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Saturday, July 16, 2016

Of Bus Rides 'n Beer: From Bold City to Cigar City, Beer Bloggers Conference 2016 Covered It

Around this time last year, I was following the tweets from Asheville, NC as those attending the 2015 Beer Bloggers Conference energetically took to social media to report their real-time accounts of the activities. I noticed a blend of snippets about beer education and beer drinking -- not too surprising, I concluded. I thought that maybe I should attend one of these conferences in the future, and awaited the announcement of the 2016 Conference location. And, with a rising level of fanfare, there it was: TAMPA! WooHoo! That's only a 3.5 hour drive from my home base in North Florida, so I was immediately psyched. 

Around 51 weeks later, itinerary in hand, I prepared to attend my first Conference as a beer blogger/writer. But, it gets even better: let's start things off with a Pre-Conference Excursion to Jacksonville. Score again. I'm already familiar with the Jax breweries as a patron, blogger, and brewery tour guide, so I thought it would be cool to visit them from a different perspective as part of a group of inspired beer-lovers! The pre-con day, organized and hosted by Visit Jacksonville, gave the group an exciting look at downtown Jax and the nearby Riverside and San Marco areas. 




The bar at Wicked Barley Brewing Company
Nothing like getting a crowd revved up than by visiting the city's newest brewery, which isn't even open yet! Wicked Barley Brewing Company is set to open its doors to the public on July 30, after a few appearances by the crew around town with samples of their beer. I got a behind-the-scenes look at the brewpub in April during construction and attended the two tasting events at the end of May (read it here). Featuring a 100-foot boat/kayak dock along Goodby's Creek to allow for access by water, the brewpub grounds also include an outdoor beer garden. Inside, the large picture windows provide views of the gorgeous natural surroundings. It was a big change from a couple of months ago, and the parking lot is even paved now (parking is big deal around here)! 



Although the brewery is still awaiting its federal Brewer's Notice (expected within the next few weeks), the brewpub is slated to open with guest taps from other Florida breweries. A media preview night is scheduled for next week, so I'll be reporting further as opening day approaches!


Fred Thibodeaux with the info on the brewhouse.
Fred joined Wicked Barley from Cigar City Brewing.

Having quickly gained a loyal following, three-year-old Aardwolf Brewing Company set the stage for the next brewery stop -- along with pizza and beer flights! (See link above for my earlier summary of Aardwolf Brewing). Aardwolf's 15-barrel brewhouse produces a wide variety of beer styles, from sours to IPAs to Brown Ales to imperial stouts to barrel-aged and everything in between. During its short existence, the brewery has earned eight competition medals, including a Bronze Medal at GABF 2015 (Great American Beer Fest) for its Belgian Pale Ale (malty pale ale with Belgian yeast), and a Bronze at this year’s Best Florida Beer Championships for its San Marco Sour (sour blonde ale). A couple of the most unique beers you’re likely to find in the city just may be Aardwolf’s Lactic Zeppelin, a Berliner Weisse with the funk of Brettanomyces, and Hipster Popsicle, a cherry lime gose. The brewery is housed in a former ice plant and tile factory, and that brick wall along the back of the tap room is a part of that history. Whenever Aardwolf holds a new bottle release, lines form hours before the brewery opens. It will be no different on July 31, when it releases bottle pairs of its El Mariachi Spiced Imperial Stout aged in brandy and bourbon barrels. And, don't forget the brewery mascot, Alvin, the aardwolf!




Co-Owner Preben Olsen with the lowdown.


Alvin. He wears costumes for holidays. 

Next, we visited the popular Beer:30 retail shop in the trendy San Marco area of Jax. Beer:30 is a local favorite, as it not only offers an excellent selection of craft beer, but also has a killer taplist of new beers at any given time. It also frequently holds beer tastings and new beer tappings. 


