Thursday, July 29, 2010

Florida Beer Haul!

Well, I'm back, and it's been a wonderful two weeks!

I couldn't have asked for a better wedding day (Team Matt was unstoppable!), and the trip to Florida was fun from beginning to end. Michelle and I really enjoyed our trip to Orlando; it was her first trip to Disney World (my first since the Jays won the World Series), and our first look at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal, which was all kinds of awesome. On the days between park visits, we spent a lot of time relaxing around the hotel pools and exploring the area. And, naturally, I also spent a great deal of time beer hunting.

That's right; a significant portion of my honeymoon was devoted to tracking down new and exciting beers.

Fortunately, Michelle understands my passion and is actually quite supportive of it. If you think about it, being a beer geek isn't really a big deal: you never spend more than 20 bucks on any individual bottle so it's not a big strain on the ol' finances (compare this to prices for scotch, vintage wine or good-looking hookers - all expensive vices) ; it's educational and historical (beer of course being a cultural artifact); and it so happens that beer tastes good and is rich in our good friend, vitamin Alcohol. Also, like all things in a marriage, half of what I get is Michelle's too, so she got to try pretty much every beer I picked up - a win for her.

A relationship based on a mutual passion for drinking: what's not to love?

Now that I've entered into the brotherhood of beer geeks, I have a tendency to see vacations as new beer drinking opportunities. With the craft and import selection at the LCBO so stunted, I could otherwise potentially go many weeks without finding new brews to try, so I try to take full advantage of every trip outside the province.

And take advantage, I did.

For my first beer-venture, I managed to find several great brews at a little beer store just outside of the resort. You may have heard of it; it's called the fucking Wal-mart. That's right - I ticked off one of my all-time must-try's at the South Orlando 24-hr Wally World. Incredibly, they actually had a decent import and craft selection (Guinness Extra Stout, a fair sample from Sam Adams, Brooklyn, etc.) I ended up going with Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, which is one of the premier American pale ales to be had, or so I'm told (and it was!).

All this was about an aisle down from the Hanna Montana and Team Edward merchandise.
I was off to a great start.
Before leaving for Florida, I posted a question on the BA forums about my impending visit to the Sunshine State, asking those in the know where the best beer hunting could be had. And the result was unanimous. "Knightly Spirits" was the place to go: a small liquor store chain located across the Orlando area, but with a legendary craft selection. With this knowledge and poorly written directions in hand, on our first full day in Orlando, I bee-lined down Orange Blossom Trail to find this little gem tucked away next to a Spanish grocery store in an outlet mall. Didn't look like much from the outside. But upon first seeing their import selection, my reaction (as seen below), was quite genuine:

"A whole new world (don't you dare close your eyes!). A dazzling place I never knew..."

An entire wall's worth of some of the best beers available: single bottles of American craft breweries from Oregon and California to Delaware and Georgia; rare vintage barleywines from the UK; the ENTIRE Trappist lineup from both Belgium and was simply overwhelming. I actually was almost saddened to see it, because I knew I wouldn't be down in Florida for long, and I wouldn't be able to try it all. Eventually, I would have to be separated from my beloved. As I continued muttering "Oh my God...oh...they even have-sweet Jesus!!", Michelle watched me with patient bemusement. I absentmindedly grabbed a dozen bottles or so, simply at a loss at where to begin.

"It's beautiful!!!"

After forking over about $98 USD, thus representing my all-time highest single-bottle beer haul, we headed back to the hotel room to put a few in the fridge. I managed to sample about two to three a night thereafter (with the lovely lady helping me along), writing notes for each. I was able to tick off some biggies on my list: Dogfish Head World Wide Stout; Ommegang Abbey Ale; Trappist Achel, Orval and Rochefort; Cantillon Lambic Kriek - to name a few.

But after a few days, I began to feel the itch again. Unlike herpes, there is a cure for this particular itch, and that's a trip to yet another beer store! This time I hit up ABC Liquors in Tampa. Actually, I hit up two of them... The first time, I was again blown away by their impressive selection of refrigerated craft 6-packs. I quickly struck up a conversation with the sales clerk - a fellow beer traveller - who told me that the "better" store was three blocks away, and that I should check it out. He also informed me that unlike the socialist, sternly disapproving province I hail from, Floridians were encouraged to remove single bottles from 6 packs if they didn't want to commit to a whole pack. At the LCBO, I get yelled at if I dare to bring up single bottles from the single AISLE, but here, they don't even blink. God-damned bless America...

I somehow managed to convince myself to by eight more bottles, including some localish fare from Red Brick and Terrapin (both Georgia). The last two days were a frantic race to properly sample the rest, but I managed to get things done.

And thus, here's the final lineup. Beer team, assemble!!

I also managed to snaggle a few on-site draught brews from Tampa's Cigar City Brewing (the source of the snifter glass in the foreground) as well as draught from a few spots across town, bringing my total for new beers to an impressive twenty-two. It was an excellent haul, and I managed to bring some of it back to Ontario to try later, so naturally I've been insufferably giddy for the past few days (on record, though, I should probably chalk that up to 'wedded bliss'...)

Coming soon: the best of the Florida haul, and a visit to Cigar City Brewing on Marshal Zhukov Imperial Stout release night!

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