Top Beers of the Jupiter Craft Brewers Festival

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The Jupiter Craft Brewers Festival went down this weekend, and again it turned out to be one heck of a beer event, drawing more than 3,000 fans of craft beer to Roger Dean Stadium near Abacoa Town Center. The four-and-a-half-hour event featured more than 50 beer booths, and each of those had at least two brews to share -- sometimes many more. Folks walked from booth to booth filling their four-ounce beer cups with craft brews. Which meant, by the end of the fest, there were some very happy people in Jupiter.

Count me among them. I sampled some truly awesome beers among the dozens I tasted -- and I didn't even get the chance to taste them all. Of the best beers I sampled, most of them, surprisingly, came from brewers in Florida. Over the past few years, the Sunshine State has gone from a place where craft beers were barely present to an undiscovered country where new breweries are opening all the time and using creativity to survive. After this fest, I can say there are some companies doing things that are going to put Florida on the beer map.

(Note: Proper pictures to come. I left my camera SD card at home and ended up taking pics on my phone, which I now have to figure out how to get off. Watch for a future post soon.)

Among them was Cigar City Brewing Co., an upstart out of Tampa that just last year took home a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver for its wood-aged Humidor IPA. Though lines generally moved quickly at the festival, the Cigar City tent was among the hardest to get to. People packed in tight to sample their fantastic brews made with ingredients like Mayan chocolate. It was a line well worth the wait.

The Mayan chocolate in Cigar City's Hunahpu's Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout was incredibly rich and spicy and made for some unique beer. The syrupy, thick, sweet brew had a red-orange head and notes of ancho chili and cinnamon. And it was one of the many beers at the fest that had been made with new, interesting ingredients that pushed the boundaries of beer making.

Cigar City had some other stellar beers as well: Jai Alai IPA, Oatmeal Raisin Porter, and Maduro Brown were all incredible brews.

Orange Blossom Pilsner out of Orlando showed up with a bright-orange car that had beer taps affixed to its tail end. The company uses orange blossom honey to make its unique, light lager -- the resulting flavor is something unique to Florida. It also debuted its Toasted Coconut Porter, a tropical take on a thick porter that was exceptional.

In our interview with festival organizer Fran Andrewlevich, the Brewzzi brewmaster talked a little bit about his Roasted Coffee Imperial Porter, which he made with coffee hand-roasted in a backyard in Jupiter. That beer turned out to be among the best at the festival, like a deep shot of espresso with a near 10 percent alcohol kick. Anyone who didn't make it up to Jupiter on Saturday should hit up Brewzzi in Boca Raton to sample this one.

Other specialty ingredient brews included a bourbon barrel-aged milk stout from Corner Cafe in Tequesta -- the thick stout/porter contingent was strong at the show. Rogue's Chipotle Ale, which is already widely available but is too damned delicious to pass up, was another favorite with its spicy nose and hoppy aftertaste.

There were so many beers I missed at the fest, because there were just too many good ones to taste. But I'm glad I didn't miss Big Bear's Double Diablo, an ultrahoppy double amber that had the malt of a big, badass ale and the hops of an Imperial IPA. It was my favorite beer of the festival, hands down, though a few of my friends would disagree. They gave that honor to Bell's Brewery's Hopslam, a beer that will be available only until the end of February. Owner Larry Bell opened one case of Hopslam every hour on the hour, and the line around his booth grew huge each time. I was able to get a sample of it at the 2 p.m. opening, and it is definitely one of the finest Imperial IPAs I've ever had.

And still, there are probably two dozen or more other beers that I could talk about or that I tasted while too drunk to discern anything other than "good stuff!" Stone, Sam Adams, Lefthand, Dogfish, Star Hill, Swamphead, Brooklyn, Bold City... the showing was honestly a beer drinker's dream come true.

If you didn't make it, that's a major bummer. But mark your calendars for next January, when the fest will be back again. In the meantime, be sure to hit up those Florida brewers that are really stepping up their game in this state of ours.

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