From the moment I exited my mother’s womb I was a Chicago Cubs fan.
My first words were in fact, “Hey Chicago, whaddaya say?” and my parents both pinched my cheeks, changed my diaper and proudly responded, “The Cubs are gonna win today!”
Family reunions started taking place at Wrigley Field before I knew what beer was, I partied in Wrigleyville with my cousins before IPA beers became mainstream, and I watched the Cubs win the World Series in 2016 against my now-husband’s home team as we sipped on stouts and cried for two different reasons.
Whether you attend games to eat concession snacks or because you’re a lifelong fan, there is something about choosing your game day cap, slapping on some sunscreen, heading to your first game or turning the game on at home, cracking open a beer, taking a sip and saying, “It’s a 'brewtiful' day for a baseball game.”
Our community is full of local breweries, with more entering the area by the fleets to feed us their fermented adult beverages. This made narrowing down the choices more difficult than understanding the new rules of baseball (like how the pitch clock will cut into my beer-consuming time). Like the beauty of baseball, these tasty three breweries in Sarasota and Manatee counties have created core memories for this below-average beer boozer who happens to be an above-average baseball fan.
Here are three breweries that have knocked it out of the park for me lately.
Most Valuable Player: Hawaiian Lion Porter ($7 draft, $12 6-pack). I know porters are primarily purchased in the winter months, but when you add 150 pounds of fresh coconut to local Java Dog Coffee and make it into an alluring and appetizing alcoholic beverage, I could sip that stuff 365 days a year. This rich, smooth and memorable beer has seen my fridge (and my belly) monthly for the past seven years — not to mention the lion design pops so proudly on the Publix shelves.
Grand Slam: Spring Kolsch ($6 draft, $14 6-pack). I drank Kolsch while living in Cologne, Germany, in 2011, where the beverage originates. Kolsch, in its light-bodied beer profile, reminds me of spring weather, being near or on the water and watching the sun fade away into the night. Big Top’s additive of peach flavors in their Spring Kolsch, 4.8% ABV, puts me in a pleasant mood and provides my palate with nostalgia that I didn’t know I missed so dearly. When you are in need of a beer that won’t bloat your belly but will get your boozy dance moves going, turn to the peach product from Big Top.
Fly the “W” Flag: Hazy Sky Wire NEIPA ($7 draft, $14 6-pack). Winning Best Juicy & Hazy Pale Ale in the state of Florida at the Best Florida Beer Brewer’s Ball, this grapefruit, pine and tropical fruit infused New England IPA is bright, beautiful and bold. NEIPAs, as shown in this Sarasota sampling, have a full flavorful body with fruit flavors at a lower bitter level than other IPAs. With obvious correlations to our circus community, Big Top’s creativity behind names and designs like this make me proud to support Sarasota (and now Lakewood Ranch!) brewmeisters like these.
Pre-Season Batter Up: I’m counting the days until Pumpkin Stiltskin Ale is on draft again. This pumpkin ale is spooky spectacular, devilishly deliciously and hauntingly worth the hype. Local pumpkin beer has never hit the mark for me, but Big Top’s version suspended any further speculation. With flavors of baked pumpkin and vanilla, cinnamon, honey and brown sugar — I wish this 8.9% ABV concoction could be featured continuously throughout the year. Hey hey, whaddaya say, Big Top?
Extra Base Hit: Nosh on K.D. Blue’s Gastropub on Wheels at the Big Top Sarasota location or join them for a food truck rally every second Saturday of the month. To soak up the pints of beer you can’t stop ordering, try the fried ravioli ($11.95). It will surely save your liver and treat your tastebuds to something super savory. Rotating food trucks are featured at the Lakewood Ranch location.
Most Valuable Player: Orange Wheat (4 oz. $3, 16 oz. $6.50, 32 oz. $12.50). As our one-minute-of-spring season fades into summer, drinking heavy beer is not on the agenda for most. Good Liquid knows how to generate libations for the summer season quickly sizzling its way toward us! This American-style wheat, clocking in at 5.5% ABV, has notes of sweet orange peel and zest — a perfect pair for a Floridian fan of beers during the dog days of April.
