Sunday, October 24, 2010

Gecko's Pub

Firkin Around...Sarasota, Florida.

    Out with the wife, doing the Sunday afternoon 'husband' duties…waiting while she clothes shops.  My reward for being patient was Gecko’s.  Across the parking lot from the mega pants/shirts/shoes/sweater box-in-the-mall is this lovely little oasis of a pub.

TV’s everywhere with football, on a Sunday afternoon. Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. Our lunch was tasty, with a generous sized portion and service was just fine at this establishment.  It also didn’t hurt that Gecko’s had a tidy menu of some fine craft selections.  Taking their place alongside the big yellow three were Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Yuengling Lager  and Samuel Adams Octoberfest, all on tap. It was also cool to see the Guinness, Newcastle and Blue Moon, (hey, at least Miller is trying to ‘get’ this craft beer thing.)

All of them make fine gateway beers, allowing you to get into new and different tastes.  There also were some great bottle selections.  They included Sam Adams Boston Lager, Bass Ale and Abita Purple Haze.  Relative newcomer and local Sarasota distributed brew, Jalehouse Light was also present. Nice!  Props for the little guy!

This makes it evident that yet another restaurant chain understands the beer drinker's palate is changing. And, for the better.  Understandably, many restaurants are shifting to tried and true best sellers at first.  This way, the restaurants don’t get caught paying for what they can't sell to beer drinkers looking for what’s outside the norm. Cheers to them!  These baby steps will begin to allow customers more informed and better choices than just the big three’s yellow water offerings.

Hit up this chain soon. The tide’s turning in the favor of craft beer. Hurrah!

PS - Actually we were shopping for me too, and we were both hungry. But it made a better story!

Firkin Fun Sunday!

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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Yalaha Bakery

Firkin Around...Howey-in-the-Hills, Florida.
Yalaha Bakery

Way off the beaten path, on a road in pretty much the middle-of-nowhere, lies a quaint yellow bakery.  The place? Yalaha, Florida. Never heard of it? Let me fill you in.

Returning from a brewery tour in Orlando, it occurred to me that I hadn’t been to this bakery in quite a long time.  It was only a 40 minute side track to get there.  When my wife noticed we were not heading home via the usual route, she realized just what was going on.  This has become a favorite spot of ours, so there were no complaints from her.  Always fun, laid back and family friendly.

Vintage Bavaia 2002's
Arriving during September/October is always advised, especially when it’s the Oktoberfest season. They usually have something festive going on to celebrate Oktoberfest.  But just about anytime of the year is great to visit.  When we arrived, there were pony rides for kids in the back field. We were also fortunate to spot a BMW road club, making this a pit stop in their vintage 1970’s Bavaria 2002 model autos. During another visit, we listened to a genuine oom-pah  brass band and another time we were treated to some local blues musicians. You never know what to expect, so it's advisable to check their website calendar.

If that isn't enough to set the mood, don’t forget the wonderful breads and desserts that are handmade on the premises by the fabulous bakers.  Along with this the German style deli will whip up a sandwich with some best homemade potato salad this side of your mom’s kitchen. All the little details are in the sandwiches from the bakery fresh breads, (yum) and the sides, right down to the pickle spears.

Here for the beer, too!

Now this is a beer blog, you say. So what about the beer? That’s a great question. I was just whetting your appetite for the final act. Sure they have your standard yellow macro brews available, but alongside them in the refrigerated case, I was happily surprised to see the likes of Beck’s Oktoberfest, Warsteiner Lager and Dunkel and Bitburger.  It’s the perfect way to top off the perfect lunch.

Get lost in central Florida and discover this gem of a spot. It is well worth the trip from anywhere.

Firkin Oktoberfest!

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Saturday, October 16, 2010

Orlando Brewing Company

Firkin Around...Orlando, Florida.
The trip to Orlando Brewing started with an email. Several fellow bloggers were contacted to see if they were interested in a private brewery tour and sampling session.  Well, heck yeah!

