Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Navigating Through History: Hell 'n Blazes Brewing Charting Out on Course in Melbourne, Fla

[Ed. Note:  Hell 'N Blazes Brewing will open its doors on June 24, 2016, 5pm. This story is based on my "during-construction" visit in March. I'm pretty excited to see the place!]

It was a hardware store back in the late 1800's. It also was home to a mortician, a furniture store, a bank, another hardware store, the "Christmas Cottage," and the "Petite Boutique" boutique and antique store. It even once housed a TV studio. And, now, the building at 1002 E. New Haven Ave. in historic downtown Melbourne, Florida is the new home to Hell 'n Blazes Brewing Company.

Follow the sign .... Downtown Melbourne street directory
Owner Don DiFrisco, a local real estate investor and entrepreneur, purchased the building in June 2015, and almost immediately, crews began renovations and haven't stopped since. I visited the new soon-to-open brewery recently, and while it's still a work-in-progress, all signs point to an impressive finished product.  

Under construction 
Before talking about my tour around the inside of the brewery and tasting room, let's get to the first question that's probably on everyone's minds: Where did the name come from?

A local lake, Lake Hell 'n Blazes, inspired the name for the brewery. Local lore has it that early 20th century boaters had a "difficult," that is, a "hell and blazes" of a time navigating the "floating islands" of the lake. It's also been known as "Hellen Blazes" and, a nearby archaeological site, known as "Helen Blazes" (tempering down the term "hell" for those offended by it), has produced historic artifacts from the Archaic Period. The lake sits at the upper end of the northward-flowing St. Johns River in Brevard County, approximately 10 miles southwest of Melbourne. 

The name resonated with the brewery crew. There's also a sense of determination with the name, which became apparent during my tour of the brewery. 

Through the double doors of the brewery main entrance sits the large tasting room, which can accommodate around 300 guests. The first thing you'll notice is the large wraparound bar straight ahead, with a sightline view of the brewhouse behind a large glass window. The bar is embellished with cut wood logs, which is a tribute to the natural elements of Florida. The tasting room will include couches, tables and chairs, a standing bar rail, track lighting and TVs. And, thanks to General Manager Andy Pinkerton, I was able to get a "getting-closer-to-the-end-of-construction-are-we-there-yet" look at things.

Thanks, Andy! Hey, Space Coast, you're gonna love this!
Note the split wood log themed bar. Room with a brewhouse view.

During my visit, contractors were still bustling around the building at the end of the day, and the brewery crew was busy working on the placement of the brewhouse equipment. There's a lot going on in here! The place is big: it's a 16,000 square-foot two-story building, with 8000 sf on each floor. The lower level is home to the brewhouse and tasting room. Administrative offices will be located on the second floor. They're going to have an awesome view of the brewhouse from up there, too, because the layout features a wraparound window design. 

There are quite a few engaging features in the decor. The brewery is keeping the history of the building alive with story-telling artwork along the back hallway (see upper right part of the above photo). Now, I couldn't give that story away by taking photos, but it's pretty cool. There are also photos of the Lake on the wall. During renovations, the crew found a number of artifacts from the days-gone-by, including morticians' tools. Right now, those are sitting in a glass cabinet upstairs, but it will be interesting to see where those land. Behind the tasting room is a 25x15 private tasting room/conference room, which includes the authentic safe from the bank era. Even the ceiling in the tasting room is the old tin ceiling from prior days. And, there's even a separate gameroom, where patrons will be able to enjoy table and arcade games and darts. Overall, what they've done here is mesh the industrial and historical past with a natural and modern vibe. 

All of that, and I haven't even mentioned the beer yet!  You'll get your beer from the bar which will feature a poured concrete bar top and 10 draft line taps. Add in kegerators. The bar will also offer several guest beers.  

And, the beer?  Sounds like there's going to be plenty. A 10-barrel oversized brewhouse anchors the brewery. And, here's what else is in there, along with a grain miller: six 20-bbl fermenters, five 10-bbl fermenters (170 barrel capacity); six 10-bbl brite tanks and three 20-bbl brite tanks (120 bbl capacity). And, for experimental brews, the guys have a half-barrel pilot system to try out some new stuff. It's a bright space, too, with skylights letting in the natural light. 

