Cigar City Jai Alai IPA

August 21, 2009 by Aaron Goldfarb | Filed under Brewer: Cigar City, Country: America, Grade: B regular, Style: IPA.

7.5% ABV on tap

Presented in ascending order, my most desirable American breweries to try a beer from, that I’ve never had a beer from.  Did that make sense?  So these are breweries–or tiny brew pubs in many cases, no surprise–in which I have never had a single beer from, yet are ones that I most would like to have a single beer, any beer, but preferably many beers, from.

HONORABLE MENTION:  Shorts, Midnight Sun, Alaskan, Sweetwater, Aaron’s Imaginary Microbrewery

10. Pisgah (Black Mountain, NC)

9.  Flossmoor Station (Flossmoor, IL)

8.  Central Waters (Amherst, WI)

7.  COAST (North Charleston, SC)

6.  Moonlight (Fulton, CA)

5.  Live Oak (Austin, TX)

4.  Barley John’s (Minneapolis, MN)

3.  Bullfrog (Williamsport, PA)

2.  Kuhnhenn (Warren, MI)

1.  Cigar City (Tampa, FL)

For whatever kooky reason, I’ve wanted so badly to try Cigar City beer from since even before they’ve been a brewery.  Seriously.  I started following their splendid blog over a year ago as they day-by-day cataloged their “trials and tribulations of opening a brewery in Florida.”  Then, when the brewery did finally open early this year and immediately started getting boffo reviews for its first releases, I was even more smitten.  The fact that they had a meager, meager distribution arm made them even more enticing.  Heck, my sister lives in Florida, Fort Lauderdale to be exact, and even she wasn’t able to get Cigar City for me.  These beers were playing hard to get and I was captivated.

So imagine my surprise when, just this week, Cigar City finally, ahem, penetrated the New York City market.  I rushed to the great Rattle ‘N’ Hour at the first hour I found happy on Thursday, the first day they tapped New York’s first Cigar City offering, the highly regarded Jai Alai IPA.

And I was bitterly disappointed.  The IPA I tasted had a mild, mild carbonation almost bordering on cask ale.  I assure you it was straight from the tap and I believe it was tapped correctly.  The most muted of piny–not Pliny unfortunately–and hops smell with just a hair more flavor than aroma.  A decent hops bitterness and a tad of malt sweetness to smooth it out on the back end.  Reminded me of a poor, poor man’s Smuttynose Finest Kind IPA.  I felt this IPA was made very cowardly, with the weakest of flavors in all capacities.  I can’t express how gravely disappointed I was.  One compliment, and only one compliment, is that I am stunned how high the ABV is.  Jai Alai rolls down your throat like a 5% beer, again though, perhaps due to the real lack of biting carbonation.

I hate to be arrogant, I hate to reveal my big city elitism in all its inglory, but the mediocrity of this beer yet again makes me question the veracity of highly rated brews coming out of the exact opposite of beer oasises.  Oases?  (OK, that isn’t underlined in red so I must have spelt it right.)

Beer geeks that live in New York or Philly or Chicago or San Diego or Seattle, etc, have access to countless great brews.  So if a new upstart comes on the market, it better be fucking good or it simply will not survive the Darwinian beer race.  But Florida and specifically Tampa has shitty beer.  A new brewery hits the scene and even if they’re just making B+ quality beer, the locals go nuts.  (Sure better than Corona!  Or well mai tais!)  They’ve never had anything this great before.  And don’t deny the rah rah local homerism either.

I get how this works.  I grew up in Oklahoma City.  Not exactly the Paris of the southern USA dining world.  Afloat in a sea of chain restaurants, any time some halfway decent “exotic” Chinese or Thai or Japanese or “New York style” pizza place would open, locals would flip their culinary shit like they were wielding their fork or chopsticks at Thomas Keller or Ferran Adria joints (not that they would know who those master chefs are (good lord, could I be more arrogant?!))  For the simply reason that they only had the deplorable Applebee’s and Panda Express at the mall food court to compare these places too. These places would be nothing more than also-rans in New York or San Francisco, but in a less competitive place they were superstars.  And I’m starting to believe the same goes for some of these purely local breweries out there.

So thus, I am now leery of the other highly rated Cigar City beers, and the incredibly highly rated Live Oak stuff coming out of Austin (not exactly Ghent), and all the other A-level beers coming out of places like Des Moines and Little Rock and Tulsa and Utica.  No offense.  Wait, yeah, OFFENSE.

Ho hum…I plan to give both Jai Alai and a few other Cigar Citys another shake this weekend.  I hope I have my tastebuds swayed.

So, what are your most desirable breweries to try a beer from which you have never tried a beer from?  Maybe we can get some local trades going, quid pro quo and shit for everybody.


4 Responses to “Cigar City Jai Alai IPA”

  1. Taco Town Dave says:

    So your potential enthusiasm for Live Oak Hefe and the upstart CoOp from OKC have been tainted by this over hyped brewery…too bad. Though I will admit my lust for an even halfway decent locally made beer could have clouded my judgment. You’ll have some eventually, so you can judge for yourself. Live Oak Hefe is the TRUTH, IMO.

  2. It’s been tainted a tad, yes. I’m trying some more Cigar City today. Hopefully I enjoy it.

  3. Joey says:

    I’m not sure why the carbonation was so low. It certainly wasn’t by design and I hope it isn’t an issue with the batch we sent to NY. The kegs we sent up were not ours, but from our NY based distributor and we haven’t used them before.

    As far as the beer itself we take a different approach to our IPA and it has as much to do with all the other stuff we brew as it does the IPA itself.

    The house yeast we use is geared toward dark English ales and bitters. Thames Valley is not the ideal yeast for making classic American IPA’s. But we never intended for our IPA to be a classic American IPA. It’s an English IPA hybrid…English yeast with American hops.

    If you view it through the lens of an American IPA, it will suffer by comparison, just as if you view an American brown ale, through the lens of an English Brown Ale the former wont pass muster.

    Of course if you think our Brown Ale and our many other English leaning beers suck big time as well, then we may just not be the brewery for you or we may just flat suck.

    But, in regards to less metropolitan locals having nothing to compare to you seem to have forgotten a large reason for the force behind craft brewing. Home brewing.

    In not factoring the impact of home brewing on your assessment of regional brewing quality you have been remiss. Home brewing is the minor leagues of commercial craft brewing and this year Tampa’s Home Brew Club was the 2009 Gambrinus Award Winner:

    There is world class beer made in Tampa everyday. You may think CCB doesn’t make any, that is an opinion you are entitled to. But you’ll have to dismantle the entire competition structure of the Brewer’s Association to claim that Florida has no good brewers or that Tampa’s beer scene is comprised of a bunch of gullible oafs who wouldn’t know a good beer if someone hit them in the head with it.

    In short your opinion of CCB might be dead on. But your belief that people in Tampa make shitty beer isn’t. You just can’t buy all the great beer that is made here. You have to ask a home brewer to let you try it.

    Joey Redner

  4. Wes says:

    Hey, I vote Aaron Goldfarb “Beer Douche” of the week! Way to go Aaron!

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