Florida breweries collect medals at U.S. Open Beer Championship

The winners in the 2015 United States Open Beer Championship have been announced, and Florida breweries did well, bringing home a dozen medals between them.

beer cupCigar City Brewing placed fifth in the Top 10 breweries, based on the number of medals it received. Also, in the playful “Judges Award” for “Most Creative Names,” Sarasota’s Big Top Brewing Company came in ninth for its Pumpkin Stiltskin.

Congratulations to all the winners.

Here’s a list of the Florida breweries and the awards each garnered.

Motorworks Brewing

Bronze in Imperial IPA category for Two Stroke.

Florida Beer Company

  • Silver in Robust Porter for Gaspar’s Porter.
  • Gold in American Premium Lager for Florida Lager.
  • Silver in English Cider for Kelly’s Traditional Hard Cider.

Cigar City Brewing

  • Gold in Imperial Stout for Marshal Zhukov’s.
  • Bronze in Strong Scottish Ale for Big Sound.
  • Silver in Belgian Witbier for Florida Cracker.
  • Gold in Strong Imperial Brown Ale for Bolita.

Cigar City Brewpub

  • Gold in Robust Porter for Cacique.
  • Bronze in Chocolate/Cocoa Beer for Popol Vuh.

Cigar City Cider and Mead

Gold in Fruit Ciders for Rambunctious.

Green Bench Brewing

Bronze in French/Belgian Saison for Les Grissettes.

From the international competition’s website:

Oxford, OH (July 4, 2015) – Breweries from China to the Czech Republic sent in almost 4,000 beers and ciders representing 90 different styles for the 2015 U.S. Open Beer Championship. This competition includes professional breweries and award-winning home-brewers. Today, judges from England, Canada and the U.S. announced the winners.

More than 20 international breweries from Australia, China, Czech Republic, Venezuela, Canada, Belgium, Germany, Mexico,  Sweden, Finland, Scotland and England competed.

Ballast Point Brewing in San Diego, California  was named Grand National Champion by winning  three gold medals and one silver medal.  Their three beers that were awarded gold medals were Ballast Point Pale Ale, Calico Amber Ale and Sculpin IPA.

Lakewood Brewing from Garland, Texas place second while Revelry Brewing of Charleston, South Carolina took home third.

Judging in the U.S. Open Beer Championships is blind; the judges do not know what beers they are tasting.

Gold medal winners from last year’s American Homebrewers Association’s National Homebrew Competition also competed. Homebrewer Scott Hinson took home a silver medal for his YYY’s Man Says in the German Wheat Category while Jeff Carlson grabbed the bronze medal for his Westside Sweet Heat spiced cider.

“It’s amazing what brewers will do to enter the U.S. Open. In the past, brewers have personally delivered their craft beers from Columbia and Brazil. This year, Joshua Deitner from Shanghai Brewery in China traveled 7,263 miles to deliver his beers personally,” said Dow Scoggins, Director of the U.S. Open. He added that the effort paid off: Shanghai Brewery’s Imperial American Brown Ale was awarded a silver medal.

In addition to craft beer, hundreds of ciders were sent to the U.S. Open. This was the second year that the U.S. Open has judged ciders.  2 Towns Ciderhouse from Corvallis, Oregon was name Cidery of the Year. The cider judges wanted to commend Appalachian Brewery and Cidery for their creativity and imagination. Unfortunately, most of their ciders were entered in the same category and only took home 1 medal.

Other “winners” from The U.S. Open Beer Championship are the Oxford and Cincinnati Soccer Clubs and YMCA Camp – Campell Gard, which benefited through the donation of hundreds of ice packs used to pack and deliver U.S. Open Beer entries.

The U.S. Open also puts on the “Beer Academy” in Oxford, Ohio. All proceeds go the the Oxford Community Art Center.

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Half-gallon beer growlers are now legal in Florida

Many Florida craft beer consumers have looked forward to this day for years – the 64 oz. growler is now legal for a brewery to fill in this state.

Before today, July 1, the two 64 oz. beer growlers in the middle could not be legally filled for sale in Florida.

Before today, July 1, the two 64 oz. beer growlers in the middle could not be legally filled for sale in Florida.

This happened because of the efforts of the Florida Brewers Guild’s board of directors, who engaged in some give-and-take during this last state legislative session with the lobbying groups for the beer distributors. One of the end results is that the previously illegal half-gallon size is now OK to fill.

