Most people view me as an outdoors writer—kayaking, hiking, biking—so when friends heard I was writing about Tallahassee’s emerging craft beer industry, I received puzzled looks. I pointed out that beer and the outdoors often go hand-in-hand. Plus, I learned about beer from my father. Lagers, ales, malts, stouts, porters—you name it, he appreciated them. When I began touring Tallahassee’s Brew District—five microbreweries in and around downtown—I thought of ol’ Dad and knew he would have loved hopping around and sampling the various craft beers.
To build in some family time, my adult daughter, Cheyenne, and niece, Alexia, joined me. GrassLands Brewing Company near CollegeTown was our first stop. In 2017, its robust porter beer won gold in the Best Florida Beer competition. Besides a full lineup of high-quality beers, some of which are distributed statewide, GrassLands features an outdoor biergarten that boasts a sustainable hydroponic vegetable and herb garden. “Craft, Community and Conservation” is its motto.
Bar manager Andrew Pitts set us up with several samples on tap. The first was G Street American Blonde, which Andrew described as “very approachable to every person’s palate.” He added, “It doesn’t have flavors that overwhelm you. It’s even okay for light beer drinkers.”
We also sampled a golden ale called Blonde Claude Van Damme Belgian Blonde, a heavy porter labeled Advanced Darkness, a fruity-tasting beer known as Space Raptor and the most amazing of all, a spiced Belgium-style Saison called Thanksgiving Stuffing Horizon. It was a cross between herbal dressing and sage-encrusted roast turkey. Really.
“This one just makes me happy,” said Alexia about the feast in a glass, a delighted smile on her face.
Our next stop was Proof Brewing Company in the heart of Tallahassee’s funky art community known as Railroad Square. Proof is the Capital City’s first and largest production brewery with accolades that include two 2017 gold medals for pale ales in the Best Florida Beer competition; it is one of the state’s finest. It also hosts the Florida Tap Invitational, which features more than 40 Florida craft breweries and 100-plus new and exciting beers.
Before sampling the brews, we toured behind the scenes with ebullient Lead Brewer David Kant-Rauch. We viewed row after row of massive steel fermenting containers and racks of wooden barrels, witnessed how the brewers can the two most popular brews—Mango Wit and Eightfive-O—and, best of all, smelled sweet grain buckets of malts and hops.
“I wouldn’t be doing anything else,” said David. “I love coming in here at five in the morning and taking these basic ingredients and turning them into something greater than the sum of their parts. I find it quiet and meditative.”
David started brewing in college when he became dissatisfied with commercial beer. “When I cracked open that first bottle, I said, ‘Yeah!’ It was a magical process.”
A relative newcomer to the Tallahassee brewery scene, Ology Brewing Company in Midtown puts Tallahassee front and center in the country’s emerging sour beer movement. Ology’s barrel-aged sour beer mixes fermented hops and fruits, reminiscent of fine winemaking. Its acclaimed Batch 1 was fermented in a red wine barrel with 80 pounds of peaches and apricots for six months and then emptied and bottle conditioned for two months. Paste magazine acclaimed it as one of the top 10 beers of the 2017 Florida Tap Invitational. More sour beer batches are brewing.
“We are the first to make sour beer an intentional main focus,” said founder and Head Brewer Nick Walker. Besides sour beers, a smooth IPA known as Sensory Overload is a crowd favorite.
Southwest of Ology is Lake Tribe Brewing, a family-run business named after the former YMCA Indian Guides group. Taproom Supervisor Grant Sennott offered us several taste tests—Red Cloud IPA, Old Chief IPA, Beckster’s Satsuma sour beer and even some refreshing home-brewed, non-alcoholic ginger ale and birch beer.
He said a rising number of “beer tourists” are coming into the establishment, people who supplement their vacations by sampling various craft beer establishments, similar to how American tourists go pub hopping in Europe. “That’s really cool to see. One man said he had visited nearly one thousand breweries.”
Rounding out the tour was DEEP Brewing Co. off Centerville Road, home of Spear Pressure, a popular golden ale. It also produces Maple Coffee Stout, Toasted Pecan Porter and other creative standouts.
“The pecans are from my Dad’s pecan grove in Havana,” said owner and Head Brewer Ryan S. LaPete during a tour. “We also use local Satsuma oranges, kumquats, blackberries, paw-paws, persimmons and other local fruit in our brews and sour beers.”
After showing us his brewing process, he scanned the crowd filling his establishment on a Friday evening. “There’s always something new to learn in brewing, engineering and selling. Everything is constantly moving. There’s no way you can possibly know everything, but seeing people enjoy the beer is my greatest reward.”
Ryan says that with 45 to 50 types of hops to choose from and more being added every year, the variations for craft brews are seemingly endless.
Bars and restaurants around Tallahassee are also increasingly featuring craft beer on tap. Some, such as Fermentation Lounge in the All Saints District, occasionally brews a beer or two themselves while featuring those of other brewers. MoMo’s Pizza & Brewpub is also a great spot to kick back with a satisfying made-from-scratch slice of pizza and a frosty glass of craft beer while taking in some local live music.
One common theme pervaded all of Tallahassee’s breweries. It’s where millennials, boomers, generation Xers and a few of the greatest generation all meet on common ground, sampling innovative home brews together. I knew ol’ Dad would have liked that part, too.
Doug Alderson is the author of several published books, including A New Guide to Old Florida Attractions, Wild Florida Waters. When he is not sampling craft beer, he is dipping a kayak paddle in a local river.