Cigar City Brewery Review

by Daniel on November 23, 2012

If you happen to travel anywhere near Tampa, Florida, I suggest you stop by Cigar City Brewing.  I flew in to Tampa for a wedding and stopped at the brewery both upon my arrival, and then again just before my departure.  It was that good!  They’ve got a 15 barrel system and mostly focus on distribution in Florida state, making their beer tough to find and certainly sought-after.  Fortunately, they’re located conveniently close to the Tampa airport, so you don’t have to go out of your way if you happen to visit.  I’ll give you a rundown of the beers I tasted and share with you why I was slightly disappointed when I went to bring some home.

In their tasting room, Cigar City offers a staggering number of beers on tap to choose from.  On my visit, they had 22 of their own plus 2 guest beers.  You can get a sample flight of any four beers (excluding guest beers) for $6-8 depending on the beers you select.  You write your choices down on a ticket and they fill your order on a custom cigar shaped paddle.  My first flight selection, consisting mostly of their highest gravity beers, happened to contain the majority of my favorite beers of the visit (in order left to right on the photo):

my first flight at Cigar City

  • Bourbon Barrel Aged Big Sound Scotch Ale – 9+% ABV
  • Warmer Winter Winter Warmer – 11% ABV
  • Dos Costas Oeste Sour Ale – 9% ABV
  • Marshal Zhukov’s Imperial Stout – 11% ABV

The Bourbon Big Sound turned out to be my favorite overall beer of the entire visit, and ousted AleSmith’s Wee Heavy as my top Scotch Ale of all time.  It was a good thing I was sitting down, because otherwise I’m pretty sure my knees would have buckled.  It’s got a caramel malty nose with a hint of the bourbon.  The bourbon also comes through nicely in the flavor, which is incredibly complex with notes of malty sweetness, dark fruit, toffee, and a little spice.  It finishes warm and smooth with a linger that lasts and lasts.  I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t yet have the chops to distinguish all of the different flavors in this beer, but I certainly can appreciate it.  Put this beer on your bucket list, seriously.  The Warmer Winter Winter Warmer had less heat than I expected for 11% which gave it a lot of drinkability.  It’s got a lot of malt and a hint of fruity sweetness.  The booze will definitely sneak up on you and warm you up.  Dos Costas Oeste is a clever collaboration between The Bruery (the Pacific west coast), and Cigar City (the west coast of Florida).  It’s a sour ale aged with Spanish cedar that comes through both in the aroma and the flavor.  This beer is definitely unique, and I’m guessing not everyone will like it–my brother and I did though.  It’s got almost a lemongrass character from a combination of the cedar and the sour flavor, with a variety spices on the finish.  Marshal Zhukov’s Imperial Stout was a nice way to finish this grouping.  It’s smokey, thick, chewy–all the things you would expect from a great imperial stout.

cigar city brew house

Another beer of note was the Tocobaga Red Ale – 7.5% ABV.  Among their more “traditional” and lower alcohol content beers, this was a standout.  Nice and hoppy, lots of floral notes without so much bitterness, and a nice balance of malt.  In my opinion an excellent example of the style and way above average in the world of craft beer reds.  It was good enough that I purchased a six-pack to take home to share with my home brew club friends.  The rest of the beers I tried in the tasting room, which I’ll list briefly, were all just fine but nothing too special:  End of Summer Pale Ale, Itsa Pale Ale, Tony Jannus Pale Ale, Zythos Pale Ale, Florida Cracker White Ale, Hotter Than Helles Lager, Maduro Brown Ale, and Jai Alai Pale Ale.  They also had a Vanilla Maduro Brown Ale, for which the vanilla added some nice smooth complexity on top of the toffee and chocolate flavors.  They’re definitely doing a great job appealing to as many people as possible – as demonstrated by how busy their tasting room was both times I was there.  I can understand how having so many options in the lighter categories appeals to many people that are wanting in to the craft beer scene but may not quite be ready for the “crazy” beers that they also offer to keep someone like me wanting more.

Now for why I was disappointed:  When it comes to getting growler fills or buying bottles to take home, the selection was really minimal.  They had just a single door cooler containing six or so of their beers in bottles and cans for purchase, mostly consisting of their “core beers:”  Jai Alai, Hotter Than Helles, Maduro Brown, and the Tocobaga Red.  The only specialty beer available was their 5th batch of a series they named “110K+OT” which this year is an Imperial IPA that I purchased and am looking forward to sharing.  As for growlers, more of the same story.  The only specialty available in a growler during my visit was Marshal Zhukov’s Imperial Stout – and it had run out when I stopped by before my flight home, so I couldn’t scoop that up.

One final positive note to leave you with:  At the Tampa airport they not only have a have a Cigar City bar, but it also includes a 1.5 barrel mini-brewery where they brew and serve some beers they don’t even have at the main brewery!  While I was waiting to board my plane, I sat and tried the Pumpkin Sweet Stout (6% ABV).  It was just what I needed before the flight:  malty with dark chocolate, caramel, and pumpkin notes with a smooth finish.  Whatever excuse you have to use get to Tampa, use it and stop by Cigar City Brewing.  They have some really awesome beers and are constantly rotating taps, so if you’re into the crazy beers like me but your spouse isn’t as adventurous yet–they’re likely to have something he/she might enjoy too!

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Jack Mansur Jr November 24, 2012 at 4:24 pm

Dan: I always look for their beers when I travel in Florida (every winter.) You’re right about a very limited selection available in bottles (anywhere I’ve shopped) but there’s nothing wrong with their ‘standard five’ . Thanx for the notes on their drafts at the brewery. I’m most certainly plan to stop by this winter.

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