Weekend in Review: To Florida and back

This past Labor Day weekend was an interesting one: we traveled to Florida to celebrate my wife’s grandmother’s 90th birthday, staying at a resort in Palm Beach (definitely not a regular experience for me) with the rest of my wife’s family, and generally getting away from it all. (I didn’t even take the computer, though I had my smartphone.) Of course this meant missing The Little Woody, but I was still able to seek out some beer experiences during our travels.

Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of Florida: it’s hot and humid, there are a lot of bugs, there’s too much urban sprawl, and it’s largely a beer wasteland (with a growing number of exceptions, of course). Worse, resorts tend to overlook beer even as they offer an expansive wine and cocktail list, and this one was mostly the same in that regard: a lot of Budweiser, Bud Light, Heineken, Michelob Ultra, Coors Light… you get the picture.

Stella Artois on the beach in Florida

But, I’m happy to say it wasn’t all dreary: between the various airports and Florida itself, there was beer to be found

Traveling from Central Oregon to Florida is somewhat intensive and makes for long days: some 14 hours each way, going to Florida on Thursday and coming home on Monday. The legs of the outbound flights included stops in Denver and Houston, and coming back we routed through Atlanta and Salt Lake City. Denver International Airport is of course dominated by New Belgium Brewing and Flat Tire Amber Ale, though we arrived in the morning so I skipped any beer stops. I did at least poke my head into the New Belgium Hub in the B terminal and saw a relatively full line-up of New Belgium’s beers available.

(There also a Boulder Beer Tap House in another terminal, but we weren’t anywhere near there.)

Houston International Airport is one of those that doesn’t have any local brewery represented in the airport that I could see. However, Texas is Shiner country, so we stopped for lunch and I enjoyed a tall mug of Shiner Bock with BBQ beef brisket sliders.

SweetWater Draft House in the Atlanta airport

Traveling home (on Monday, Labor Day) was more fruitful: Atlanta International Airport in particular has three Sam Adams Brew Houses, a Budweiser Brewhouse, and most importantly, two SweetWater Draft Houses—one of which was directly across from our departing gate (which we only discovered after the fact). SweetWater is native to Atlanta and they are well represented in the Atlanta airport. We stopped for lunch, and in addition to the tasters that the bartender pulled for me (not on a taster/sampler tray, though—he was nice enough to give me shot glass-sized tastes for free), I had a pint of the seasonal LowRYEder IPA and the Blue (a light ale flavored with blueberries).

SweetWater Draft House tasters

The LowRYEder was excellent, malty and spicy from the rye malt with a solid, earthy-spicy hop bitterness that was floral and fruity like a west coast variety. The Blue was similarly tasty, with the blueberry flavor being subtle but very nicely handled.

SweetWater Draft House beer menu

Of course I could just as easily have enjoyed any of the other beers I sampled: the 420 Extra Pale Ale, the IPA, the Georgia Brown, and the Exodus Porter.

Salt Lake City International Airport doesn’t exactly inspire a lot of beer confidence seeing as Utah is a “3.2 state.” (That is, all beers brewed for consumption must be 3.2% alcohol by weight, which is 4% by volume.) However, we discovered the best airport beer stop of them all: the Vino Volo Ale House. Not only did they have a good wine list and food menu, but they offer a nice variety of Utah craft beers (all 4% abv, naturally) on draft, and even more that you can buy by the bottle (which interestingly can be higher alcohol, but have to be consumed on the premises).

Vino Volo beer flight

I’ll dedicate a post just to this find, but suffice it to say I had two “beer flights” (which consist of any three 3.5 ounce tasters) for $6 each, which gave me a nice overview of some Utah beers I may otherwise never see: Wasatch Apricot Hefeweizen and Pumpkin Ale, Desert Edge Latter Day Stout, Bohemian Viennese Lager, Squatters Full Suspension Pale Ale, and Red Rock Amber Ale. All session beers in the truest sense of the word.

While in Florida, I mentioned that the resort we stayed at had the usual array of corporate macro-brewed beers, many of the AB-InBev variety. When in Rome: my two go-to beers around the resort were Sam Adams Boston Lager (the one consistent craft beer nod) and Stella Artois because… well, just because. Sometimes you just cannot beat a cold Stella while sitting on a hot beach, you know? That’s the picture at the top of this post.

However, craft beer fortune did smile on me while at the resort: the one bar we frequented had Cigar City Jai Alai IPA available in bottles! This was my first taste of this beer and I’m happy to report that I was not disappointed—resiny, hoppy beer that seemed to have oaky spiciness, with a floral, fruity nose. Very, very nice and nearly an Imperial IPA (at 7.5% abv). And a huge breath of fresh air at the resort!

Jai Alai IPA

Finally, there is a brewery in that part of Florida: Brewzzi in the City Place mall in West Palm Beach. This is part of a small chain of (two) brewpubs that remind me of the Ram in Oregon, or Rock Bottom: as much a sports bar as brewpub. But on Friday, our first full day, we visited with my wife’s aunt and had lunch there. We were all pleased with our meals and I found the beers to be tasty and drinkable.

Brewzzi beer sampler

I’ll have a more detailed writeup of Brewzzi posted soon but it’s worth noting that this is a nice craft beer stop and is the only brewery in Palm Beach (“West” or otherwise).

As nice as it was to be on vacation, I’m glad to be back where there’s ample amounts and access to craft beer!

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