Kids, cancer, beards and breweries

cigar city beards-001

Some of the crew from Cigar City.

Staff members from three Tampa Bay area breweries are sacrificing something near and dear for a noble cause: These gents are shaving their beards and/or heads to raise money for the Pediatric Cancer Institute, a Tampa-based nonprofit that focuses on funding research that will lead to the elimination of pediatric cancer worldwide.

The three wise guys from Barley Mow.

The three wise guys from Barley Mow.

But there’s a problem. None of the breweries has yet reached its fundraising goal for the Cut for the Cure Charity Challenge.  and the campaigns started a few weeks ago. Here is where they  stand, as of this writing on March 25, 2015. (Click on the brewery name to donate and to find out more information):

Rodney Sedillo, the hippiest of the Tangent Brewing team.

Rodney Sedillo, the hippiest of the Tangent Brewing team.

But, Gerard, are you going to put YOUR money where your mouth is?

Good question. I’ll try to find some wiggle room in my budget to make a monetary donation. But here is what I know that I can do.

As a supporter of and advocate for the Florida craft beer community, I would like to see  all three of the participating breweries reach their fundraising goals by the event.

If that happens, I shall join the teams at the Cigar City brewery on April 9, 2015, and contribute my facial fuzz to the cause. Granted, my goatee is not as impressive as some of the other chin hair headed for the floor, but I’ve grown quite fond of it. It’s likely been close to 15 years since I’ve been clean-shaven – very briefly – but if it helps children win battles against cancer, there is no question that it’s worth it.

And anyone familiar with the craft brewing industry knows how important beards are to its mystique – Heck, Rogue Ales in Oregon brewed a beer a few years ago that used yeast harvested from a brewer’s beard.

Circa age 13. My beard didn't come in for another year.

Circa age 13. My beard didn’t come in for another year.

So go to those links above and support the brewers, get them to their goals, and find out why I rarely have been sans beard for most of my adult life.


P.S. According to the charity rating site, the Pediatric Cancer Foundation is rated at 98.60 out of 100 for Financial and 100 of 100 for Accountability & Transparency. It’s such a great group.


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A cigar and a beer can be a pleasurable pairing

Beer in Florida photo by Gerard WalenAficionados of craft beer and of fine cigars have much in common. Both enjoy relaxing with a quality product created for adults and socializing with others who share their passion. They make product choices based on taste, appearance and craftsmanship.

Most have a go-to brand or style, but they are not averse to trying a new product based on reputation and recommendations from friends.

There are folks out there who believe tobacco in any form should never dance upon the same palate with craft beer, claiming that the smoke would dull the taste buds and mask the more subtle flavors of the brew.

I beg to differ, with the caveat that such pairings be done in moderation. The tastes can blend well together and accentuate each other, providing a relaxing experience.

Few states better accommodate the cigar lover than does Florida, the closest U.S. land to what many call the epitome of cigar production – Cuba. Of course, we’ve not been able to legally enjoy the fine sticks from there since the U.S. embargo was put in place in the early 1960s after Fidel Castro instituted a Communist regime in the island nation, but Florida was fortunate. Many of the talented cigar makers and companies fleeing Cuba settle right here and started their businesses anew, particularly in Ybor City. This led to Tampa adopting the “Cigar City” nickname. Later, one of Tampa’s most well-known craft breweries adopted that name.

Cigar City Brewing was never located in Ybor City despite widespread misconceptions, but it has embraced the history, going as far as having a cigar roller blending tobacco leaves in its West Spruce Street tasting room on most weekdays. Its cigar-friendly patio allows patrons to enjoy the weather along with a stogie and one of the brewery’s hand-crafted beers.

As in pairing with food, choosing the right cigar with the right beer requires some thought and research.

One of the most basic guidelines, valid for pairing either food or cigars with beer, is to match strength with strength.

