It’s Halloween, which in the U.S. is pretty much an excuse to eat candy, wear costumes, scare ourselves silly, and unabashedly celebrate pumpkins. And this definitely extends to beer. Some people love ‘em, others can’t stand ‘em, but like it or not, pumpkin beers are crazy popular around this time of year. Cigar City’s Good Gourd is as highly rated as it is rare. Heck, around here, any Cigar City beer is tricky to find, and sure to disappear quickly.
Since we can’t all trek down to their Tampa brewery for the weekend, and in the spirit of not clogging the Internet with yet another “best pumpkin (or fall) beers” list, here’s a Cigar City article by Rochester-based craft beer lover and homebrewer, Steve Schaefer.
In late September, I took a beer weekend trip down to Tampa Bay, Florida. I had visited the city once last year (for half a day), but this was my first real chance to explore the city and take everything in. When I first arrived from the bustling airport, my friend, Ashley, and I went indoors to escape the heat, and she kindly greeted me with a nice, cold, Jai Alai IPA from Cigar City Brewing. This was one of their canned IPAs that they are now famous for. She also opted to pick up a six-pack of the roasty Maduro Brown Ale.
Both of these beers are solid offerings that you can find in most grocery stores across the state. The Jai Alai was smooth, containing a nice blend of hops. The finish was bright and resiny but light, leaving you wanting more. The Maduro brown ale is an English style brown with an American twist. Full-bodied, with a light, smooth, chocolate and coffee flavor. Both of these beers are offered year-round, and in case you haven’t tried them, they’re a solid choice. I knew this would only be the tip of the iceberg, though, when it came to the different types of brew that I was about to try during my stay.
On Friday morning, while getting ready for the day, we started to discuss where we should go for lunch that afternoon. I already had a pretty good idea where I wanted to go. You see, a few days before, I was reading an article about some of the top pumpkin beers in the country. While scrolling through the top 20 list, I jumped to the bottom to see who took first place in the poll that publication had taken. Unsurprisingly, Cigar City held the top spot on that list with their pumpkin beer, Good Gourd. This was a brew that I had heard of a few times, but never had the pleasure of trying. While down in Florida the previous year, we tried to look in stores to see if it was available, but we soon found out that it was hard to come by. Thanks to its rarity, I thought I might never get to try it.
Fast forward to the week of my recent trip; while browsing the website for the Cigar City brewpub, I noticed that they had Good Gourd on tap (and on nitro, no less). I was excited to see the offering, but I tried not to get too eager, as I know sometimes certain websites are not up to date, and this may have been a beer that they had a few days or weeks ago.
We decided to have lunch at the Cigar City brewpub anyway, and were very excited to find that Good Gourd was still available on tap when we got there. Ashley and I both decided to order a glass, and toast each other in celebration. Earlier, we’d been talking about how we both like pumpkin beers, and after all the hype surrounding this one, we were both eager to try it. As the waiter brought the glasses to us, we noticed the Nitro bubbles floating beautifully to the surface. I asked the waiter whether he had tried this on nitro versus the regular version; he had. He said they were pretty close to each other in flavor, and it was a hard to pick a favorite.
The color showed as a deep, earthy brown, which is a little different when you’re used to some of the orange clarity of popular pumpkin beers in New York (such a Southern Tier). There was a ton of pumpkin flavor accompanied by some unique spices, including Nutmeg, Zanzibar cloves, Jamaican all-spice and Ceylon cinnamon. It was a near-perfect blend that was not overly spiced (which can be a common problem in many fall offerings).
For lunch, I had the pub’s delicious Pan Con Bistec sandwich (fried steak) with a side of Malanga chips. They had a lot of great food off their Cuban and Southern-inspired menu; the Smoked swordfish tacos, for instance. I also hear the Cuban sandwiches in Tampa are to die for!
The waiter told us about the seasonal release of Good Gourd (August) and explained that the yearly bottle release doesn’t last more than an afternoon (Not uncommon for a lot of Cigar city’s special releases). Since it merited a top rating on many lists, I could see why the bottles would sell out so quickly. It definitely earned a 5 out of 5 on my trusty Untappd app. We both proceeded to order another glass during lunch, as it was just too good not to!
Ashley and I packed in a lot of other activities that weekend. We went to Busch Gardens for their Halloween festivities, and the white sandy beaches along the East Coast. The raw oysters we had along the coast were excellent. A stop at the local grocery yielded a few beer purchases. I got to try a Brew Bus beer called “You’re My Boy, Blue!” which is hilarious if you have ever seen the movie “Old School.” This was a canned blueberry beer (that also happens to be brewed at Cigar City).
My last stop for the weekend was the main Cigar City Brewery, which we figured would be a great way to cap off the weekend (after all the other great Cigar City brews). While short on time, we did manage to get two samplers which included some great beers, like an (even smoother) Vanilla version of Maduro brown, and my favorite, the Strawberry Creamsicle IPA. If I had been blindfolded, I probably would never have known that the style was an IPA. The fresh Strawberry and Vanilla flavors were a potent, delicious blend. This was a great example of one beer, among countless others, that sets Cigar City apart from other breweries, and that is now one of my favorites.
I hope to return to Tampa in the spring, for the wedding of two other friends. Hopefully, I can stop at some of the places I missed, including some breweries that have been recommended to me, like Angry Chair Brewing, and 7venth Sun Brewery.
Until next time, Cheers, folks!
Words and photos by Steven Schaefer