagram and Twitter) food truck grand opening. There were people who had been literally standing in line for two hours to get a taste. Unfortunately for a large portion of them, the Tally Mac Shack ran out of food. They literally went through 60 pounds of cheese!
I found a spot at the bar, ordered my first flight and reintroduced myself to Owner and Head Brewer, Ryan LaPete. Oh, and did I mention that Deep was also having a Tap Invitational hangover party as well? Needless to say, the taproom was pretty much packed. After an hour or so, the crowd thinned out enough for Ryan to take some time out, from doing literally everything, to show me around the brewery. Dreading the fact that I had a five-hour drive ahead of me, I took my time sampling Ryan’s wares. For only being open a little over a year his beers were quite enjoyable.
Around 6:30 or so I figured it was time to start thinking about heading home. I asked the gentlemen behind the bar (Clayton, Jesse, and Will) for a good place to catch a bite to eat before heading out-of-town and after commiserating for a few minutes they came up with the Grub Burger Bar.
I headed over and had a pretty darn good burger and fries. By 8:30 I was on the road heading home. I took my time and hit a couple of thunderstorms on the way so I didn’t arrive till almost 2:30 in the morning. This was the longest I had been away from my wife and son so I was quite happy to be home and in my own bed again.
Overall, I really enjoyed the Florida Tap Invitational. One of the great things about it being held in the panhandle of Florida is with no cities in the general vicinity, you don’t get a lot of people who travel to Tallahassee for the festival. With only about 800 people in attendance, I didn’t have to wait in a line longer than two minutes. The festival set up was spread out enough to where the event didn’t feel crowded at all. One of the many things I loved about the festival is that breweries either send brewery representatives, who know what they are talking about or the brewers/owners themselves. Part of the reason for this is Proof not only purchases the first two kegs a brewery brings, but they also purchase the hotel rooms for each breweries hotel stay. You can feel that everyone who is pouring wants to be there as part of the event. The one thing that stuck out above all else for me, regarding the festival, is that Florida has the Berliner (Florida) Weisse game on lock! If I had to dig up one complaint about the festival it would be that 31 of the 102 beers were either IPA’s or Pale Ales. That is quite a hefty chunk. There were plenty of beer styles to go around even if there wasn’t a single Barleywine in the bunch and only three Porters. But I digress. I really have to commend the Proof Brewing Company for putting on an A+ festival!
Tallahassee has turned itself into a nice little craft beer town which I just love to see. I can’t wait to experience how the craft atmosphere changes by the time I head back up next year. I’ll see you then!
Here are a few crowd shots: