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Banjo
04-28-2011, 11:03 PM
Let's raise a glass to local craft beers

Submitted by Ed Stansel on April 27, 2011 - 5:53pm
http://jacksonville.com/opinion/blog/428360/ed-stansel/2011-04-27/lets-raise-glass-local-craft-beers
The beer scene in Jacksonville was pretty bleak 20 years ago. At most places, you could order any kind of beer you wanted as long as it was yellow, fizzy and mass-produced.

Then Ragtime Tavern in Atlantic Beach put in a microbrewery, introducing handcrafted beer to a public thirsty for something more interesting to drink.

Since then, other brewpubs have come and gone. Remember Hops? Tortugas? Southend Brewery? But a few held out, and now we're experiencing another craft beer explosion.

The Jacksonville area now has two commercial microbreweries, another being built and five brewpubs soon to be six that make beer for on-site consumption.

Here at Amber Waves (motto: So close to the craft beer explosion we got suds all over us), we thought it was a good time to embark on a pub crawl of local breweries and brewpubs, with one featured in this column each month.

It seemed logical to start with the granddaddy.

Ragtime began as an independent, was acquired by Gordon Biersch and now is part of Chattanooga, Tenn.-based CraftWorks Restaurants & Breweries, along with Seven Bridges Grille & Brewery in Southside and A1A Ale Works in St. Augustine.

You'll find the same core lineup of beers at all three restaurants, brewed to corporate recipe. So a Dolphin's Breath Lager at Ragtime will taste a lot like a King Street Lite Lager at A1A and a Southern Flyer Light Lager at Seven Bridges.

Ragtime brewmaster Scott Bannester is a veteran of Long Trail Brewing, Dogfish Head and Seven Bridges. He brews on a 10-barrel system crammed into tight quarters behind the bar.

"Every beer here is fresh," Bannester said. "It's gone within four to six weeks of brewing it."

Ragtime has six taps, three of them featuring the year-round core beers, plus a couple of seasonals and a Brewer's Select, where Bannester is given rein to experiment.

We tried a sampler, and indeed, all the beers tasted bright and clean, with no off flavors or aromas. Naturally, we liked some better than others.

Our favorite was the Bitter American Pale Ale, the current Brewer's Select choice. It's somewhere between an American pale ale and an IPA, with enough bitterness and grapefruity aroma and flavor hops to balance the maltiness.

Don't let the name scare you. It's not overly bitter just a crisp, satisfying beer.

We also liked the A. Strange Stout, one of the year-round brews. It's pleasantly roasty with chocolate notes, and finishes on the sweet side, not dry like a Guinness.

The Maibock, a spring seasonal, is a rich, malty brew that's sweet but not cloying, with a crisp finish. Pretty strong at 7.5 percent alcohol.

Dolphin's Breath Lager is a light beer offered year-round. It's fine for people who aren't looking for a lot of flavor or body or calories. And there must be plenty of folks like that out there, since this is one of Ragtime's top-selling beers.

The Red Brick Ale, another beer on tap all the time, is a red ale with medium malty body and some citrusy hops to cut the sweetness. The Sweet Magnolia Brown Ale seemed a bit thin and wasn't as flavorful as other American browns we've tasted. It's a winter seasonal that soon will be replaced by the Westbury Wheat.

Bannester says the Bitter American is so popular, he's thinking of putting it on year-round.

That would be a good thing.

On tap

Brewer's Pizza in Orange Park has obtained all the required permits and is now serving its own beer. Brewmaster Michael Payne so far has brewed a stout, an imperial red ale, an IPA and a malty golden ale (not a Belgian, he says, although he does plan to brew some Belgian-style ales for the summer). The stout and golden were expected to go on tap this week.

In Jacksonville Beach, Green Room Brewing is proceeding with build-out while awaiting its permits. The walk-in cooler is finished, and the bar is under construction. Brewer Eric Luman, formerly of Seven Bridges, expects to start brewing by the end of May and to open a few weeks later.

The Jacksonville Craft and Import Beer Festival, part of American Craft Beer Week, is set for Friday, May 20, in the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. Tickets are on sale: General admission is $30, VIP is $45. For more information and tickets, see www.beerfestjax.com.

For more American Craft Beer Week events, keep an eye on the Amber Waves blog, www.jacksonville.com/amberwaves

wortchillergoal
04-29-2011, 07:05 PM
I have been to A1A Ale Works in St. Augustine. On a personal note, I have not found their beers to be outstanding but drinkable. I have been disappointed by the lack of enthusiasm the bar staff showed for beer.