Grand Slam: Coconut Key Lime Sour (4 oz. $3, 16 oz. $6.50, 32 oz. $12.50). I might stand alone here, but I prefer sour beers to most other brewski offerings — as long as I’m carrying my to-go Tums container in my purse. Sours are brewed to the highest level of acidity possible, but according to this brew-babe, sours are the crisp of the crop. So when Good Liquid released a coconut and key lime sour, then won a silver medal in the Best Florida Beer Sour category, I packed my anti-acids. In a flash, I found myself in line at the Waterside-based bar eager and excited for the enchanting extracts of Floridian flavors in a fermented fashion.
Fly the “W” Flag: Milk Stout (4 oz. $3.50, 16 oz .$7, 32 oz. $17.50). I am cocoa-nuts for this. I like my stouts like I like my coffee: chocolaty, milky and sugary — and that is exactly how Good Liquid creates its American milk stout, 6% ABV. While this offering is only available for a limited time, the chocoholic in me had to chime in and chant for this chocolate contribution to the community. For those with a dairy allergy, this might not be the brew for you, but with all the other Good Liquid offers, you won’t be standing sober, I assure you.
Pre-Season Batter Up: A dear friend of mine would have lived at Good Liquid after having this apricot hefeweizen if she hadn’t moved away. I’ve never seen someone have a heart for hefeweizen like her — whether it was a day on the boat or a bonfire night, her hefeweizen appreciation rang true all year through. This German-style white beer is blended with a luscious apricot puree that pairs perfectly with plopping down on a pleasant rocking chair placed on the restaurant’s porch. I’ll save you a seat for your return to Lakewood Ranch, Meghan.
Extra Base Hit: It’s the cast iron meatballs ($15.50) topped with grated grana Padano that make boozing on the dock, in the beer garden under the string lights and inside the restaurant all that more delicious for me. But don’t let the appetizers fool you. There is a full menu with burgers, pizzas, entrees and more — including a brunch menu!
Most Valuable Player: Zote. When my brother-in-law, who is a brew master in North Carolina, sat down and sipped Zote for the first time, the words that left his grinning mouth were, “Damn, if that isn’t the juiciest beer I’ve ever had.” Most restaurants and bars in Sarasota carry Calusa’s 7.5% ABV flagship beer as the standard IPA on draft — as they should. Tropical, citrus, and when poured into a glass, it shines like the Florida sunshine.
Grand Slam: My husband and I have two part Maine Coon cats and plan on loving as many four-legged fur babies as our house can hold for years to come. So when Calusa released a beer named after their own brewery-based cats, I instantly needed to try it, meet these two purrfect local celebrities and promise my husband and the staff that I would not put them in my bag and bring them home. Recently tapped at the brewery, the Bones and Domino Double NEIPA is back and will have you feline fine in no time.
Fly the “W” Flag: Talk about tart, tasty and totally top-tier beer. The LemonBerry Squeeze Fruit Beer, coming in at 5.%% ABV, is currently offered on draft in the taproom or can be purchased in four-packs to go. It gave my sour-loving heart a sweet and sensational feeling that only brew-based guardian angels could relinquish. Twists of strawberry and as Calusa’s social media posts put it, a “flavorful escape in every sip.”
Pre-Season Batter Up: With can releases happening on Saturdays at the brewery, these brewing geniuses will probably release another new can to the mix before this column is even published. For example, Taylor Pogue, the marketing director for Calusa Brewing, gave me a sneak peek into the BA PB Swirl that is out now (but wasn't at the time of this research). I will tell you before relishing this refreshment that when you bring roasted peanuts and vanilla beans aged in a bourbon barrel for six months into the alcoholic atmosphere, it assures that all dreams can become realities.
Extra Base Hit: Calusa’s food truck schedule is updated weekly on its website and Facebook page. But some of the tasty trucks that I have delightfully dined with include Big Blue Grilled Cheese, The Greeks Food Truck and Il Funky Fusion. The list of food truck offerings, which ranges from burgers to barbecue to everything in between, is pretty impressive.
Emma B. Jolly has worked at Observer Media Group for five years as the digital fulfillment specialist with previous experience at Sarasota Magazine, Harper's Bazaar and even "The Jerry Springer Show" (yes, that's right). In her spare time, she enjoys doing anything near or on the water, being a cat mama and, of course, being a foodie with her new hubby.