Our little slice of Gulf Coast Heaven is beginning to see a lot of small craft breweries pop up within sight of the powder white beaches and emerald waters of Florida’s Panhandle. To me, this is further proof that a broad cross-section of the population accustomed to light-bodied mainstream beer is ready for something better, particularly a population such as ours known for its laid-back, suntan attitudes and hard-working, outdoor activities.
There’s a day-trip I’ve been meaning to take for some time now. Turns out there are these little, out of the way gems on the beach routes out of Panama City. For example, there is one heck of a restaurant in Apalachicola called Up The Creek Raw Bar that is serving up fare like Snapper Ceviche with Jalapeno Vinaigrette; Pan-fried Amberjack with a salad of Pickled Garlic Shoots, Chorizo Hash and Chilled Clam; Raw Oysters with Habanero-White Balsalmic Mignonette. All of it very fresh and extremely local.
Right around the corner, literally, is Oyster City Brewing. The name taken from Apalachicola’s once-legendary – and currently rebounding – reputation as having some of the world’s best oysters, this burgeoning brewery is barely a full year old and they’re already producing some of the neatest, most straight-forward beer I’ve had in a while.
A quick word on Apalachicola’s oysters… These amazing bivalves’ beds have been damaged by the run-off from construction and pollution from further up the Apalachicola River. Combine that with the recent droughts, the critical balance of fresh-to-salt water essential for these oysters to thrive has been almost irrevocably altered.
OCB’s brew master, Bo Walker, stopped by my office early last week with samples of his work for me to try. His Hooter Brown Ale gets its name from another local angle, along with a big-time ingredient. The brewery sources fresh Tupelo honey from Owl Creek, about 100 lbs for each batch of Hooter! That equates to near $700-worth of honey!
And it’s worth it. I’ve had many a brown ale that are ho-hum, but not this one. A tall, rugged man, Bo stood towering over my desk and handed me a glass of Hooter; a confident grin on his face as he knew what was coming. Sweet, nutty scents of pecan granola came wafting up out of the chocolate-brown liquid. Big hits of toasted malt and toffee ride that mild Tupelo honey flavor with faint traces of coffee and leafy hops for the tiniest of bitter counterpoint. However it is they manage to hide the beer’s 8.4% ABV is a sign of brewing excellence. The “wow” expression on my face is what he was waiting for; the cause of his grin.
Welcome to the neighborhood, Oyster City! Looking forward to seeing y’all again at the Pensacola Beer Fest this weekend!