I'm always up for a trip to O-town and quite frankly, I had not heard much about this particular brewery.  That was about to change. What I did know was that Orlando Brewing is a USDA certified organic brewery. This means they have to adhere to a strict review of their ingredients by government regulation in order to carry the 'certified organic' labeling.
The word organic can cause confusion with some people. Sometimes it may even make the uninformed a bit skeptical, conjuring up images of tree hugging crazies.  Well, nonsense. Get that notion out of your head.  The Orlando Brewery uses selected hops and malts that are free from synthetic chemicals, irradiation and sewage sludge. The farmlands typically have been run this way for a period of three or more years to be considered organic. Strict, regular reviews and inspections are also necessary to be sure that the laws are being adhered to at the sites. It all makes for a purer brew, albeit a bit more expensive due to the nature of the synthetic free conditions in which they are raised. All in all, it can make for a better beer.

The Orlando Brewery was founded in 2002 and opened in April of 2007.  It was fashioned after Fritz Maytag's pioneering spirit in craft brewing. Their first offering was a Pale Ale. The brewery founders have used word of mouth advertising, " educate the public about organic brewing, one pint at a time." President John Cheek, General Operations Director Stan Richards and Brewmaster Ed Canty are just some of the brains behind the operation.  

On with the show
Gene pours while we sample

Director of Brewery Sales Gene Lohri was our guide through the brewery. He greeted us outside under the canopy next to the funky and psychedelic school bus. We were whisked away to the side of the building and into an open loading door.  A table of wonderful looking dips, breads and snack chips were waiting on tables. One of the delicious dips was made using their porter!
Brewery line Mash/Lauter Tuns

Brewery founder and president John Cheek, met us at the table with a beautiful pitcher of their flagship and best seller, "Organic Blonde". Our tasting session began with Gene explaining the finer points in organic beers and also noting about each beer we sampled.  My tasting notes ran as follows:
  • Organic Blonde - Made with Breiss organic malts and hops from Yakima, WA.  The beer has light malt aromas with slight hops nose and taste. They use Munich barley malts and Hallertauer hops.
  • The art of the perfect pour

  • Pale Ale - Breiss malts and Cascade hops are balanced and present in the aromas and the taste. Delicate citrus floral  notes detected on the nose. This beer is brewed at 68/F and cellared at 38-45/F. A super sessionable beer at 5% ABV.
  • Brown Ale - This malty and roasty brew has a creamy head and nutty taste. A Florida Gold Medal winner, this year for 2010.
  • Red Ale - A 2008 Florida Gold Medal winner, this super Red Ale features Carapils and Breiss malts and is also available in bottle. I had this by the pint before the tour. Simply great flavor and fresh.
  • European Pilz - Tight, crisp and satisfying.  Uses Centennial and Saaz hops to achieve the old world style of pilsener beer.
    Flight samples and tasting notes
  • Blackwater 'Dry' Porter - A deep, dark colored porter with roasted chocolate flavors.  Just a hint of vanilla for fun. Savory rich start and a drying finish on the tongue. Check out for a few hints on how to use this porter in a reduction sauce or "Biramisu" dessert.
  • Olde Pelican English Pale Ale - A beauty at 5.9% ABV. Done in the English style of pale ale with Carapils malts. Easy drinker.
  • Marzen - We were lucky to be at Orlando Brewing during October, so what better way to celebrate than with a sample of their Octoberfest style lager. It was phenomenal and done nicely with a balance of hops and malts, the way a good Marzen should taste. And oh, so fresh!
  • Pompous Ass IPA - The name says it all. A punch of hops flavor gives this IPA and outstanding taste. BOOYAH!
Great people, great brewery

Orlando Brewing's Tasting Room
Cheers to Gene and John for being such gracious hosts in opening up their brewery to the FLAbrew Crew!  Their hospitality was top notch. After our tour of the brewing facilities, we all wandered back into the tasting room and had a few more of the beers on tap.  Many of them are available in unfiltered versions on tap and were all quite good.  The unfiltered beers are only available in the tasting room, as the bottled versions are filtered. Also available on tap are beers from other brewerys, served right alongside the Orlando Brewery taps.