You don’t want the taste of one overpowering the taste of the other. For instance, with a lighter-bodied beer such as a witbier or a pilsner, you’ll want a light, smooth-tasting cigar. Look for one with a Connecticut shade wrapper and mild tobacco filler leaves.

A medium-bodied beer such as an IPA or a low-ABV porter pairs well with a medium-bodied cigar. Seek out a spicy Honduran or Dominican stick to fire up.

Heavier beers — Scotch ales, stouts, or anything that has “Imperial” in the name — call for big cigars, both in size and strength.

Of course, your personal preferences might vary.

If you are a relative beginner in the world of cigars, a post on the Brewers Association blog Craft Beer Muses, offers some solid advice:

Get a sampler pack!

What better way to try a variety of sizes, strengths and manufacturers without having to invest too much thought or money? Some samplers offer cigars, a humidor, a cutter and a lighter all in one at reasonable prices. You can often select the intensity of the cigars included, so for instance a “mild” sampler will net you some well-known and (you guessed it) mild cigars, perfect for the beginner.

I’ve found that when it comes to samplers, online retailers offer the best bargains. One of my favorites is Famous Smoke shop, and Famous supplies Davidoff smokes here, as well as other brands.

If you’re not ready for a multi-cigar commitment, visit your local tobacconist and ask advice. Pick up a stogie or two to take home. Some cigar bars offer craft beers on tap; other shops will allow you to bring your own. Call first and ask.

Here are some other sites that go into deeper detail on pairing cigars and craft beer:

Long Ashes to You, and Cheers!

This post was sponsored by Famous Smoke Shop, but all opinions are my own.

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What do you do with leftover beer? Drink it!

Leftover party 2015 logoNow that Tampa Bay Beer Week 2015 has left the building, it’s time to … Celebrate Local Beer!

Granted, that’s something we do year-round, but the BFBC Leftover Party, in previous years a part of the TBBW festivities, has been rescheduled this year in hopes that more folks will attend and help raise funds for the Best Florida Beer Championships, which each year judges and awards the best homebrews and commercial beers produced in the state.

So what’s the Leftover Party?

“The BFBC homebrew competition is gaining momentum with each passing competition. Recent years have seen the number of entries grow to over 500, which means we receive more than 1,500 bottles of beer!

“In the process of the competition a mere one or two bottles are opened for judging purposes. This means that we are left with over 800 different beers that are typically just thrown out. We decided that instead of wasting these brews, that we’d share these bottles with you, our fellow craft beer enthusiasts.”

It’s like the biggest bottle share ever, and one of the best beer bargains of the year – only $10 at the door or in advance.

This year, the event will be at Pair O’ Dice Brewing, 4400 118th Ave. N., Suite 208, Clearwater. The festivities start at 6 p.m.

Around 7 or so, there will be a panel discussion with local craft beer personalities discussing the State of Craft Beer in Florida. Confirmed panelists are Sean Nordquist, beer writer and TBBW board of directors member; Bob Sylvester, founder of Saint Somewhere Brewing Company in Tarpon Springs; and Julia Rosenthal, co-owner and co-founder of Pair O’ Dice. There may be one or two other speakers, but that has not been confirmed yet. UPDATE: Matt Abdoney, who oversees the craft beer portfolio at JJ Taylor Distributing, Florida, has accepted an invitation to join the panel.

Yours truly will be the moderator. This is the third year we’ve done this, and it always proves to be an eye-opening and sometimes spirited discussion.

Also, as was pointed out to me, if you are a homebrewer and need empty bottles, there should be more than a few available after the event. In addition, there are usually a few bottles of the commercial award winners to sample at the event, and there will be a special tapping of at least two BFBC medal winning beers: Seventh Sun’s Saison Caribe and Funky Buddha’s Doc Brown.

If you have not yet purchased one, or if you did and would like it personalized, I’ll be signing and selling copies of “Florida Breweries” when I’m not running my yapper.

See you there!

