Boardwalk-Pretzel-n-Poppers_OPTFlorida and craft beer are a natural pairing any time of the year: refreshing wheat ales with Sunshine State citrus notes cool down summer days. Inventive IPAs and adventurous sours appeal to the Gulf Coast’s creative culture. Even dark, rich porters and stouts are at home in Florida—where tropical ingredients like cacao, sugar cane and the coffee bean are key local flavors at every craft brewer’s fingertips.

Sarasota, already a key player in Florida’s culinary scene, is currently establishing a reputation as a craft pint paradise. Craft beer lovers can enjoy Florida flavors at hometown breweries, and keep up with other American craft breweries at local pubs—where variety is always on tap.

Sarasota Craft Brewery Scene in 2016

It’s a marvelous time to be a craft beer drinker. Sarasota is a central figure Gulf Coast Florida’s brewing scene, and one of the fastest-growing contenders on the craft market. Here’s what’s on tap:

Since 2013, Big Top Brewing Company has been crafting up circus-themed beers that celebrate local history and ‘big top’ culture—including flagship beers like the hoppy Circus City IPA and Trapeze Monk, a citrusy Belgian witbier. A rotating favorite, the ‘Ashley Gang Imperial IPA’, is a nod to the self-styled ‘King of the Everglades,’ John Ashley—an early 20th century outlaw, bandit, bootlegger and bank robber from southwest Florida, near Sarasota.

Delving centuries deeper into local history for its namesake is Sarasota’s newest brewery, Calusa Brewing, which opened in summer of 2016. The brewery is named for the indigenous people of the region: the Calusa Native American tribe, who inhabited Gulf Coast Florida waterways prior to their extinction in the 19th century. Calusa means ‘fierce people’—thus the brewery is inspired by its namesake to produce bold brews. Favorites include the Calusa Dissonance Breakfast Brown, a coffee and cinnamon brown ale, and the Calusa Surrender, a citrus saison with a peppery finish.

JDub’s Brewing Company‘s flagship beer, Up Top! IPA made a big splash when the Sarasota brewery and beer garden opened its doors in 2013. Today, in addition to Up Top!, JDub’s Poolside kolsch, Passion Wheat tropical wheat ale, and Bell Cow chocolate milk porter can be found chilling in craft beer grocery aisles around Florida—but Jdub’s retains its hometown persona with events like yoga and movies in the beer garden. At the brewery, weekly rotations of small batch specials are featured alongside JDub’s favorites. Throughout 2016, Jdub’s is featuring a ‘Fruits of Florida’ IPA series: hop-forward beers brewed with seasonal flavors of blueberry, lychee, raspberry and orange.

Sarasota’s craft beer culture owes recognition to the microbrewery that started it all. Sarasota Brewing Co., southwest Florida’s oldest microbrewery, opened its doors in 1989. On opposite ends of the tasting spectrum are two Sarasota Brewing Co. favorites, the light and refreshing Sarasota Gold and the robust Midnight Pass Porter. Sarasota Brewing Co. offers at least five of its own unique brews on tap at any time, along with a rotating selection of the brewery’s favorite beers from around the world.

Darwin Brewing Company, now based just north of Sarasota in neighboring Manatee County, earns national recognition for its creative brews inspired by South American flavors. Before outgrowing its space, the original Darwin Brewing was located in downtown Sarasota’s Rosemary District in the historic Citrus Exchange Building—a citrus distribution warehouse dating to the 1920s. Darwin’s popular Circa 1926 tangerine wheat ale pays homage to the particularly fruitful 1926 tangerine season in the warehouse where the brewery later got its start.

Darwin’s Brewery founder and chef-restaurateur, Darwin Santa Maria opened Cevichela on Siesta Key in summer, 2016. This Peruvian street eats-inspired new Siesta Village hotspot features unique Latin eats paired with local craft brews from Darwin Brewery, JDub’s and Big Top Brewing. Stop in during happy hour (Tuesday-Friday, 5-7pm) for $2 specials on local craft beers.

‘Brew Thru SRQ’ Craft Beer Tour

Navigating the sprawling local craft beer scene could be a somewhat daunting—and logistically challenging without a designated driver—before Brew Thru SRQ arrived in Sarasota last year. This interactive ‘beer tour’ boards passengers on a trolley and shuttles them to craft brew joints around Sarasota and Bradenton, stopping for educational tours and tastings.

Brew Thru SRQ tours hit up the local breweries—including Darwin Brewing, Sarasota Brewing Co., JDub’s, Calusa and Big Top—as well as a collection of craft bars, beer gardens, tasting rooms and grub hubs around Siesta Key, Gulf Gate, downtown Sarasota, and Lakewood Ranch. Passengers can choose between ‘Full-Pint’ tours, featuring five brew stops, and shorter ‘Half-Pint’ tours with three brew stops. All tours feature brewery tours with a pint at each stop, history and beer education with a professional brew guide. And yes: drinking is permitted on the trolley! Passengers are in safe hands with a certified driver.

Notable stops on the Brew Thru SRQ tour include Mandeville Beer Garden in Sarasota’s downtown Rosemary District, World of Beer in Gulf Gate, and Pi 3.14 Pizza and Craft Beer in Siesta Key Village.