We learned that Orlando Brewing makes twenty different beers that include styles such as a
The Current Tap Offerings
Doppelbock, Hefe-Weizen, Maibock and Barleywine. These are all brewed on premise in one of their various brew lines which includes a 30bbl system (roughly 1000 gallons)  recovered from the Dominican Republic in 1992, and a 5bbl system formerly of some Florida area brewpubs once located in Daytona and Winter Park.

Although I have attempted to capture the essence of our tour in words and pictures, you need to go see for yourself first hand just how dedicated and committed the folks at Orlando Brewing are about their craft.

Orlando Brewery Beer Awards
Leave your preconceived notions at the door.  Come and taste what a difference organic brewing can make in a beer.  Orlando Brewing is easy to get to in the heart of downtown Orlando, Florida. Stop on by and check out their award winning organic style brews for yourself. If you should find that you burp during your visit, don't worry.  As Gene explained during the tour, "That's not bad manners, that's just good beer!"

FLAbrew crew with hosts John & Gene
Firkin Organic Brewery!

Orlando Brewing Company
1301 Atlanta Avenue
Orlando, FL 32806

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Saturday, October 2, 2010

Siesta Key Oyster Bar (SKOB)

Firkin Around...Sarasota, Florida.
It's just a little beachcomber joint in Siesta Key Village, a shell's throw from Sietsa Key beach. No pretense here; it is a come-as-you-are bar and restaurant that caters to the upscale and beach bum clientele alike.  SKOB as it is pronounced by locals, serves up cold beer, tasty food and breezy tunes.

You can choose from dining on the L-shaped deck that wraps around the west side of the building, or dine inside at high top tables.  You can even sit at the bar from inside or outside.  No air conditioning here, so if you can't stand the heat, well, you get the idea.

Straight off the beach, a little piece of paradise.

So being locals, we know when to hit this place when it's not so crowded.  Some nights you can hear the steel drum band or like tonight, a guitar man is plying his trade.  Getting down to dinner; this visit we had the clam strips and side salad, (Mom says you have to have something green, ya' know!) They were done to perfection; not greasy at all.  I also tried the local area award winning SKOB Burger and fries. Got the burger medium with lettuce, tomato, onion and a pickle. Starting to sound like a Jimmy Buffett song, but this was a "Cheeseburger in Paradise" for sure. All we need is the cold beer...

Brew selection you weren't expecting.

Since this is a beer blog after all, we now needed something to wash it down with...a Sam Adams Octoberfest, on tap. And that, my friends is a fait accompli. Further inspection of the bar showed three tap stations with a few single taps scattered about. Besides your Bud/Miller/Coors lineup, there were cider's from Magner's and Strongbow.  Sam Adams Lager was also there with the Octoberfest seasonal.  Kona Longboard, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Bell's Oberon rounded out another tap station.  Other popular favorites on tap: Bass Ale, Stella Artois, Red Hook IPA, Blue Moon, New Castle Brown Ale, Shock Top, Yuengling and the ever popular Guinness 'crooked sheleighly' was seen. They even have SKOB Brew, a house beer, on tap.  Oh my!  All of those tap handles packed in behind that tiny, busy bar.

There is a crazy little custom of signing dollar bills and having them stapled to the walls and ceiling or anywhere they can fit them.  It really stands out when you walk inside the dining area. Sure to make your eyes pop when you see how many there are all around you.  The wait staff are friendly and get you seated as fast as they can.  No long wait on the food, and the presentation is so great, it clashes with the decor. It won't be what you expect.

So come in your board shorts, bikinis and flip-flops or your best Tommy Bahama's...the great food, beer selection and live music on the deck put you in just the right mood. Planning a beach vacation to Siesta Key sometime in the future? Be absolutely sure to make this a can't miss stop on your beach going agenda.

Firkin Best Beach Bar!

Siesta Key Oyster Bar - SKOB
5238 Ocean Blvd
Sarasota, FL 34242
(941) 346-5443

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