The friendly and comforting strains of the theme song for “Welcome Back, Kotter” are reverberating around my noggin. A mellow tune, to be sure, and fits so many situations perfectly. I’ll wager that when John Sebastian penned the song, he never envisioned it being applied to beer.
Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back Cigar City Brewing from Tampa. We’ve missed you guys. Your Florida- and cigar history-themed brews became a main staple here in the Panhandle. So, where’d you go for so long? “An inability to keep up with the local market,” explains owner/founder Joey Redner. “We increased production more than 25 times (from their first year of operation), but in the (last) year and a half we struggled to supply enough beer.”
Such is the downside of popularity in brewing circles; make stellar beer, your small independent brewery can’t meet volume demand. Turns out we weren’t the only ones with separation anxiety; Alabama, Georgia, New York and Pennsylvania were cut off the supply lines, too.
“It was a tough decision pulling out of the Panhandle,” Joey says, “but we knew that if we did, we could go back in and do it right the second time around.” Part of doing it right was the decision to switch to canning their flagship year-round beer; Jai Alai IPA, Maduro Brown Ale and a relative new-comer, Florida Cracker Witbier.
I find the inclusion of a former specialty release as a year-round to be poignant for numerous reasons. One, it speaks to the brewery’s sensibilities of beer themed after aspects of Florida culture and history. Two, it’s a funny jab back at the notion of the Southern Caucasian being some ignoramus. “I chose the name because I’m a proud 5th generation Floridian,” states Joey. The Florida Crackers were the original Southern Cowboys. “Cracker” is from the old English meaning someone making jokes or being boastful. Early frontier settlers in Georgia were called crackers and their descendents eventually became cow hands in Florida. The name migrated with them. “I thought it’d be cool to draw some attention to (their) history. That the beer is a white ale is a little tongue-in-cheek humor. But beyond that, I find the style to be very refreshing and perfect for the Florida climate.”
When you’re right, you’re right. Witbier, being wheat-based, is always a sensible choice for the outdoor sauna conditions Florida can be known for as the citrus notes and creamy body help quench the thirst. The traditional spice accompaniments of orange peel and coriander boost flavor while tipping their hats to Florida’s citrus industry and Latin influences; a serendipitous coincidence by nature of witbier’s recipe. Pale cloudy yellow with good head and nice ringlets of lacing, Cracker has an abundance of lemon, clove and soft vanilla scents with the slightest touch of fruity ester funk. Flavors are clean; juicy orange, tropical fruits and, well, a saltine cracker malt finish.
“Back here where we need ya!” Welcome back, indeed!