At the helm of the brewhouse is Brewmaster Todd Furbeck, assisted by Associate Brewmaster Jimmy DiFrisco. Todd is an award-winning brewmaster who worked at a local brewery for over 8 years. He's definitely ready to get brewing on this new equipment, anticipating a first brew date in April. Hell 'n Blazes Brewing expects to offer around six core beers, with additional seasonals throughout the year. When asked what the first brew might be, Todd indicated it could be a pale ale, but, hey, brewer's discretion! Guess we'll have to wait and see......

Orange Blossom Honey Wheat, a nice,
lighter beer with a good balance of citrus and wheat:

at Rocky Water Brew Fest 2015

Not only has the crew at Hell 'n Blazes Brewing been busy with the construction phase of things, they have already offered their beer at several local beerfests, including Rocky Water Brew Fest (see my two prior blog posts about that one, by the way) and Space Coast Beer Fest (love this fest, even though I missed it this year). They have also participated in various open house events and beer tastings to let folks taste their brew. Coming up in November, the brewery will be featured at the first Downtown Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, in which it is also an event partner. 

The tap room is the focal point for the brewery, and while the door remains open to distribution down the (canning) line, for right now, it's all about the quality, getting it right the first time, and serving up some "helluva good beer" in what promises to be an amazing tasting room. The bar will also offer munchie-type and smaller food items, with local food delivery options.  Growlers will be available, and they're even working on stainless growlers. The brewery is anticipating an opening in May, so stay tuned. 

One helluva cool ride
Hell 'n Blazes Brewing Company is located at the end of the historic downtown Melbourne district, just over the railroad tracks. I don't think you'll have too much trouble navigating your way here ... just follow what's sure to be a crowd, or look for that truck (above). See you guys in May!

Yeah, I had a great time getting the tour of Hell 'n Blazes Brewing. Thanks again to the guys, especially Andy and Todd. And, I even ran into Jimmy the next day at Intracoastal Brewing Company in the Eau Gallie District! Looking forward to my next visit to Melbourne and the Space Coast, so see you soon!

In the meantime, you guys reading this know what to do: keep up with beer events via the Events page on this website, and, for those of you in North Florida, take a look at that daily beer calendar of events. I'll see you at a brewery, bar, restaurant, or event, so say Hi... but you might have to put up with a photo or two!


Til next time,


(credit: Wikipedia, additional source for Lake Hell 'n Blazes information)

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Florida Brewers Guild FBG Fest Recap (Retap)

Swamp Head Brewery's Udderly Calm Milk Stout
in the new Fest glass.... sweet!
This past Saturday, March 5, over 1500 beer enthusiasts filled the grounds of downtown Tampa's Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park for the annual Florida Brewers Guild Beer Fest. The weather was perfect for roaming around the riverside park, talking to brewers, beer industry folks and beer-lovers, and, of course, for drinking Florida craft beer! The Fest also kicked off the fifth annual Tampa Bay Beer Week, running this year from March 5-13 all around the Tampa area. 

I attended the FBG Fest for the first time last year (check it out here). According to Melissa White, FBG Executive Director, attendance was up this year from last. This year's fest featured 58 Florida breweries, which served up over 250 different beers, ciders and meads. The design of the Fest cup was new this year, sporting a very chic English nonick pint glass style in a souvenir cup. Food trucks were on site to take care of your munchies. Also new for this year was the DJ at the fest entrance. Removing the stage at one end of the fest usually reserved for a live band, White said, allowed additional space to accommodate the brewery booths. In addition, FBG allowed associate members to purchase booth space and promote/sell their goods/services, and six associate members enjoyed the exposure of this event to do just that: Amazon Hose & Rubber, Bon Beer Voyage, Harbor America, Hopcloth, Tampa Bay Beer Week, and Trinity Graphics. Further, White advised that two event sponsors were added to the mix this year: Commercial Products Corp. and Hacker, Johnson, Smith PA. 

