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Monday, August 19, 2013

Cigar City Brewing's Jai Alai

  • Style: IPA
  • ABV: 7.5%
  • Ease to locate: Cigar City Brewing (or CCB for those in the know) only distributes in Florida.  They're located in Tampa and can be found in many grocery stores & gas stations through out the state.  So basically, it's like finding Spotted Cow in WI.  Only visiting Florida is a much easier sell in January than, say, Eau Claire
  • Color: Slightly hazy, golden amber that lets just enough light through to glow slightly from the inside out
  • Head: 2 finger slightly off white fluffy head with lots of lacing (check out the photo to the left)
  • Aroma: In one word?  YUM!  OK, I'll expand a bit.  Notes of citrus (mainly grapefruit), tropical fruits, a bit of resin and a nicely balanced sweetness from the malt backbone.  It just smells fresh.
  •  Mouthfeel: Medium (almost creamy) with a nice amount of carbonation.
  • Finish: Moderate with a sliding linger into a bitter, resin hopped tail
  • Food friendly: Very much so.  Grilled & roasted meats and poultry; fatty fish such as salmon & tuna; sausages of every kind; ethnic foods such as Thai and Hispanic (this and jerk chicken would be phenomenal.)  The list goes on and on.   For cheeses, pair it with sharp varieties, such as blue cheese, or peppery varietals such as pepper jack.      

I did not know that such a place as Ybor, Florida ever existed.  When I first saw the name, I thought that it must have been a typo in need of auto correct.  Of course I couldn't ask anyone because I had no idea what so ever how the hell to pronounce it anyway (it's pronounced "eee-bor".  But don't tell too many people.  I'm assuming it's a way of weeding out the locals from tourists down there.  Because almost EVERYONE wears Crocs in Florida, so that's no help.)   But as it turns out, I can thank this little slice of Tampa heaven for two of my favorite things to come out of sunny Florida, Cubano sandwiches and beer from Cigar City Brewing.  I get around the whole relatives living in Florida by rationalizing that they are my favorite things ever to go into Florida (I've learned that rationalizing in one form or another is very often the by product of a craft beer hobby.  When you are willing to pay $30 plus for a bomber of one special beer just because it says "limited" and "bourbon" on it, rationalization becomes your BFF very quickly.)  And one of the best things about having family living in Tampa is that if you ask nicely (OK, truth be told, I didn't even have to ask all that nicely.  Sometimes having out of town company can lead to your own bout of rationalizing,) they will take you to the Cigar City tasting room for an afternoon of beer, beer and, say it with me, more beer.

                                                                             Yes, this song does trip lightly through my head every time I open a beer. Now imagine me as a 5 year old singing it.
I was able to try an amazing line up of Cigar City's beers at their tasting room.  There were four of us doing flights, so we pretty much covered the board.  Even my Heineken loving uncle had to admit that their lager "wasn't bad."  And this is from a guy who sits down at a restaurant and immediately orders two Heinekens.  So he won't have to wait for the second one when the first is finished.  Personally, I could have just sniffed their Cubano Style Espresso Brown Ale all afternoon and I was completely enthralled with their Guava Berliner Weiss (I may have finished my pour, drank a cousin's pour AND gladly accepted the glass of it from a couple sitting next to us at the bar.  Don't judge.)  The beer that I was most exited to try was the IPA that has reached cult status across the country, Jai Alai.  Let's just say that I wasn't disappointed.  I ended up leaving the tasting room with a six pack of the espresso brown ale and a six pack of this impressive IPA (that was bottled just two days prior.  Score!)  I also tried to convince them that they needed to bottle the Berliner Weiss, so if you should suddenly see this nectar on the shelves down in the sunshine state, you'll know exactly who to thank.  I accept small bills and large pours.
This is probably the prettiest IPA that I've encountered in a long time.  But I think all the praise has gone to it's head.

My Jai Alai poured a golden amber liquid that seemed to glow from the inside out when held to the light.  It was slightly hazy, giving the color a bit of  depth and character.  A huge, fluffy two finger head emerged with just a shade off white foam that created an amazing crust of thick lacing all around the pint glass.  If you've read any of my previous posts (and if you haven't, now's a good time to catch up.  We'll wait.) I love a good lace show and this IPA certainly didn't disappoint.  The head lasted for most of the drink, eventually settling down to a thick, creamy surface layer. I don't know if it was because the can I opened was extremely fresh or if this beer just has some magic to it, but the aroma of the IPA was enticing and very seductive.  I notice that many of the Cigar City beers that I was lucky enough to sample had a great noses on them.  I found it very impressive that the brewers made the aroma of their beers such a priority.   On this brew, I could smell the dominant grapefruit notes right away, followed up quickly by qualities of tropical fruits and a bit of resin.  The sweetness of malt helped to round out the scent nicely.  The taste followed the nose, but more intensely.  The grapefruit forward flavors gave the taste a satisfying feeling of freshness and  purity (try not to take that as pretentiously as it sounds.  Those are just the two words that came to mind with my first sip.) I noticed the subtle notes of the pineapple, mandarin orange and possibly mango just under the citrus.  A nice supply of malt sweetness blended in on the swallow just as the resin flavor emerges.  The mouthfeel was medium with an almost creaminess to it without being syrupy or full.  Lots of carbonation helped to dry the brew out and make it extremely drinkable.  The finish was moderate, the resin on the tail was unmistakable, but didn't really linger.

Fluffy, soft clouds of foam.  I know of some stouts that would be jealous of this lace show.
It also settles almost like a stout.  Florida already claims Florida Weiss as their own.  Could this be a Florida Stout?

A well crafted IPA can be an extremely food friendly sort of brew.  The grapefruit freshness of Jai Alai lends itself to a slew of tasty pairings.  I'd serve it with a slightly sweet tropical, yet still spicy, dish such as jerk chicken  with a side of grilled pineapple.  This IPA would also pair wonderfully with a favorite summer meal of  fish tacos with tropical fruit salsa.  But lets face it, the ultimate meal is exactly what you might think, a simple & delicious pressed cuban sandwich, full of ham, roast pork and pickles.  That's my idea of beer & food Nirvana.  And while today my cuban sandwich may be made by a guy named Pete at my local Mariano's grocery store and my Jai Alai share a shelf with bombers of Chicago's finest, all I have to do is close my eyes and imagine that I'm back in the heart of historic Ybor.  I do wonder exactly how the nose and flavor profile will change as this IPA ages.  I imagine that it'll still be a great IPA, but maybe no longer a magnificent one.  I'm not sure if I'm willing to risk one of my precious few cans to find out. Next time I fly down to visit the cousins, I'm going to have to leave more room in my suitcase for CCB offerings.  I love my shoes, but a girl has to have her priorities straight after all.