Florida’s Panhandle

SONY DSCThis past week, my family and I were offered an amazing deal on a condo for a week in Destin, Florida (Thanks Chuck!). On super short notice, we decided to go for it and loaded up the family. It was nice to get away for a week and do some beer exploring in Florida’s panhandle. We were way too North to get down to Hunahpu’s Day at Cigar City in Tampa, but from what I’ve read, I didn’t miss much.

One of the first things that I noticed, is that craft beer is not that prevalent in “typical” restaurants. The place across from our resort, Whale’s Tail (great name!), had a pretty terrible beer selection. Bottles of Yuengling Lager (and Light!) were their top shelf selection. But, I guess when you own a restaurant right on Miramar Beach, people don’t expect to rock out with to some Jimmy Buffett (shudder!) and drink an Imperial IPA or a heavy stout. But hell, there were only two days that got above the 50’s while we were there, so that would have suited me. The second thing I noticed is how prevalent Sweetwater is down there, except for Whale’s Tail, I guess. Even the food truck we ate at in Seaside carried 420. Nice!

The night we arrived in Destin, I went out to grab some groceries at Publix and hit up Chan’s Wine World (Thanks Jon for the tip!). They had a spectacular beer selection. I really could have spent a ton of money here. I stocked up the fridge with a 4-pack of Terrapin Moo-Hoo Chocolate Milk Stout (Since we now know that they’re not officially coming to Kentucky YET…right, Mr. King???), a 6-pack of Straight to Ale Monkeynaut IPA cans (for beach consumption), and 2 bombers: Lagunitas Cappucino Stout and a 2014 Sweetwater Happy Ending Imperial Stout. That’ll do me for a week, right? The Monkeynaught clocks in at 7.4% and is a great IPA. If you haven’t had the Moo-Hoo, you’re missing out on what *really* tastes like a big ol’ chocolate milk (with the added bonus of alcohol!). At press time, I hadn’t opened the bombers, but I had the Happy Ending last year and remember that it was superb. Maybe a gift for the next podcast?

One day, we decided to head West towards Fort Walton Beach and coming over Brooks Bridge, it was like coming over the hill to Mecca. I saw a big banner that said “MICROBREWERY!”. Honey, stop the car!

Props Craft Brewery is located in a nondescript strip mall near a Publix Supermarket. I went in, excited to fill my brand new plastic 64oz growler from Taproom Supply (Thanks Brent!) with some good local beer. I asked the bartender if they filled growlers that weren’t purchased from the brewery, as some states have weird laws about breweries and growlers. She looked at me funny and asked what size my growler was. “Uh, 32 ounces”, I responded incorrectly, because I’m used to calling plastic growlers 32 oz. since that’s what I’ve always had. She replied, “I’m gonna have to go ask someone if we can fill that, I’ve never seen one like that”. By the time the owner came up, I realized my mistake and told him that it was 64 oz. He then told me that due to Florida liquor laws, they can’t fill 64 oz. growlers. Only 32 oz. and 128 oz. (a whole gallon!!). That’s how you buy MILK, not BEER, you crazy man! They can sell me TWO 32 oz. growlers (to equal 64 oz. if you don’t know your math), but they can’t fill a vessel that contains 64 ounces of liquid. Makes PERFECT sense. What. The. Hell? Talk about your weird growler laws. Some people on Facebook pointed me to this story about how Florida brewers are trying to “legalize” 64 oz. growlers. Seriously…that shit’s ILLEGAL! According to our pal, Rick Stidham, a Florida native, this bill would “also would prohibit brewery taprooms from serving any beer that was not brewed on-premises, and from selling any packaged beer for on-premises consumption. “…to promote competition between breweries,” they say.”

After talking shop with the owner for a bit about the beer scene down in these parts, I finally asked if I could try a few samples (for research!). I asked him what their best beers were, and he let me sample the Prop Oil Porter, which was a great Porter with good body not quite as thick as oil and it had loads of maltiness character. I also sampled the Rye of the Tiger, which was interesting, but not my cup of tea. Then, I tried the Flying Coffin IPA. We have a winner. Fill up my 32 oz. growler, that I had to purchase thankyouverymuch, with that. But please don’t give me 32.5 oz. I don’t want to get arrested with that much beer. I really enjoyed this balanced IPA and will definitely make this little brewery a stop the next time I’m down here. Great people and great beer.

We headed further West to Pensacola for some museum action, and we pulled into a parking place in this cool downtown area. I get out of the car, and low and freakin’ behold, we parked *right* in front of Pensacola Bay Brewery. It’s fate, I tell you. Has to be. I told the family to have fun and to pick me up when they’re finished at the museums. BUT, the place wasn’t open yet. Screw you, fate! As we finished up learning about the history of Pensacola, I stopped in to study their beers. The place was pretty busy for 1:30pm.

The bartender and her tiny little chihuahua let me sample a few beers as I talked to the guy next to me who had the sampler. He mentioned that he liked the ESB the best, and that you don’t see that very often these days. I sampled that, and he was right, it was spot on, style-wise. I also sampled the Banyan Brown Ale, which was nutty, with some caramel notes. I chose the Lighthouse Porter to go in my newly purchased kick-ass swing top 32 oz. Growler. This beer was not that dark in color, it looked like a brown ale, but sure tasted like a porter. It clocked in at 6.1% and had a great malty flavor with some coffee notes. Great beer!

While I didn’t see it on the board, the Black Treasure Imperial Porter looked like a winner. It’s aged in whiskey barrels – Jack Daniel’s perhaps? According to their website, it’s surprisingly only 6.1%. I assume the ABV goes up a bit after they take it out of the barrels. I’ll add this one to my wish list for next time.

On the way back to Destin, we stopped at McGuire’s Irish Pub, on a friend’s recommendation. This enormous place had some very touristey elements to it, complete with a gift shop, Cracker Barrel style, but the food was decent and the beer was pretty excellent. The waitress recommended the ribs (at an Irish place? Really?) and the Irish Pale Ale. I honestly wasn’t that impressed with either. The Irish Pale Ale tasted like a light beer. It had very little hop character and was pretty watery. The ribs were just a vehicle for barbecue sauce (I should have ordered them dry). My lovely dinner companion (the one that was over 21) went with the Irish Stout and Corned Beef and Cabbage – much more traditional Irish fare. She let me taste the stout, which was poured through their nitro tap, and it was excellent. Smoky, dark and creamy…perfect! The stout was the second beer I ordered. They bottle their Irish Red, which I didn’t try, but if they bottled that Stout, it would be in my beer fridge right now.

We headed back home after this long much needed vacation, and while filling up at a backwoods Alabama gas station, I brushed past the beer aisle. I saw some Good People IPA cans on the shelf next to mounds of Natural Light. One last beer purchase…

Florida Beer Reviews
Travel column about the beer scene in the panhandle of Florida.

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