Wednesday, March 8
Green Bench Mead and Cider Spotlight
Earlier this week, Green Bench Brewing Co. in St. Petersburg took a mid-week break from the suds for this year's Tampa Bay Beer Week to put the craft brewery's young mead and cider program front and center.
The mead and cider branch of Green Bench was launched in 2015, and its first creations were released to the public in January 2016. Since then, the crew has expanded the line in lots of interesting directions, crafting their own takes on lesser-known varieties of cider.
The tap lineup included cyser, a mead made with apples; pyment, a mead made with wine grapes; and perry, a cider made with pears. There were also several beer-inspired ciders, including a hopped cider and a farmhouse cider made with yeast.
Dubbed 'Burgatory and The Darkest Timeline, two special meads were released in limited batches of around 200 bottles, and they went fast. Both feature Florida orange blossom honey. 'Burgatory is caramelized before fermentation and then aged on orange peel, while The Darkest Timeline is fermented on tart fruits.
Other meads were available in pours from bottles or on tap, and some of the names sounded like they came straight from a Bob’s Burgers menu board — like Kumquat What May, a collaboration mead with Cigar City Cider & Mead, and Ow! My Mangos!, a mead with a peppery punch from popular Michigan meadery B. Nektar.
What I tried: Lucid Poet, a Green Bench mead made with orange blossom honey and New-World Chardonnay grapes, is delicious and musty, with orange zest that really shines through. Cranberry cider Bog Standard is tart and on the low end of sweet, a good choice for any sour beer admirer. I finished with a dragon fruit habanero cider, deep red in color with characteristics of a mulled wine.
The ciders were all tasty and interesting, but for me the event lacked the interactive aspect of some of the EDGE District brewery's other gatherings; this came off like just another night at the bar. I would've liked to find out more about the story behind the mead and ciders, which the team at Green Bench obviously put a lot of time, effort and research into creating.
Thursday, March 9
Bring on the Funk! A Celebration of American Wild Ales
Independent Bar and Cafe in Tampa always manages to curate solid sour beer events for Beer Week; sour and farmhouse-style lovers were delighted last year, for instance, with beers from California's Almanac Beer Co. and Cascade Brewing in Oregon. This year’s evening of wild ales was on par, with a visit from Michigan-based Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales and Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project of Colorado.
With beer in tow, representatives from both breweries flew in for the Thursday gathering. Jauton Burke-Gupta with Crooked Stave was amazed all the bottles survived the plane flight.
Beers were available on draft and for sampling from the bottle. Crooked Stave’s offerings included blueberry, raspberry, apricot and wild sage sours, and Jolly Pumpkin served up the best of its sour farmhouse ales. Bottle pours from farmhouse and sour aficionados Jester King Brewery out of Texas were also on hand.
Prices for a draft were a little higher than usual at the taproom, ranging from $6 to $12, but it was worth it to try beers not often seen around these parts.
Iain Kyle with Jolly Pumpkin travels about once a month to beer events around the country.
“I love the travel, and meeting people and talking about what makes the beer,” Kyle said.
He explained that Jolly Pumpkin uses the same strain of Belgian yeast for all but one of their beers. It’s really in the open fermentation process that the character of the beer is developed.
Burke-Gupta and Kyle hung out on the patio by a table full of bottles, answering questions and swapping stories with attendees throughout the night.
What I tried: Crooked Stave Petite Sour Blueberry tastes as you'd expect from its name, and was one of the best fruited beers I’ve tried. Jolly Pumpkin Bam Biére is funky, and the weirdly stylized character portraits on the brewery’s bottles are fun to behold.