The VIP/hour-early admission went smoothly, and guests filed onto the grounds in search of beer! If you saw the published beer list ahead of time, you may have tried to map out your plan of attack beforehand. I had at least one such beer on the list that I knew was likely to "kick" quickly, so my first stop was to Due South Brewing:

The Silky Johnson eluded me at Jupiter, as it kicked
less than 15 minutes after tapping there. Got my hands on it this time:
Chocolate Peanut Butter Stout (5.6 ABV): peanuts on the aroma;
mmmm....quite good!
After that little bit of chocolate peanut butter ecstasy, I moved along the booths and around the back of the Fest. I don't know if I spent more time drinking beer or talking (it was probably close), because I didn't cover much physical ground in two hours. 

Very cool chatting with Tina from
Marker 48 Brewing. I even stopped to be
Kissed by a Mermaid: Bourbon Barrel Milk Stout
Hello Dolly Ghost Totem from Proof Brewing:
6% ABV Robust Porter with chocolate,
butterscotch and coconut. Creative blend here that worked.
Just enough coconut; chocolate notes, hint of creamy candy.
First beer from Lakeland Brewing:
7.5 ABV IPA: floral, fruity, citrusy: very balanced.
Not overly hoppy, and a pleasure to drink.
Spent some time talking with Asst. Brewer Rob.
Had some fun with Ken and Julia from Pair O' Dice Brewing
(see my blog post from last year).
This, a Rye'd the Line Rye IPA:
Love the rye!
You gotta hand it to these breweries for some of these beer names, too. And, I have to give a shout-out to my guys from Brew Bus Brewing in this regard: the "Ring the F#%'n Bell" Blueberry Habanero Wheat Ale (5% ABV) was aptly named, as it was hot...I mean, really hot, baby. Yeah, I had to try it, and it was even a mouthful asking for that one!
Got my bell rung by that beer!
Good time hangin' with the Brew Bus Tampa crew:
Jax meets Tampa

Forgot to get my Brew Bus koozie in this photo;
Gong Show Vietnamese Coffee Porter (6.5%):
bitter coffee with a smoothness leaving you wanting more
I still had a lot of ground to cover, and although I saw a number of familiar favorite beers, I figured I'd try to focus on more new ones. Hey, with  around 250 beers, I don't think it was possible to try them all! Aren't beerfests great?

Hey, it's Riley from Intuition Ale Works!

I hadn't had a beer from Bugnutty Brewing in a while (see my "Space Coast" blog posts from 2014), and what do you know, there was the booth!  Dark Matter IPA?  Yeah, that had my name on it:

Dark Matter IPA (7.0 ABV): This recipe replaced the
former Black Falcon IPA, one of my favorites.
Uh, yeah, this works! Roasty, chocolate, with caramel
and tropical notes. Ridiculously good.
Had more than one.
And, somewhere along the way I came across the Saltwater Brewing booth.  These guys do some good things in Delray Beach (see blog post from December 2015), and I've been there a couple of times. I've been known to stock up on cans of Screamin Reels IPA on return trips, and if you haven't heard, Saltwater's Sea Cow Milk Stout is now available in cans, too. I asked Dustin to pour a Hazelnut Coffee Mayday Imperial Porter (10% ABV). And, this is where I went into a frenzy; really, an OMG beer-expletive kind of frenzy (that happens):

Mayday: Hazelnut Coffee Mayday Imperial Porter.
Nutty aroma sent your senses into oblivion.
Flavors of hazelnut, coffee, vanilla.
Roasty, amazing. Yeah, I kinda liked it (Ya think?).
I'll be looking for this one again!
Not surprisingly, I ran into friends from the Space Coast -- Hello, again, Brevard Ale Works! And, whaddaya know, ran into some other friends, and got the news of another new brewery on the horizon along the Space Coast beaches: be on the lookout for Dirty Oar Beer Company, coming to Cocoa Village soon:

A fun crew: Can't wait for Dirty Oar Beer Company in Cocoa Village!

There were more beers and more conversations, but you get the idea. Yeah, there are even more breweries on "the list" to visit. Really enjoyed talking with Tim from Ulele Brewpub in Tampa. Also stopped by to see the guys from Waterfront Brewery in Key West, so next time I'm on a scuba vacation there, I'll check them out, too. 

FBG Fest is a substantial fundraiser for the Florida Brewers Guild, the voice of Florida brewers. The fest will be back at Cotanchobee next year, so watch for the date. And, the FBG will celebrate its 20th anniversary on September 20, 2016. 