Though this legislation was supposed to clarify uncertainties in the law, there are still some unclear aspects on what is and isn’t allowed under the new law.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve sought illumination by having discussions online and/or in person with brewers, beverage attorneys, retailers, trade group reps, and knowledgeable consumers. What follows is a breakdown of the general consensus of these folks, targeted to the consumer. This is by no means intended to be legal advice and should not be interpreted as such.

First, here are the two lines of the final bill that are directly relevant to growler purchases by consumers.

“Notwithstanding any other provision of the Beverage Law, a malt beverage may be packaged in a growler, which is an individual container that holds 32, 64, or 128 ounces of such malt beverage if it is filled at the point of sale.”

“A growler must include an imprint or label that provides information specifying the name of the manufacturer, the brand, and the anticipated percentage of alcohol by volume of the malt beverage. The container must have an unbroken seal or be incapable of being immediately consumed.”


“A malt beverage may be packaged in … an individual container that holds 32, 64, or 128.”

Growlers can be one of those three sizes only. Previously, the law allowed growlers, cans and bottles in containers up to 32 oz. or 128 oz. or above (which covered kegs). This means odd-size growlers – 16, 22, 24 oz. or metric sizes – will no longer be able to be filled.


A growler must include an imprint or label that provides information …”

The consensus among those I spoke with is that the “or” in this part indicates that a brewery or licensed retailer will be able to fill any legally sized growler even if it has the logo of another business on it, or no logo at all, as long as a sticker with “the name of the manufacturer, the brand, and the anticipated percentage of alcohol by volume” is affixed. A hangtag with the info might be sufficient as well. But because the law does not specify the form of the label, it’s open to interpretation.

“The container must have an unbroken seal or be incapable of being immediately consumed.”

This is the muddiest part of the new regulations because the law does not define “unbroken seal.” Methods I’ve heard include wrapping electrical tape around the lid, heat-shrink wrap or, if a swing top-type container, a zip-tie through the hardware.

Then there’s the “or.” A growler with a cap on it or a secured swing top is technically “incapable of being immediately consumed” – you have to open it first! So is a secondary seal even necessary?

What this boils down to is each brewery and retailer will need to settle on its own interpretation of the nuances of the law, and most already have. A few probably will play it safe and abide by the strictest interpretation by not filling other breweries’ growlers and ensuring there is a tight, not easily broken seal on each one sold. Others will use some combination of the methods outlined above and hope that suffices.

The best case will be that a standard method or methods will develop organically, and no one will run afoul of a state regulator and have to prove they were abiding by the law.

If you’ve been following this at all, you know there a lot more new and updated regulations involving the sale and manufacture of alcoholic beverages, but they really don’t affect the consumer as much as those discussed. You can read the entire final bill here.

Again, remember that this is a summary of various conversations I’ve had with people in different levels of the industry and should in no way should be taken as legal advice. Please talk to an actual lawyer who specializes in this stuff if you have any questions, or post them on the Florida Brewers Guild Facebook page.

Regardless, a slew of special events are planned today at brewery taprooms across the state. The Florida Brewers Guild has listed a lot of them at its member breweries here on its Facebook page. In addition, there will be a Statewide Growler Toast at 6:40 p.m. to celebrate.


 Florida Brewery Map and List

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A cold beer by the pool is ideal – but make it a good one

Image courtesy of B Cups

Image courtesy of B Cups

One of the joys of living in – or visiting – Florida is the poolside bar at a hotel or resort.

Few activities are more pleasurable during our brutal hot summers than sipping a cold beer just a few feet away from a cooling dip in the water.

Except that, at least for the craft beer aficionado, the beer usually sucks.

Most hotel and resort pool bars just don’t seem to get it.

Beer at pool barThere might be a “crafty” beer or two from one of the big brewers, or even a tap from one of the larger craft breweries, but I can’t recall ever sitting at one, looking at the beer list or tap handles, and thinking, “Wow, this place serves some awesome craft beer.”

Some are doing better. At the BEECH bar in the Hilton Bonnet Creek near Orlando, for example, the beer list currently includes Cigar City’s Invasion Pale Ale, and they serve cans of Jai Alai from there as well, along with New Belgium’s Sunshine Wheat. But otherwise, it’s macrobrews and macro-imports.

Craft beer has made significant inroads into other venues where it once was unusual to find, such as casual dining restaurants, cruise ships and casinos, but the typical Florida pool bar still lags behind.

Why can’t poolside bars up their beer quality?