BFBC 2015 Commercial Winners

BFBC 2015 Homebrew Winners

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Tampa Bay Beer Week celebrates more each year

Tampa Bay Beer Week logo

In its fourth incarnation, Tampa Bay Beer Week celebrates even more.

More than 40 breweries in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, plus another 10 or so in adjoining counties.

More beer and more beer styles being produced by those breweries.

More bottles and cans from local breweries making their way onto store shelves.

More jobs being created at locally owned small businesses.

And more recognition from the rest of the world of the growing and thriving craft beer community, not just in the region, but also across the entire state.

At the annual Florida Brewers Guild Craft Beer Festival, which officially kicks off the week on Saturday, March 7, 60-plus breweries from the Sunshine State will be pouring samples of their beer. This would have been impossible just a few years ago – there weren’t nearly that number of breweries in the state. And the ones at the festival are not even half the number of Florida breweries that are making beer today.

It’s a great time to be a beer lover in Florida, and Tampa Bay Beer Week will be a great time – period.

But there are so many high-quality events planned, many at the same time, what’s a beer geek to do? For this year, my list of the must-attend events takes the form of a mental exercise: If I could go to two events each day (some days I would need a cloning device), which ones would I be sure to attend? And in some cases, I’ll throw in a bonus event because, well, there are just so darn many!


Though it doesn’t start until Saturday, Tampa Bay Beer Week kickoff parties are taking place on both sides of Tampa Bay: The Flying Pig Taphouse in downtown St. Petersburg starting at 7 p.m., and Pour House in downtown Tampa at 8 p.m.

BONUS: Coppertail Brewing Co. in Tampa opens the doors on its permanent tasting room at the grand opening starting at 6 p.m.


The above-mentioned Florida Brewers Guild Craft Beer Festival runs from 2 to 5 p.m. at Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park in downtown Tampa. VIP ticket holders get in an hour early.

A Farm to Table Dinner at Sweetwater Farm with Six Ten and Whole Foods runs from 6 to 8 p.m. at the farm, 6942 W. Comanche Ave., Tampa. (No need for cloning, but you might want to pack a spare liver if you’re attending after the FBG fest beforehand).


Eggs & Kegs Tour de Tandem starts at 11 p.m. in the Cigar City Brewing Tasting Room. The now-monthly brunch from LOKO Cuisine started at TBBW offers a good chance to fill your stomach with delicious dishes prepared with beers from Cigar City and New Belgium to prepare for the next event.

The Best Florida Beer Championship Brewers Ball offers only the award-winning beers from the 2015 BFB Championship for tasting. Winners already know they won, but they’ll find out here if they landed gold, silver or bronze medals. An after-party starts at 6 p.m. at Tampa’s Independent Bar & Café.


Gose Bottle Release starts at 3 p.m. at Rapp Brewing in Seminole. The salty and sour German beer style is one of the most popular on tap at Rapp, and a limited number will be available in 750 ml bottles.

“Blogs & Brews”: Inside the Beer Writer’s Mind will be from 6 to 8 p.m. at The Ale & The Witch in downtown St. Petersburg. Meet and greet some of the chroniclers of Florida’s craft beer community (including yours truly) and enjoy some local brews and barbecue specials from the nearby Witch’s Den restaurant. There will be giveaways and other specials.

BONUS: Show off your shuffling skills and help raise money for a good cause starting at 6 p.m. at the St. Pete Shuffleboard Club. Shufflin for Legg is a fundraiser to help pay medical bills for Aaron Legg, a local beer geek who recently suffered a series of seizures and was hospitalized for 12 days. Entry fee is $100 per four-person team, and that includes beer from local breweries Cycle, Cigar City, Darwin and St. Pete Brewing. More details here.


The annual Tampa Bay Brewing Company Beer Dinner (a personal favorite) features six courses prepared by the Ybor City brewpub’s Chef John Boyle, each paired with a beer from Brewmaster David Doble.

