Cigar City Brewing Jai Alai

November 24, 2010

I find it surprising that Cigar City’s beers haven’t made it to northwest Florida until very recently. There aren’t that many commercial breweries in the Sunshine State to begin with and it is tough for the smaller craft- and micro-brewers to get their name out there… but when someone is making beer this good it usually spreads like wildfire. Especially in a state with a severe lack of beer production to represent what we’re all about.

Cigar City Brewing in Tampa has fully embraced their local history and culture; a trait vividly reflected in their beers. They have the Maduro Brown Ale and the Humidor Series to pay tribute to the cigar industry of Ybor City (appropriately the Humidor beers are aged in cedar). There’s also the Jai Alai IPA.

Jai Alai is the Spanish version of the Basque game of pelota that came over with Spanish settlers once the explorers had discovered Florida. Played with a ball of tightly-wound metal strands covered in goatskin hurled out of the basket-like cesta glove, Jai Alai is a sport known for its speed and debilitating injuries. Top speed recorded of a Jai Alai ball has been 188mph. While still wildly popular in Miami, Orlando and Ocala, Tampa’s fronton stadium closed in the late 1990s.

Gone, but not forgotten. As I said, the guys at Cigar City Brewing love to exhibit their local history and influence through their beverages. They even consider which of their beers go best with what Cuban food or the appropriate cigar. Theirs is a passion not often seen, even amongst the craft brewing community. And just like the overhand swing delivery of a Jai Alai serve, Cigar City’s IPA is over the top.

It’s an amber colored ale with some gold around the edges. A ridiculous mountain of thick foam head builds up like a meringue topping leaving behind sticky sheets of lacing. Beautiful smells of apricot, tangerine, peach and grapefruit waft out of the Jai Alai. Instead of being a hop beast, it’s perfectly balanced with malt sweetness counteracting the astringency of the hops. There’re loads of grapefruit and grass with caramel and mango as counterpoint. The boys from Cigar City have coaxed a double IPA style out of a single IPA.