On Tap: Craft Brews from Around the World

Fans of classic British pub bites and pints are loyal to Shakespeare’s Pub, which specializes in European classics. English, Belgian, Scottish, German and Irish beers are among the most heavily represented on Shakespeare’s beer list, which offers more than 75 bottles and approximately 30 draft options. Stop in for a chance to drink your way around the world—and don’t forget to pair one of Shakespeare’s award-winning burgers with your pint.

In the Gulf Gate district, Mr. Beery’s craft beer selection reigns supreme. Thirty draft lines feature an array of American microbrews and specialty imported beers—with an emphasis on providing some of the best offerings from Florida-based breweries. Mr. Beery’s maintains a constantly-rotating selection, featuring favorites and rare finds from Florida breweries including south Florida’s Funky Buddha Brewery, Tampa’s Cigar City Brewing Company, and Gainesville’s Swamp Head Brewery.

Situated along Sarasota’s North Trail within strolling distance of both New College and Ringling College of Art + Design, Growler’s Pub is a popular local haunt for craft beer fans. Growler’s features 30 beers on tap, including local and Florida brews, as well as a rotation of high-quality beers from craft breweries across the country. Growler’s is a prime social hub for the collegiate crowd. The bar hosts regular weekly events, including open mic nights, trivia, poetry readings, indie music shows, and even Pokemon Go tournaments.

East Sarasota’s Cock & Bull Pub boasts a dizzying collection of bottled beers, which are featured in a wall-length cooler display behind the bar. Hundreds of bottled beer options line the Cock & Bull cooler, and the pub also features up to 40 beers on draft on any given day. Pair a beer of your choice with one of Cock & Bull’s signature pizzas. Cock & Bull is cozy indoors, but features a spacious patio. The pub is known for its popular weekly open mic night, community concert events, and wintertime bonfires.

Baking with Craft Beer: Boardwalk Food Co. ‘Beer Snacks’

In a foodie town that’s filled with breweries, mixing the culinary arts with craft beer simply makes sense. Sarasota residents Andy and Kim Yochum began with an old beer bread recipe, and with a little experimenting in their home kitchen, put a fresh spin on ‘beer baking’.

In 2014, the Yochums launched Boardwalk Food Co. with a selection of ‘beer snack’ home baking mixes: beer-baked soft pretzels and bite-size beer muffins called ‘Poppers’. Boardwalk Food Co. beer mixes are available at locations in Sarasota including Big Top Brewing, Morton’s Gourmet Market, Nellie’s Deli, and the Siesta Key Sweet Shop. Beer snack mixes may also be ordered at www.boardwalkfoodco.com and via Amazon Prime.

The secret ingredient in all Boardwalk Food Co. mixes is any craft beer of the baker’s choice—and experimenting is highly encouraged! Andy sat down with Visit Sarasota to share some of his favorite local beers that are readily available in most Sarasota grocery stores for ‘beer snack’ baking.

Big Top Brewing Company

Circus City IPA with Rosemary Sea Salt Poppers: The mild bitterness of Circus City hops mingles with the rosemary and sea salt flavors, without being overwhelming, at the end of each bite.

Trapeze Monk with Original Pretzel Mix: When applied to soft pretzel baking, the orange-spiced notes of this Belgian witbier create a light citrus taste that appeals to a variety of palates.

A Hotter Blonde with Cornbread Poppers: Big Top brews its rotating favorite, A Hotter Blonde, with jalapeno peppers and honey—the perfect complement to cornbread. To kick up the heat and flavors, Andy suggests including chopped up jalapenos and cheddar cheese in the bake.

JDub’s Brewing

Bell Cow Milk Chocolate Porter with Original Poppers: For Poppers that taste delicious alongside a hot cup of coffee or a cold glass of beer, Andy suggests JDub’s signature chocolate porter. Poppers bake up with a deep, rich porter flavor and a hint of creamy chocolate that doesn’t overwhelm with sweetness.

Poolside Kolsch with Cinnamon Sugar Pretzels: The cinnamon sugar pretzel flavor stands out against the crisp, light flavors of JDub’s signature kolsch.

Passion Wheat with Original Pretzels: Fruity flavors of mango and passionfruit sing, lending a summery note to Boardwalk’s Original pretzel recipe.

Calusa Brewing

Dissonance Breakfast Brown with Cinnamon Sugar Pretzels: This beer combines coffee and cinnamon with the caramel notes of a brown ale, making it a perfect pair with Boardwalk’s Cinnamon Sugar pretzels.

Darwin Brewing Company:

Circa 1926 Tangerine Wheat with Original poppers: The citrus taste of this beer finishes with spiced notes,  and works very well to produce a light, citrusy Popper.

Pirata Pils with Rosemary Sea Salt Pretzels: Darwin’s crisp, refreshing pilsner highlights the rosemary flavor of the pretzels. Andy suggests it as a great beer to use for Boardwalk’s ‘pizza pretzel’ recipe.

Grab your growlers and get sipping (and baking), Sarasota—and be sure to tell us about your favorite local brews!

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