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Stalking the Florida Weisse

On a tour of U.S. beer, the Sunshine State offers its own craft claim to fame



Given their "rich uncle" in Belgium, it's perhaps no surprise that 10 Barrel's beer can now be obtained in parts of the U.S. that are quite a distance away from Galveston Avenue. Fans can find brands like Joe and Apocalypse in bars in such far-off and exotic places as Minneapolis, New York, Pittsburgh...and even at the Hoptinger beer-and-sausage joint in Jacksonville Beach, Florida, a mere 2,960 miles away from Bend.

This means that, thanks to the powers of InBev, 10 Barrel has beat Deschutes Brewery to much of the East, despite the difference in production size—a boon to IPA fans out there, although it has to taste a lot fresher at the source. Still, it'd be a wasted opportunity to travel to Florida on vacation and drink beer from the other coast.

"When I moved here six years ago," says Gregg Wiggins, "beer ambassador" at Cocoa Beach Brewing Company, "there were maybe 30 breweries across the whole state. Now that number's up to over 200, and it's still very much in a growth phase—it's anyone's guess what it could max out at."

Wiggins tends bar at the Cocoa Beach, a nanobrewery located in former Navy housing along the beach south of Cape Canaveral. A former journalist, he now helps run the place with head brewer Chris McCall, who founded it in 2009. "We got a lot of Martians in here," he said, using the nickname for the local NASA staffers who launched the Curiosity rover to Mars in 2011, "And I can't confirm or deny it, but there may be a Cocoa Beach bumper sticker inside one of the internal compartments."

What makes beer in the Sunshine State special? For one, the state kinda sorta invented a whole new genre of beer. "There are what we call Florida weisses here," Wiggins notes, "basically Berliner-weisse beer with tropical fruit added to it. It really started to take off when Cigar City [in Tampa] released one with guava—three percent ABV and incredibly refreshing."

Nowadays places like Aardwolf (Jacksonville), Funky Buddha (outside Fort Lauderdale), and J. Wakefield Brewing (Miami) produce a wide variety of weisse with guava, papaya, Key lime, orange and near anything else that grows on trees. And while the state has its "whales"—such as Hunahpu's Imperial Stout from Cigar City, which people line up for at the brewery every March—it's this lighter genre that a touring beer fan will want to focus on, taking in some tropical refreshment under the equally tropical sun.

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