I was excited to kick off the February in Florida leg of the tour for several reasons. First, it had just dumped about 7 inches of snow back home, so that was my signal to leave. Second, it was supposed to be a winter storm for the next week, with significant more snow and ice in the forecast for at least the next week. Third, the tour would start in St. Augustine, which was not only a more reasonable drive from home, but would also be the first time I'd visit this particular town.
The first weekend of the tour would be a Thursday thru Sunday run, the first three shows in the greater Jacksonville region on the northern Atlantic coast of Florida. Sunday would be in Lakeland, which is about 45 minutes east of Tampa, which is on the central west (gulf) coast. The tour's second weekend would stretch from St. Pete to Sarasota to Cape Coral, which is on the southern portion of Florida's Gulf coast. Then finally I'd scoot over to the southern east coast for another Atlantic show in Pompano Beach (between Ft Lauderdale and Boca Raton). Then finally one last show at Georgia Beer Co near the Florida/Georgia border, and back home.
Ancient City Brewing - St. Augustine, FL
Beers are available in cans and on tap at both St Augustine area locations, and can be found around the north Florida region.
Show #1 was a Thursday night show in the beautiful and quite unusual beach town of St. Augustine, which is about 20 miles south of Jacksonville. The beaches of St. Augustine are beautiful, probably 100 yards deep with powdery white sand and lots of room to spread out. The first afternoon I spent at this beach was sunny and in the high 70s, so nice weather to sit in the sun, but a little too chilly to swim.
St. Augustine is the oldest city in the U.S., established in 1565... 42 years before the English landed at Jamestown, and obviously more than 200 years before there even was a U.S.. If you're trying to square this in your head, think back on Ponce de Leon and the search for the Fountain of Youth, etc. It's also something to remember if you're one of those people who complain about people speaking Spanish in "your" America... people were speaking Spanish here more than 200 years before anyone spoke English, Jethro.
The coastal area consists of a series of islands and waterways, littered with historical markers such as old Spanish forts and cannons, and the downtown area, which is right on the water, married the old forts with centuries-old European/Spanish architecture. My first show, at Ancient City Brewery, was located right in the heart of their downtown area, right on the city square. Due to the narrow brick streets and colonial-era layout of the square I was initially afraid that the load-in and parking situation was going to be a nightmare, as there was no lot nor rear entrance... but at the last possible second I lucked out and literally scored a parking spot right in front of the brewery. I'll chalk that up to living right...
Ancient City grew out of a previous local brewery about 6 years ago, and now has two locations... their production facility and brewhouse just outside of the city, and the downtown taproom location. I was originally supposed to play the former, but due to forecasted rain they moved me to the downtown location last minute. At first this seemed like a good move to me, but as as it turned out we got a lot of heavy rain throughout my show, and the entire downtown area went dead. At the peak there were probably 12 people at the brewery... but what can you do? Weather happens, especially in Florida. The good news is that the staff and beers were worth the visit.
Ancient City's taproom is an inviting long, narrow spot in the middle of a downtown block, right on the square. A hip updated-rustic feel, and the walls are covered in interesting paintings from a handful of local artists (the pieces are for sale). The stage is up near the front of the venue, and the bar runs along the left of the space as you're looking in from the street. The beer menu on this night consisted of 9 of their own brews, which as you'll see covered a lot of ground, stylistically.
My first pour of the night was their Augustine's Orange Amber Ale (5.5%). Ambers aren't really my thing, but orange is (and I'm in Florida...) so I started there, without regret. The reason I generally don't like ambers is they can be a bit sappy on the finish, but this was a nice crisp one, with a slight amber-like caramel taste, complimented by orange that was definitely present, but not overdone, with a light hoppiness that was not bitter. After a Fall and early Winter of focusing on more seasonal darker brews, it was a nice way to be welcomed back to Florida and the escape from the colder climates!
Mexican style lagers seem to be popping up everywhere, answering the demand of people who like their Dos Equiis or Carta Blancas, in an era when nobody wants to touch anything called Corona. Ancient City's answer is their El Santo (4.8%) Mexican lager, which is a fine poundable beer for a hot day, and effectively scratches the itch for when you want a cold yet relatively light crisp refreshing beer, but with a bit more flavor than the mass-market alternatives.
Anastasia Island IPA (6.5%) and Ponce' Pale Ale (5.5%) were very respectable offerings in the pale ale category, each covering one of the two alternatives you generally reach for in a hoppy brew.... the Anastasia Island covered the bases for the citrusy, more floral hop-forward brews, with hints of grapefruit and orange and pineapple generated by the Citra hops, complimented by a pleasant dose of bitterness. Ponce's delivered from the other direction, delivering a dominate piney flavor balanced with malts, a medium level of bitterness, and a nice clean finish. Both were balanced nicely, and complimented each other well, so you could actually drink one right after the other without an uncomfortable shock to the palate (of course they were each also good enough for session drinking, as well).
The other particularly notable beer of the night was the Castillo Coconut Porter (6.3%). Coconut is something currently very popular in darker beers in Florida, and this one was nicely done... if you like coconut. I do, so I appreciated the fact that the coconut was rather noticeable in the mix, but if you're not into coconut it might not be for you. Looking much like a Guinness on the pour, with a dark hue and a rich light brown head, it was definitely a well made porter, with rich dark elements of dark chocolate, a little coffee, and then of course the toasted coconut wrapped up in a rich smooth body. A little on the sweet side, but not too sweet, this is the kind of beer I like to finish the night with... so I did.
Despite the light crowd, which was just bad luck due to weather, it was a fun night, and the steady (albeit light) stream of folks that wandered in and out throughout the night were friendly and conversational, interested in the details of my tour and travels. One funny story with a lesson included: There was one guy who was at the bar all night... long straight blonde hair, and a pentagram necklace worn outside his black t-shirt. He seemed to be getting off on the music, and during my set break he told me had been a drummer for years, played the Nashville scene, and wanted to know if he could sit in (evidently he lived nearby, and had a Cajon he was willing to run to retrieve... a Cajon looks like a wooden box, the drummer generally sits on it, and areas on the box sound like a bass, or snare drum, etc. when you hit them).
So normally I avoid such scenarios, but being he seemed to have a decent resume, and looked like he'd been around the block a few times, and the crowd was light, and he was willing to actually go run to get his drum and bring it back, I figured what the hell, so I told him OK. Suffice it to say he was not good. The dude could not keep time, no matter what I played. I ended up eventually just bringing it down to a simple, slower paced 4/4 blues... and he couldn't hang. It was driving me nuts. Sometimes he wasn't even trying to maintain a beat, he was just randomly doing fills, out of time. At one point I actually suggested that he try keeping time by tapping his foot, and he didn't take the bait. Finally after a handful of tunes I told him I wanted to play a few by my self and would bring him back up later, which I of course neglected to do. Lesson learned, stop doing that shit... unless I'm familiar with them, regardless of the situation, don't fall for their lines. This guy played the circuit in Nashville the way I played shortstop for the Yankees. Anyhoo, nobody was hurt, just made the evening that more memorable. And hey, if you happen to be that guy... no offence, but practice keeping time. It goes a long way, especially in a drummer. I rarely accept these offers, by the way, and this is why.
The next day it was back to St. Augustine's beaches, then up into Jacksonville for a Friday night gig at Bold City Brewing's production facility....
Dennis O'Hagan's Great Brewery Tour is completely grass-roots. Your support is appreciated, and can be shown by coming to the shows, frequenting the featured breweries, wearing our t-shirts, and via tips at: http://venmo.com/DennisOHagan