Dwight “Doc” Gooden was born and raised in Tampa, Florida. His Tampa, FL team made it to the Senior League Baseball World Series (little league for 13-16 year olds) in 1979. While playing for Hillsborough High School, he threw so hard that he broke a catcher’s hand and another catcher’s wrist. He averaged nearly two strikeouts per inning. Unsurprisingly, he was selected fifth overall in the 1982 draft by the Mets.
27 years later, Cigar City Brewing opened its doors in Tampa. Since 2009, the brewery has grown by leaps and bounds both in capacity and in stature.
I visited their brewery-adjacent tasting room a couple years ago and was thoroughly impressed.
As with many breweries, the space is nothing spectacular from the outside, sharing space with other nondescript buildings within a business park. Empty kegs and barrels of spent grain awaited their next destination on my way in.
The tasting room was quite nice, and was surprisingly hopping for a lazy Monday early afternoon.The first thing I noticed was how plentiful the draught offerings were. A whopping 19 Cigar City beers were patiently waiting to whet my whistle, with an additional 3 guest taps. As my wife and I had made a special trip to Cigar City, we made it our mission to try all 19 Cigar City offerings.
The main thing that really impressed me with Cigar City’s entire lineup was that there was a uniting feel that was evident across all of the styles. It’s a little difficult to articulate, but the hops in the pale ales and IPAs and malts in the red and brown ales took on a darker, mellower feel than any other brewery I’ve experienced. It evokes Central and South America, almost like what you would expect an Aztec beer to be. I have very little experience with cigars, but I would imagine this was as much the intended execution as anything else. Dark, mellow, complex.
To add to the consistency across styles, I legitimately enjoyed nearly every beer I tried. That’s no easy feat across 19 beers. The only one I didn’t really care for was the total novelty, Bubble Gum Lager. And for that matter, you can’t really fault them for execution; it was exactly what you’d expect a Bubble Gum-flavored beer to taste like.
Standouts for me:
- Jai Alai IPA – has become their nation-wide tent pole beer, dark, mellow, super tasty
- Humidor Series Pale Ale – Earthy, herby nose, herbs and pepper on the tongue, quite unique for the style
- Azacca Single Hop IPA – another darker IPA with plenty of hoppy tropical fruit
- Hopped on the High Seas (Hop #529) – part of a series of Caribbean-Style IPAs where the base recipe is altered with different hops. Delicately hopped, #529 gave it a mellow citrusy, almost peachy character.
Perhaps more notable for Cigar City is their stable of special releases. Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout is highly sought after, and the brewery holds a major annual release party. Marshal Zhukov’s Imperial Stout and Good Gourd Imperial Pumpkin Ale releases bring long lines and immediate sellouts as well. Living 900 miles from Tampa prevents me from participating in these special release events, but my goal is to eventually get my hands on a few of these at some point. Until then, I’m more than happy to enjoy the occasional can of Jai Alai.