Welcome to 2014! I hope the New Year finds all of my beer-braised meat-sacks alive and well. I, for one, am looking forward to the new year – Frederick Beer Week 4 is on the horizon, new Frederick breweries are in planning stages, and the coming year in Frederick Beer is looking bigger and better than ever.

Photo_3As for me, I closed out 2013 on vacation with the family. We took a cruise to Central America, leaving from Tampa. I used the opportunity to utilize the vacation, and the drive to Tampa as a beer safari. I had stops in Fayetteville, Savannah, Jacksonville, Tampa, Williamsburg, Honduras, Belize and Mexico, and went local in every locale…the results were a mixed bag.

Stop one, Fayetteville: We stopped for a late lunch at a Fayettville brewpub called the Huske Hardware House. The food was middling, serviceable. The beer, while good, was unspectacular. While I was particularly fond of their Irish Red, a style IPhoto often find to be a bit innocuous, the other beers that I sampled were decent, but nothing special.

That said, their farmhouse was interesting – it lacked the funk one normally expects and was very floral.

While I wouldn’t necessarily go out of my way for Huske again, if I found myself in Fayetteville, I could certainly see sitting down for another beer at Huske.

Stop two, Savannah: I never seem to spend enough time in this city, always arriving late and leaving early, and this time was no exception. We arrived after 10:00 PM on day one, and left twelve hours later. It was basically enough time for me to grab a pint in the hotel bar. I had a locally produced IPA from Southbound Brewing in Savannah. The Hoplin’ IPA was an exceptional beer after a long drive. I had hoped to pick up a six pack, but unfortunately, time didn’t allow for me to hit the local beer purveyor.

Next time.

Photo_2Stop three (also stop 8a), Tampa: Tampa was our departure and arrival port for the cruise, and I’m still not completely sure what to make of the city, except that I need to spend more time there. It was a bizarre mix of charming neighborhoods and urban sprawl, populated by an equally strange mix of charming, quirky restaurants, a massive number of beer bars, breweries, and, apparently, strip clubs.

We arrived in time for a late dinner with my sister-in-law and her husband at the Cigar City Brewpub. It made me wish Tampa were a whole lot closer.

The food was excellent, and the beer was exceptional.

Through the evening I sampled the Lips of Faith collaboration ale (a chili beer), Tocobaga (amber), the Russian Imperial Stout, and 1487356_10202264583912129_1503639423_nthe Northdale Pale Ale (as well as a Hill Farmstead beer on a guest tap – how do they have Vermont beer that we can’t get here?). Almost all of it was, in my opinion, top notch. This is a destination worth going out of your way to visit.

Tampa, as a whole, is someplace I would like to return to in order to experience more of the growing craft beer scene.

Before I left at the tail end of the trip, I visited the local Total Wine in order to stock up on some of the local fare that I am unable to obtain up here. I will be writing about some of those in future columns, but not today.

Stop four, The NCL Dawn: The ship….and it’s moribund beer selection. It was a bad one…not so bad as to be undrinkable, but it was pretty brutal. Budweiser’s greatest hits, Moretti, Peroni…if you wanted a blast of hops, you were shit out of luck. I will give them credit for having Guinness, New Castle, Franziskaner’s weiss bier, and Strongbow cider. But by the end of the trip, I wanted to suck on a hop bine.

Stop five, Roatan Island, Honduras: There were four beers available where I was on Roatan – Salva Vida, Imperial, Port Royal, and Barena. All four were of the Pils/pale lager category. The first three were actually solid, enjoyable beers. I could actually see sitting on a beach and knocking back the Salva Vida all day (it comes in at around 4.5 percent ABV).

As I recall, the Barena, however, lacked any real taste.

My wife did find a stout and a pale ale from a Honduran cervezaria by the name of Cleaveland. I wouldn’t wish these beers on my worst enemy. The stout was actually like briny, harsh caramel, and the pale ale was like trying to drink pine resin. They were…unpleasant.

Stop six, Belize: There were only three beers that I had from Belize. Belikin Lager, Lighthouse Lager, and Belikin Stout. The two 1511873_10202241631629697_1485587523_olagers, again light lagers, were solid, but unspectacular. The stout, while thin, was a pleasing tropical stout, with an enjoyable fruitiness in the Central American heat.

Stop seven, Costa Maya, Mexico: Um…no. Just…no. Not a single beer available here that you can’t get in the United States.

Stop eight, Cozumel, Mexico: This was an interesting stop. First observation – Corona actually has some flavor in Mexico…at least the Coronita (in a little bottle) did. This was the first stop with beers that demonstrated variety in style. I sample the Leon (a Munich Dunkel), Cerveza Obscura (English brown), Noche Buena (bock), and Indio (Vienna lager – although some say it’s an Oktoberfest). None of it was bad, the bock actually fairly good, but none was exceptional. It was, however, nice to see more than light lagers at the bars. Still, it was curious to me that there wasn’t an IPA to be found in Cozumel.

Stop nine, Jacksonville: On the drive across the peninsula, I had the wife looking up craft beer bars/dining establishments in Jacksonville, knowing that we would have to stop for dinner with the kids. We ended up at the Jacksonville Mellow Mushroom. The pizza was decent, but not great, but there were a slew of taps filled with craft beer.

After a week of light lagers and malt-heavy beers, I was jonesing for some hops. I wasn’t disappointed when I ordered the I-10 IPA from Jacksonville’s Intuition Ale Works. This little hop-bomb made me a happy camper after a week during which I had no access to hoppy beers whatsoever.

I also had Double Overhead by Green Room Brewing (also in Jacksonville), Stone’s 17th Anniversary Gotterdamerung IPA, and Cigar City’s Mosaic IPA (another damn good IPA by CC). The Mosaic and I-10 drove me to hit up the local Total Wine in search of local brews, and while I didn’t find the Mosaic, I did get to drive away from Jacksonville with some of the I-10, and a few other beers from the deep south.

Stop ten, Williamsburg: I initially intended to grab dinner at the DoG Street Pub, a craft beer bar right on the edge of Colonial Williamsburg. This was Monday night at 6:45 when I walked into their doors. After hearing that the wait for a table was in the neighborhood of an hour and quarter to an hour and a half, I walked out at 6:46 and headed out to Oceans and Ales. Oceans and Ales is a middling restaurant with a decent craft beer selection, and I had me a Rule G IPA from Norfolk’s Smartmouth Brewing Co.

The Rule G was a decent IPA, but not on the level of the style entries from the brewers from the deeper South.

If I can’t get there early enough to beat the crowd, then next time I’ll just stop at Mekong in Richmond.

Have a happy new year, and until next week, be well and drink good beer.