A group of South Floridians discover their region’s breweries and beers with a chartered bus tour.
By Alan J. Wax
It began and ended in Boca Raton, Florida. For more than eight hours, starting on a recent sunny, Saturday afternoon and finishing mid-evening, 24 craft-beer loving South Floridians traipsed through five brewery tasting rooms, traveling from one to another aboard a luxury livery dubbed the South Florida Brew Bus, sampling dozens of beers at each—and more onboard.
The beer lovers were among the 500-plus members of the Boca Brews Meet Up Group. The tour was organized by the group’s leader, Melissa Nowak, a former paralegal and Maryland expat now living in Boca Raton. A diverse collection of men and women — Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials, Boca Brews meets monthly at different venues to quaff their favorite beverage and socialize.
The Brew Bus is affiliated with the Funky Buddha Brewery, which is in Oakland Park, Florida’s budding Culinary Arts District and, which highly regarded for its full-flavored, eclectic beers. Funky Buddha, the region’s largest brewer, started in Boca Raton, where it still operates a lounge and small-scale brewing operation.
I happened to be in Florida when a Boca Brews bus tour was scheduled and decided to join the fun. Many of the breweries are in out-of-the way locations and the idea of visiting them without having to drive was appealing.
We departed from Miller’s East Boca Ale House in Boca Raton, with Funky Buddha Brewery our first destination. On board, cans of Brew Bus beer, brewed by Cigar City Brewing in Tampa were passed around—along with pretzels and cookies. I found myself with a can of Rolling Dirty, an Irish-style red ale with a big malt backbone and a good dose of hops.
The breweries and their beers
The exterior of the Funky Buddha is deceptive, looking much like a store in a strip mall. Inside, however, there’s a cavernous tasting room and, of course, the brewing operation. Since brewers can’t serve food under Florida law, a food truck sits outside. There are numerous beers on tap, but its possible to select a few for a custom flight. Servers write each beer’s name in white chalk on your paddle. Opting for an eclectic selection of brews I was not disappointed. Vanilla Cream Abdul Jabar Ale showed just enough vanilla to make it interesting—a cream soda kissed by hops. No Crusts, a brown ale with peanut butter and jelly, was interesting with its distinct, but balanced bready, peanut and fruit notes, but too sweet for more than a sampler-sized glass. Chocolate Covered Cherry Porter was tasty, but hardly summery with its strong bitter chocolate and roasted-grain character and undertones of cherries. Floridian Gone Wild is the brewery’s popular wheat beer turned into a tart, but soft refresher.
Back on the bus for a short hop to Mack House in Davie, Florida, home to the Holy Mackerel nano brewery. The tasting room-cum-college-dorm lounge, tucked away in a strip mall on the service road of I-595, offered a handful of interesting beers and some less so. The easy drinking Bowling Alley Blonde seemed to be an entry-level, session brew with its low hop bitterness and a sweet, soft malt character. The golden-hued Downpour IPA offered balanced bready malts and a resiny hop character. The best-selling Psycho Fish, a cloudy orange-colored, orange-infused, intensely flavored Belgian tripel was a delight with its estery Belgian yeast notes, bright orange flavor and notes of bubble gum. Mack in Black, a dark, strong Belgian-style ale was opaque and stoutish with roasty notes. Panic con Pablo is a copper-colored ale infused with a blend of coffee from a local coffee shop called Café Don Pablo Gourmet Coffee; too intensely coffee flavored for my palate.
Onward to South Beach’s only brew pub, Abbey Brewing, which contract brews its four house-designed offerings at Indian River Brewing Co./Florida Beer Co. in Melbourne, Florida. Appearing bit rustic for this glitzy neighborhood, it offers more guest beers than those with its own tap handle. On a recommendation, I sampled Immaculate IPA, a copper-hued brew more in the style of an English ESB with notes of malt, fruity esters and more than a hint of hop bitterness.
Stop No. 4: Coral Gables, home to Titanic Brewery and Restaurant, the Miami area’s first brew pub, located opposite the University of Miami Hurricanes’ baseball stadium. Titanic’s beers, not surprisingly are mostly British influenced and nautical themed, a sampler of six generally well-made brews cost just $6. Triple Screw Light Ale, a 4% abv German style ale, was more like a Pilsner than a Kolsch with its grainy, low-hopped character.
Captain Smith’s Rye Ale, an amber brew was deep brown, round, fruity and spicy from the malted rye in the grain bill. White Star India Pale Ale is a copper-hued Anglo-American ale made with Cascade hopes and British ale yeast. Loaded with juicy malt character along with citrus notes it was smooth, creamy brew.Britannic Best Bitter, a British styled ESB was amber hued with a fruity, malty and floral hop character. Boiler Room Nut Brown Ale, also quite British in style, was a translucent reddish brown, creamy, grainy and a finish that was somewhat short.Shipbuilders Oatmeal Stout, deep brown with an oily character, it seemed thin bodied with an exceptionally dry finish.
Our final destination was the Wynwood Brewery, Miami’s first production brewery, located in the Wynwood Arts District, just east of Interstate 95 on a street lined with single-level warehouses tagged with graffiti. Having had a couple of Wynwood’s brews before and been disappointed, I was pleasantly surprised by Wynwood’s Fox, an imperial/double red with a deep russet hue, crisp and flavorful with big malt character and enough hops to suggest and IPA. I was, however, annoyed by the 12-oz. plastic cup and the $8 tariff.Abbey Brewing Co., 1115 16th St., Miami Beach, FL 33139, (305) 538-8110. Funky Buddha Brewery, 1201 NE 38th St, Oakland Park, FL 33334 (954) 440-0046.
The Mack House (Holy Mackerel Nano Brewery), 9118 W. State Road 84, Davie, FL 33324 (954) 474-5040.
Titanic Brewing Co., 5813 Ponce De Leon Blvd, Coral Gables, FL 33146 (305) 667-2537.
Wynwood Brewing Co., 565 NW 24th St, Miami, FL 33127 (305) 982-8732.