Another beer dinner at The Salt Rock Tavern in Oldsmar features three courses prepared by Head Chef Tyson Williams, and five beers from Largo’s Barley Mow Brewing.

BONUS: Hungry for a beer-and-food pairing but can’t make it to either of the above? Burgers & Brushfire at the Tampa Taproom will offer Chef Brian’s incredible burgers and Big Storm Brewing beers all day.


Still hungry? Swing by Pair O’ Dice Brewing in Clearwater for Biers & Brats starting at 5 p.m. Quench your thirst with three traditional German lagers and ales specially brewed for the occasion will be on tap and satisfy your hunger with authentic German bratwursts grilled up by Brats Sensation.

The homebrewing community gets a chance to shine as the South Tampa homebrewing club Special Hoperations deploys for a Take Over of Coppertail’s New Tasting Room from 6 to 9 p.m.

BONUS: Funky Buddha Prelaunch Kickoff at Cigar City Cider and Mead at 7 p.m. will feature 14 beers on tap from the lauded South Florida brewery, which recently announced that its distribution footprint is spreading to cover the Tampa Bay area.


The Tampa Bay Brewing Company Night of Wood offers pours of eight special beers that were all aged with wood or in barrels. The brewers who created them will be on hand to discuss the process from 5 to 11 p.m.

“Blood, Sweat & Beer,” a new film that explores the explosive growth of the craft beer industry and the dramatic journeys of two start-up breweries, will screen at Mad Beach Craft Brewing Company in Madeira Beach at 7 p.m. The movie also features interviews with notables from other breweries, including Florida’s Cigar City and 7venth Sun.


The Foeder for Thought block party at Green Bench Brewing in St. Pete kicks off at 4 p.m. The festival highlights beers fermented in foeders (picture giant oak wine barrels) from Green Bench and other local and national breweries.

BREW CIRCUS At The Pour House sounds … interesting. Here’s the description: “There will be $5 tickets on hand to have your favorite brewery sing, dance and basically embarrass themselves for your amusement! Stageworks Theatre has created a wild list of different activities for each brewery to perform! There will be giveaways, mayhem and more!” It is not known if any more exclamation points are available, but it is presented by Barley Mow Brewing and will feature Coppertail Brewing, Cigar City Brewing and Tampa Bay Brewing Co. Proceeds benefit Stageworks. Starts at 7 p.m.


Even at $200 per ticket, the legendary Hunahpu’s Day, which was pronounced dead last year but brought back to life, sold out in a matter of minutes. The beer festival and bottle release once again will fill the parking lot of Cigar City Brewing on the second Saturday of March. Those fortunate to have scored tickets can expect some pleasant surprises.

If you weren’t able to get tickets for Hunahpu’s Day, the brewery is sponsoring a fest of a different tone: The Cigar City Brewgrass Festival will start at 5 p.m. in the wonderfully funky environs of Tampa’s Skipper’s Smokehouse. (A second edition takes place Sunday at Ferg’s Sports Bar & Grill in downtown St. Pete). Nearly a dozen artists are scheduled to perform, and at $20 advance, $25 day of show, admission takes less of a hit on the wallet than does H-Day.


End of TBBW Brunch at Six Ten Brewing is pretty much what it says. A beery meal with munchables from The Twisted Iron food truck. The menu has not been posted, but the description says to think “Horchata Stout Waffles.”

The third annual Hunahpu’s Hangover Day will highlight 7venth Sun collaborations with seven other breweries starting at noon. Though it ostensibly takes place at 7venth Sun, it’s essentially a massive street party within the Dunedin craft beer pyramid that also includes Dunedin Brewery and Dunedin House of Beer.

Of course there are a LOT more events taking place during the eight-day celebration of the Tampa Bay area craft beer community, so check here for the complete calendar (which will have items added to it, so return to it before finalizing your intinerary).

Follow my #TBBW adventures on the Beer in Florida Facebook page, Twitter, and Instagram.


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