I suspect there might be misconception involved. Perhaps food and beverage managers worry craft beer won’t sell because it’s not “light” enough to be enjoyed in the sunshine. Not the case. At one time, the craft movement may have been dominated by high-alcohol, bitter IPAs and sticky sweet stouts, but that was years ago.

That argument doesn’t hold water anymore because less oppressive styles are now more common, such as saisons, goses, session IPAs, and hefeweizens, which offer a refreshing alternative to the nearly tasteless and ubiquitous, mass-produced light pilsners. (Not that pilsners are a bad thing; some craft breweries are offering great versions of that style, but without rice or corn and more attention to creating a delicious beer).

IMG_3192Or maybe there’s a degree of snootiness on the part of the craft-beer consumer because pool bars can’t supply an essential ingredient in the proper enjoyment of a finely made beer – proper glassware. Glass is not allowed on the pool deck, after all, for obvious reasons. Either it’s straight out of the can or a flimsy plastic cup that does nothing to enhance the aroma and flavor of the beer           .

So what can the craft beer fan do? First, let the resort or hotel’s bar managers know that you’d like better beers to be available for poolside. Be specific. If enough customers ask for it, they might just order it.

Or, alternatively, bring your own. Though drinking your own brew at the bar might be frowned upon, most places don’t mind if you bring your own poolside, as long as it’s not in a bottle or drunk out of a glass.

B Cup logoThe way to get around that is to purchase some B Cups for your beer. These specially designed plastic beer cups are more than a step above the red party cups and flimsy clear plastic containers served by the bartender.

Though engineered to especially complement pale ales and IPAs, these new-to-the-market containers enhance the aroma and flavor of nearly any beer poured into them.

Don’t believe me? I’ll give one of you a chance to try them out and report back. Just leave a comment below about, well, anything related to drinking a great beer outdoors: the best craft beer selection you’ve seen at a pool bar, a beach bar with a view and an extensive taplist, drinking a stout you packed to the top of a mountain – you name it.

On Sunday, June 28, at noon,  Monday, June 29, at noon, I’ll use a random number generator to choose a commenter to win a four-pack of B Cups to be shipped to you, hopefully to arrive by the Fourth of July weekend.  So keep your eyes peeled for an incoming email that day.

UPDATE: A winner has been chosen, and a four-pack of B Cups will be on its way to him soon. Thanks for playing, and if you still want some, information on purchasing them is on the way.

If you don’t want to wait, you can order B Cups here, or pick them at one of the Tampa Bay area locations on this map. Be sure to call ahead – they go quickly once they are stocked.


This post has been sponsored by the manufacturer of the B Cup, but all opinions are my own.

Also, big thanks to Amanda of WheresAmanda.com, a self-proclaimed foodie with travel tendencies and a slight affinity for running, wine and craft beer, who helped answer a few questions I had while writing this post.

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Clothing-optional beer festival can be enlightening

beerfest_700The beer festival started at noon, but I arrived around 10:30 a.m. to get set up for my book signing.

I rolled up to the gated community’s guardhouse, got my name checked off the list, and proceeded to the vendor parking area.

The Florida sun beat down, and the familiar haze of mid-June humidity already had started to thicken. Which is probably why it only took about 30 seconds before I saw my first naked person.

The first beer festival last year at the clothing-optional Caliente International Resort & Spa in Pasco County proved such a success that they are doing it again this year on Saturday, June 20, from noon to 3:30 p.m.

Organized by “Chef Rob” Wilcox, the festivities will include unlimited samples of beer from local and national breweries, as well as food samples, and music from local blues musician Cat Valentine. Local breweries scheduled to pour include Cigar City Brewing, Big Storm Brewing Co., Tampa Bay Brewing Co. and Coppertail Brewing Co. Samples will flow from such national breweries as Oskar Blues, St. Arnold’s and Shipyard.

There will be a raffle of items donated by local businesses, and all proceeds will go to HPH Hospice.

Tickets for the public are $50 for general admission and $75 for VIP; Caliente member prices are $35 and $60. VIP admission includes a food selection provide by area restaurants, special beers and ciders, and wine. Call 813-996-3700 for tickets.

Eyes down here

Caliente 2

If you clicked on this post to read about the beer, you can stop now. If you wanted to hear about naked people, read on. By the way, you will ONLY read about them. Unauthorized photographs are strictly forbidden. (The Safe-for-Work images here are courtesy of Caliente).

