Christmas might be eight days away, but beer-wise it’s come early to the Gulf Coast. Craft brewing has exploded across America in the last two years and the Panhandle is no exception.
Local suds enthusiasts can look no farther away than Kiln, Mississippi to the west and, outside of our own city, Fort Walton Beach to the east to discover great beer. Heading inland there are eight breweries supplying local bars, restaurants and retail outlets from within a day’s drive of Pensacola with more coming very soon.
Follow Highway 98 east and one could make stops at Props in Fort Walton, Grayton in Santa Rosa Beach, Port St. Joe in, well, Port St. Joe and Oyster City in Apalachicola. Road trip!
As brewery representatives come to visit with me, they usually ask what they can do to help us increase their presence and, therefore, sales. A lot of these are small breweries just getting off the ground, so I don’t want them spending their hard-earned money on the standard promotional materials; pint glasses, t-shirts, hats and stickers. Instead, there’s something very easy we can do for them that doesn’t cost any money.
We have, in the warmer months, a steady supply of tourists heading our way. Naval Air Station brings Pensacola new recruits all the time and their families come to visit as often as they can. UWF is growing in student body. All of this equates to a lot of new faces who are seeing our corner of the world for the first time.
I’m starting a public relations campaign within our restaurant group to showcase local beer. A lot of visitors that have stopped by Hopjacks over the last 7 years ask us what’s local to drink. Now, we’ll have maps posted around the restaurants that’ll show them. It’s one thing to hear that Brewery A is from Town B somewhere in Florida, but when a guest sees exactly how close it is, it drives the interest in the product higher.
The newest addition to my “Drink Local, Y’all” campaign is Idyll Hounds Brewing, also out of Santa Rosa Beach. Brand-new and hoping to grow, they’ve tip-toed out of the gate with only two selections, but it’s more about quality over quantity. Case in point is their Divide And Conch’r IPA. More than just a clever name, it’s a tasty and balanced beer. Clear, shimmering gold, Divide provides a nice, tall eggshell white head of micro-bubbles leaving sticky lacing everywhere. Grapefruit, pine and passion fruit define the scents which makes sense considering the volume of hops Idyll Hounds used to get this up to 100 International Bitterness Units. Remarkably, the sweet malt shows through to balance out the bitter citrus and tropical fruit notes.
It’s time for the Panhandle to define itself as its own regional brewing identity and Idyll Hounds is definitely helping to establish that presence.