Brews, sports and cigars make for an epic weekend adventure
By Kevin Tall
It's that time of year, the annual trip with the guys. And it's finally my turn to pick the destination, but where to go? Given our motley group's shared love for good beers and good times, I figured it was time to take over Tampa Bay. It's got everything we're looking for in a weekend adventure.
About 20 minutes after leaving the airport, we're checking in at the Hilton Tampa Downtown. I feel right at home here. I've got just enough time to hit the gym and take a swim in the outdoor, heated pool before it's time to get cleaned up and head out for the evening. Tonight's agenda? A Tampa Bay Lightning game at Amalie Arena, just a few blocks away. The sun is shining and we decide to hoof it to the game. I hear good things about Hattricks, a local sports bar, which is conveniently right around the corner, so we head there to get our pre-game grub on.
Fierce as lightning
“Hear good things” doesn't exactly cover it for the wings at Hattricks. Every local I talk to in the crowded little sports bar says they have the best wings in Tampa. Since most of us like things on the spicy side, we get a few orders served Lightning—their version of hot—and wash them down with drafts from their impressive tap list. I can't think of any better way to get ready for a game.
After that, it's off to the arena and the hometown crowd is out in force. We pick a great game to see, as the Tampa Bay Lightning pound the visiting Buffalo Sabres in front of 17,000 hockey fans. It's always great to see superstars perform and Lightning captain Steven Stamkos—called “the best goal scorer in the world” by ESPN's Barry Melrose—gets first-star honors after scoring a goal on a nifty little pass play from Alex Killorn and Ryan Callahan and notching two assists on the evening. Goalie Ben Bishop continues to play strong in net for Tampa Bay and I'm sure they'll continue their winning ways into the postseason.
After the game, one brilliant soul says it's cigar time; our cab driver tells us King Corona Cigars in nearby Ybor City is the place to go and we're off. A little while later, I'm enjoying a couple of nice maduros, puffing on one and sipping on the other. Maduro is also the name of a brown ale by local brewer Cigar City. We put a stop by Cigar City Brewing's tasting room on the agenda for later on this weekend and, as one good idea often hatches another, we decide to hit up a few more of the local breweries that are making Tampa Bay a destination for brew enthusiasts.
The next morning brings a stop at the Hilton Tampa Downtown's in-house 211 Restaurant to fuel up before the day's activities. One lobster & crab eggs Benedict later and we're ready to hit the links at TPC Tampa Bay. With a par of 71, the course plays a bit long. In keeping with that theme, I have a long day on the course. Fortunately, golf is one of those things you don't always have to do well to enjoy. At the home of the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am, I'm definitely playing on the amateur side of things. But the beautiful course, lush with Bermuda grass and designed in consultation with tour legend Chi Chi Rodriguez, more than makes up for my day of duffing.
The day is looking up for another reason too: it's time to head to Cigar City Brewing. In keeping with tradition, we do the brewery tour, which comes with a CCB pint glass and 16 ounces of liquid goodness. I stick with my Maduro, but some of the guys are raving about their Jai Alai IPA and Florida Cracker white ale. Cigar City has a host of other year-round and seasonal offerings. It's no wonder they're helping put Tampa on the map.
Good things are also on tap just down the road at Angry Chair Brewing, with former Cigar City pilot brewer Ben Romano helping out owners Ryan Dowdle and Shane Mozur. So we check out the recently opened tasting room, which has five Angry Chair brews on tap, including the German Chocolate Cupcake Stout, a milk stout conditioned with coconut, vanilla beans and cocoa nibs. It's pretty much as magical as the name suggests. This is my new home.
Everyone else loves the 3 Little Birds Florida Weisse, a sour ale with guava, passion fruit and guanabana. Angry Chair also has guest taps, currently occupied by fellow locals 7venth Sun (Time Bomb Session IPA) and Coppertail (Hop Stream Double IPA) for those who prefer the light and bitter side of beer.
The next day, it's lunch at Ulele, a local restaurant with an on-site brewery just north of Downtown Tampa. As a burger guy, I can't resist trying the Ulele Burger, a char-grilled patty of ground short rib, brisket and chuck topped with the in-house steak sauce, cheddar cheese, Portobello mushrooms and fire-roasted red peppers. Paired with a pint of Rusty's Red, Ulele's malty American red ale? I'm a happy guy.
Sunday brings another edition of poorly-played golf, followed up by some amazing craft beer. The course at Innisbrook, across the Bay in Palm Harbor, gets high marks for its winter conditions. But the ambitious Graffiti Orange Creamsicle Wheat at the tasting room of Dunedin's 7venth Sun Brewery will cure the ire of a thousand bad days on the links. Sporting a hazy orange-ish body and offering notes of orange and vanilla, it's just one of several exciting offerings the Pinellas County brewery is contributing to Tampa Bay's burgeoning beer scene.
Due to the wild success of our Tampa takeover, the group has decided to put me in charge of picking the destination for next year's trip. While we might feel like the conquestadors, having mastered an epic weekend of sports and suds in Tampa Bay, I'm sure there's enough left to explore for a return visit.
To book your boys getaway, check out Tampa Bay.