Onward to the downtown production facility of Engine 15 Brewing Company. For those of you not familiar with E-15, the brewery started with a small pilot and 5-barrel brewhouse at its brewpub in Jacksonville Beach, and it celebrated its sixth anniversary on July 2. Take a look at my recent story about the brewery. It's always fun visiting with co-owners Luch Scremin and Sean Bielman, and it was pretty obvious that the pre-con group was really getting into things about now! We enjoyed samplings of the E-15 core beers (there are five), and there were even some sightings of the "famous" "lookaway" pose that the brewery is known for. Engine 15 is also somewhat notorious for its "Nut Sack" Double Brown Ale, which was the subject of a lengthy application in the US Trademark Office (read my prior story for the background on that). The brewery recently received approval for its beer garden at this facility, and a fall opening is anticipated. Currently, the production facility is not open to the public, other than for special events. The brewery's core beers are produced here, and its ciders are made in the adjacent building. 


Luch (and the "infamous" Nut Sack). Gotta love it.


The new Engine 15 Beer Garden, coming soon. 
Engine 15



Oh, but wait, we're not done yet! A short drive away is Jacksonville's oldest production craft brewery, Bold City BreweryInspired by the city's moniker "Bold New City of the South," the brewery urges everyone to "Be Bold." Walk into almost any local bar or restaurant around town, and you’re likely (almost guaranteed) to find at least one of the three Bold City core beers: Killer Whale Cream Ale, Duke’s Cold Nose Brown Ale, and/or Mad Manatee IPA. Check out my earlier link (above) for background info about Bold City Brewery, which will be celebrating its 8th Anniversary this fall with another huge party. Run by mom-and-son duo of Susan and Brian Miller, with help from other family members, Bold City currently houses the city's largest fermentation tanks (120-barrels). 


Can't believe I didn't have a photo with Brian before this.
Got a little airblown from the huge fans.



Duke's Brown Ale is named for the family's beloved pet boxer.
Highly likely to be the most well-known beer in Jax. 

In late 2015, Bold City announced plans to expand operations by building a new, smaller brewhouse and tap room in downtown Jax on Bay St. Anticipated to open in the fall, the new digs will feature a 3-barrel brewhouse and will produce small and experimental batches.


After all that beer drinking and touring at these awesome breweries, the dinner bell awaited the pre-con attendees. We headed about 10 minutes away to Kickbacks Gastropub on King St., also in the city's Riverside area. Kickbacks recently underwent a major renovation, and I haven't visited here since before the remodel, so I was excited to see the place. And, what a difference! Kickbacks, along with its downstairs counterpart Goozleworks & Guttypipes, features over 200 beers on tap and over 1000 bottled/canned beers. It recently also completed work on a Belgian beer cellar. The restaurant/bar has garnered a number of accolades for being a top bar within Florida and in the country, and after this visit, it's easy to see why. That draft beer list has selections from local, national and international breweries, and it takes a while to read through it all. The food menu is equally impressive, offering salads, sandwiches, gourmet pizzas, pasta, entrees, vegetarian options, and even breakfast. 



The atmosphere is unique, with a spiral staircase, iron lighting fixtures that are reminiscent of gothic architecture, and brick walls that are somewhat medieval. It's an experience, to be sure. 

And, just when I thought that there could be no more food or beer, what's this?




Chocolate Oreo bombs on sticks. Oh, yeah, I paired that with a Bell's Milchkaffee milk stout, for a total choco-holic fix. But, really, is there anything better?

I don't think I'll stay away from Kickbacks so long before my next visit.  When visiting Jax, be sure to include it on your craft beer itinerary. 

Kudos to the Beer Bloggers Conference and Visit Jacksonville for putting this awesome excursion together!

Next, it's off to Tampa for the Conference and 3 days of info (and more beer and breweries)Although I've already been to these Tampa breweries, I think I'm OK with hopping on the bus with Brew Bus Brewing and visiting Ulele, Coppertail Brewing (story) and Cigar City Brewing again..... 

Til next time,

Cheers!



 Linda











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