The festival had not been on my calendar last year, but my “Florida Breweries” book had just been released a couple of months before, and I was hustling to get the word out about it – and make some sales. During a conversation at a book signing, new-friend-at-the-time Lynn Waddell, author of the book “Fringe Florida,” mentioned that she was doing a signing at the Caliente Beer Festival the next weekend. Her book, a fun and eye-opening literary romp through the Sunshine State’s less-mainstream subcultures, devoted part of one chapter to Caliente, as well as some other clothing-optional resorts in Pasco County, which “boasts the largest nudist and clothing-optional community in North America,” according to VisitPasco.net.

(Her book’s subtitle is “Travels among Mud Boggers, Furries, Ufologists, Nudists, and Other Lovers of Unconventional Lifestyles).

Lynn asked if I would like to do a book-signing at the festival. I said I would. She made a call, and I was booked.

What I learned

For the purposes of this article, I’ll list some of the things I discovered via my personal experience at last year’s beer festival. You can learn more about clothing-optional resorts in general by reading the chapter in Lynn’s book, researching other resources, or visiting resort websites (usually not safe for work).

An open mind is essential: I had no idea what to expect. I knew of the concept of clothing-optional living, but other than a few teenage skinny-dipping episodes and walking around naked before and after showers in my own home, I had never participated and did not know how I would feel about it. I soon found out. For the first 10 minutes, it was weird. For another hour, it was a novelty. After that, I felt weird by being clothed.

Nudists are cool people: After the weirdness in my brain died down, I found that the unclothed were very welcoming, friendly and nonjudgmental people. Not everyone around the pools chose to go bare, and that seemed to be OK. Clothed and unclothed mingled and laughed as at any beer festival where no one was naked. The conversation and camaraderie amongst friends and strangers sort of reminded me of the social atmosphere of a brewery taproom.

Caliente pool

Cliché 1, It’s all about sex: I didn’t see any public sex – maybe some “heavy snuggling” in the pool – but that’s it. In fact, the “unspoken rule” is addressed in the FAQ section of the Caliente website: “Overt sexual behavior or the appearance of such behavior is unacceptable at Caliente Resorts. Behavior ‘never needing an apology’ is the norm.” Is there sex going on? Of course – the place is a sprawling housing and resort development with thousands of year-round and seasonal residents. Get a room? They’ve got plenty. Just don’t expect to see it in public.

Cliché 2, All you’ll see are old, saggy bodies: As far as the physical attributes of the clientele, they ran the gamut from hard bodies to extremely soft bodies, and young to old, pretty much like at any crowded, upscale Florida resort. After a while, I hardly noticed, and probably even less so had it been a traditional resort. After all, you can’t stuff your body into a too-small swimsuit if you’re not wearing one.

Bad puns and jokes are inevitable: To this day, a brewery representative friend who attended and I greet each other with the universal waving-two-fingers-at-eye-level “I’m looking at you” symbol, and “Eyes up here!” And when I saw that Oskar Blues was sampling their “Old Chub” Scotch Ale … well, you get the idea. Just keep the jokes to yourself and your non-nudist friends. Or nudist friends who you know won’t be offended.

Privacy is important: Of course, you should be respectful of others’ privacy no matter where you are. But I did run into folks at the fest going au naturel whom I knew from the “clothed world,” and there were others I later encountered outside the resort whom I had met there. They know that mainstream U.S. society does not generally approve of their lifestyle. Some are OK with “outsiders” knowing; others are not. Until you know otherwise, assume the latter.

Finally, did I join in? Other than a brief and unobtrusive skinny dip into one of the five pools to cool off from the blistering heat, I stayed in my uniform of swim trunks and “Beer in Florida” work shirt for the duration of the festival. As the beer-related festivities wound down, Chef Rob announced that attendees were welcome to stick around and enjoy the resort as long as they wanted that day.

I loaded up my gear, packed it in my car, returned to the pool area, slipped off my clothes and for a couple of hours, I hung out.

See what I mean about the puns?

I’ll be signing books again at this year’s festival. Come by and say hi if you’re there. I promise to be clothed, at least until the festival is over. Lynn won’t make it this year, but she says there are copies of “Fringe Florida” available in the gift shop. If you’re in Central Florida on June 27, she’ll be signing copies at the Orlando Public Library’s LIBCON Author’s Fair.

Note to festivalgoers: Please bring cash or a standard credit card if you want to purchase a book ($20, tax included). Resort currency is in the form of a prepaid cash card, and I won’t be able to accept that. By the way, if anyone wonders how naked people carry around that sort of stuff, the gift shop sells some really cool branded baseball caps with zipper pockets inside.


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