Maine and Florida are two of the most hopping (and hoppy) states in America’s white-hot craft beer scene, but also a study in contrasts. We sample some highlights.
The Maine craft beer scene dates back to the early ’90s, with legendary brewers like Allagash and Atlantic Brewing Company doing high-quality spins on familiar formulas. In Florida, the scene is relatively new, and innovators from Cigar City Brewing to Dunedin Brewery are reinventing the classic and having fun while doing so.
The common feature among the 14 breweries around Tampa Bay and nine around Penobscot Bay and Bar Harbor is that they’re brewing some of the finest craft beer in America, at a combined clip of 400,000-plus barrels per year. Here are the brews and breweries to take note of a taste from both regions.
Most Valuable Player
Florida: Cigar City Brewing
Ever since their first gold medal at Denver’s legendary Great American Beer Festival in 2009, Cigar City Brewing has been a buzzed-about mecca for the fervent craft community. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more legendary brewpub than the Tampa icon, known for its adventurous twists on classic styles, like the cool, refreshing Cucumber Saison and the pleasantly sour, hop-forward Key Lime IPA.
Maine: Atlantic Brewing Company
A fixture in the state for more than two decades, both the brewery’s staying power and its best offerings are deeply rooted in Bar Harbor. Atlantic Brewing Company Owner Doug Mafucci may have vowed never to brew the iconic Bar Harbor Blueberry Ale again after his first sticky foray into blenders full of berries and beer in 1993, but the outrageous popularity of the batch changed his mind.
Best Gateway Beer
Florida: Banyan Blonde Ale, St. Pete Brewing Co.
A light Belgian-style blonde that clocks in at 5% ABV, the Banyan is a perfect honey-tasting beverage for those easing into the deep, malty pool of craft brews available near Tampa Bay.
Maine: Summer Golden Ale, Andrew’s Brewing Company
With just a hint of bitter hops to balance the proceedings, this is a classic summer beer that’s smooth to the very last drop. Take a six-pack home to keep you company on a blazing hot day spent mowing the lawn. It’s also a good option for warm, humid evenings.
Best Out of the Barrel
Florida: Saison De Banc Vert, Green Bench Brewing Co.
The US Open Beer Championship gold medalist for 2014, this grassy (in a good way!) saison has a subtly spicy flavor that’s welcome after a long day spent soaking up the sun at nearby beaches.
Maine: Macfindlay Scotch Ale, Marshall Wharf Brewing Company
Few do barrel-aged beers better than Marshall Wharf, and few taste better than this smoky ale that matures in bourbon barrels.
Most Unique Ingredients
Florida: The Moon Reflects On Hibiscus, Dunedin Brewery
Tart hibiscus is more popular in Belgian-style brews, but the uncommonly used flower melds with the warm, lemony spice of coriander and the citrus smoothness imparted by orange peels to make this Dunedin Brewery offering phenomenal.
Maine: Pemaquid Oyster Stout, Marshall Wharf Brewing Co. OR Saison dell’Aragosta, Oxbow Brewery
Ten dozen oysters bagged and suspended by the Belfast brewer over this stout during brewing gives the output a hint of brine to go with the familiar notes of coffee and chocolate flavor in a traditional stout. The concept sounds funky, but the end result is anything but.
If you’re more of a shellfish fan, you won’t want to miss the limited-run of the Saison dell’Aragosta, an Oxbow collaboration with legendary Italian brewer Birrificio del Ducato that features tart notes alongside the salty sweetness of lobsters boiled in the beer mash.
Best Flagship Beer
Florida: Jai Alai IPA, Cigar City Brewing
This one’s the toast of IPA aficionados the world over for its excellent craftsmanship. The burly, hoppy Jai Alai is one of Cigar City’s more straightforward offerings, and at 7.5% ABV, it achieves a perfect balance between drinkability and potency.
Maine: Bar Harbor Real Ale, Atlantic Brewing Company
Real talk for the Real Ale: You can drink several of these incredibly smooth, heady brown ales without noticing you’ve done so, so beware. This is the perfect pint to enjoy while catching an equally enjoyable Bar Harbor sunset over Frenchman’s Bay.
Best Beer Tour
Florida: 3 Daughters Brewing Company
Located in the easy-to-explore St. Petersburg Warehouse Arts District, this $10 tour runs Monday through Saturday, gives you a chance to sip tasty brews like the Brown Pelican Dunkelweizen and is best followed by an 18-hole round of mini-golf located right on the brewery grounds.
Maine: Atlantic Brewing Company
Located just miles from Acadia National Park in a 10-acre farmhouse, the brewery offers free tours, plenty of chances to sample its varied brews, and proximity to a fine meal at Mainely BBQ across the street.
Most Potent Brew
Florida: Pit Boss Triple IPA, Pair o’ Dice Brewing
With sweetness and spicy hops to spare, plus a 13% ABV punch, the Pair o’Dice Brewing’s Pit Boss is ideal for those who like their beers bold, aggressive, and with a bet-it-all-on-black mentality to throwing inhibitions to the wind.
Maine: Sexy Chaos, Marshall Wharf Brewing Co.
This Russian imperial stout is a tough one to get your hands on because it’s brewed but once a year, but the smokiness of oak chips, sultry vanilla notes, and an 11.5% ABV make this aptly named Marshall Wharf Brewing Co. beer worth the long, luxurious sips.
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