Well, I don't know where the time went last Saturday, and FBG Fest really is a Fest not to be missed!  If you don't want to park at the fest grounds, put your car in the Ybor parking garage and take the trolley right to the Fest! Afterwards, you can stop at Tampa Bay Brewing Company in Centro Ybor, and......... 

That's it for now... Cheers.....

Til next time,


Saturday, March 5, 2016

Opening Day in St. Augustine: Bog Brewing Company

It may be Spring Training elsewhere in the Sunshine State, but yesterday, St. Augustine witnessed its own Opening Day: Bog Brewing Company officially opened its doors to the public. Serving up six original house craft beers, owners Steve Mendoza, John France and Jeffery Hayes unlocked the front door at 218 West King St. to guests already waiting to be among the first customers to sample their beers. With a soft opening scheduled for noon, Steve let those folks in a few minutes early, and the steady stream of well-wishers continued throughout the day. I arrived shortly before 4pm, and I found the place humming with guests at the bar and tables. If you haven’t heard about the newest addition to the local North Florida brewery scene, take a look at my earlier story from a couple of weeks ago, where I got a sneak peek before opening day.

So, against that background, let’s get right to the beer! Bog Brewing listed the six available beers on the chalkboard behind the bar and also had laminated menu sheets describing each. There’s also wine available.

Bog Brewing intends to rotate the selection of beers, and on this Opening Day, they hit a home run with this team: Wheat IPA, Single Hop IPA, Cream Ale, Peach Mango IPA, Chipotle Porter and Chipotle Cream Ale. I like to try different beers, so I checked out a flight consisting of the first four.

L to R:  Wheat IPA, Single Hop IPA, Cream Ale, Peach Mango IPA

At the outset, I’ll say that Bog Brewing scores with its Cream Ale (6.0 ABV), a lighter brew that has good character. It’s a refreshing beer that’s a bit different from other cream ales in that there’s a noticeable, but yet subtle, spiciness from the Fuggles hops. It’ll be a go-to for Bog Brewing customers, as well as craft beer newbies alike.

Moving on to the Peach Mango IPA (6.7 ABV), this one has a pleasant light fruity aroma, with a touch of mango and peach flavor. Nice balancing with the citrusy hops, the result is a blend of flavors that work well together, with a dry finish. 

When I visited the guys a few weeks ago, I sampled the Wheat IPA (6.7 ABV), and I was looking forward to having another one! The wheat gives this beer a bit of fluffiness, which complements the citrus overtones from the Cascade and Centennial hops. What stands out here to me, though, is that the citrus doesn’t overpower your tastebuds. Another reliable beer.

Last of the flight was the Single Hop IPA, featuring the fruity New Zealand Pacific Jade hop, along with caramel malt. I also detected spicy/herbal notes. This beer is just hoppy enough without being a hop-bomb, is pleasing to the palate, and is highly drinkable.

 Then, I decided to wander into the Chipotle Porter. I’m typically not drawn to peppery and hot-spicy beers, but I was hearing good things, so I thought I’d give it a try. OK, that sample was pretty good, so I opted for the full pint (I’m a rebel). I first noticed the smokiness on the aroma, which followed through to the flavor. Abundant roastiness. And, wait for it … on the back end of this beer, the chipotle peppers make their presence known. Your tongue and taste buds feel and taste the heat, but want more at the same time. The beer is brewed with beechwood smoked malt and chipotles. Hey, Bog Brewing, you got me with this one.

Rounding out the beer selection was the Chipotle Cream Ale (6.0 ABV). It’s a hot version of the Cream Ale, aged on chipotles. I didn’t try this one, since I figured I had been daring enough already with the Porter, but I heard it packs a punch. That’ll be for another day.

And, you’ll probably want to take some of those brews back home with you, so get a quart growler to go (yes, they were filling them).

Bog Brewing is open 5 days a week, closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Stop by and see these guys, and enjoy a pint or flight in a friendly, neighborhood bar. The beer selection will change as they brew new beers and add to the roster, so you might want to check out this all-star opening lineup.

Til next time! Cheers!