After managing to get my hands on a can of Jai Alai from Warwick Real Ale I was intrigued to find out more about Cigar City Brewing whilst staying in Orlando for Star Wars Celebration. Equipped with hire car for the entire stay, I decided to get behind the wheel and make the 80 minute trip to this little power house of a brewery.
Upon arrival I was met by a series of friendly faces and a whole lot of beer choices, which was a shame due to the hire car situation! I consoled myself with the thought that I could stock up the car with bottles and cans to take away and sip by my hotel pool.
Our tour guide, Duke was enthusiastic to say the least; he was open to questions and his passion for the brewery oozed out of every fibre of his Cigar City t-shirt clad body as he took us on the 45 minute tour.
Owner Joey Redner, a third generation Tampanian (I now know what locals are called and that sometimes they get called tampons according to Duke) founded the brewery back in 2007 following stints at Dunedin brewery and as a beer writer at the Tampa Bay Times where he often wrote about the burgeoning craft beer scene. Wayne Wambles was recruited as brewmaster (previously worked at Foothills brewery) and the brewery flung open its doors in 2009 after lots of graft from the pair.
In our tour we learnt about Wambles time spent living in Alabama experimenting with beer, ‘bootlegging’ due to state laws forbidding the sale of alcohol (crazy I know) – I love that rebellious streak.
The brewery now produces 92,000 bbls per year over 6 days. It has two brewhouses and 19 x 120 bbl fermenters so it’s by no means small. If you haven’t tried the brewery’s most popular beer, Jai Alai then you really are missing out but this is understandable, as 95% of its distribution is in Florida which makes me feel thankful I’d nabbed a can in the UK. This kick ass IPA is named after an infamous Spanish sport and Tampa, the home of the brewery was obsessed it – hence the beery homage. Jai Alai makes up 55% of the brewery’s sales and sipping it at source certainly reminded me of its intoxicating charms.
So, what else did I sip on the tour? Well the four samples we were given were; Invasion Pale Ale, Jai Alai, Florida Cracker and Maduro Brown Ale, plus I also bagged a sample of a barrel aged beer that I wasn’t actually told what it was (it will always remain a delightful mystery). I stocked the car with a six pack of guayabera – I’ve sipped a few and it’s definitely refreshing.
Unfortunately I had to leave my bottle of ‘Alive or just brewing’ a limited collaboration brew with Killswitch Engage in the hotel due to my killer luggage situation when travelling further to Mexico.
I’m gutted I couldn’t work my way around the vintage cellar ales and the abundance of beers in the taproom but I’m happy I got to look around the brewery – I’ll definitely have a smile on my face when I sip any elusive cans of Jai Alai at home with my Cigar City glass adorned with ‘Hecho a Mano’ which means handmade in Spanish.