Billy's Beer Blog - A Layman's Guide to Great Beer


January 31st, 2011 Bill Zavorskas No comments

Brewer extraordinaire Wayne Wambles held a Q&A session...

while the rest of us enjoyed CCB's finest such as Vanilla Maduro Oatmeal Brown Ale

It was a festive day on Saturday when Mr. Beery’s hosted the Cigar City Total Tap Takeover. Indeed, word of this stupendous event traveled fast, and the crowd on hand included many a beer aficionado from around the country, in addition to local residents already familiar with the world renowned brewery.

In general, the brewery, which celebrates its second anniversary in March, took over all 25 taps at Mr. Beery’s, serving their line of beers from old favorites such as Hunahpu and Jai Lai to new offerings not yet available either commercially or at the Tasting Room in Tampa. There was even a private tasting held for those of us willing to pay the $60 admission, which included a lecture and Q&A session from CCB brewer Wayne Wambles. Wayne gave an overview of the history of the brewery, its craft beers, and what’s in store now and in the future. It was a fascinating session, and we were given a great insight into the workings of one of the world’s top five breweries.

After the private tasting, the doors were open to the general public, who mobbed the bar eager to try the 25 beers on tap. As noted, many of us got to try something new.

Cigar City Vanilla Maduro Oatmeal Brown Ale; Cigar City Brewing; Tampa, FL; American Brown Ale; ABV: 5.5. A smooth and rich tasting brown ale with hearty notes of oatmeal, vanilla spices, sweet caramel, and milk chocolate. My lead-off beer.

Cigar City Vuja De; Cigar City Brewing; Tampa, FL; American Wild Ale; ABV: 9.9. This delicious sour ale is a collaboration between CCB & rising Tarpon Springs brewer St. Somewhere. Chestnut in color, with big notes of tart fruit such as elderberries and black currants complimented by hints of caramel, roasted malt, and spices. Essentially, Vuja De is a higher alcohol version of Sea Bass with a nice dry finish.

Cigar City White Oak Jai Lai with Papaya and Peppercorn; Cigar City Brewing; Tampa, FL; India Pale Ale; ABV: 7.5. Say that 10 times! A funky variation of CCB’s exceptional Jai Lai IPA. Dark amber in color, with notes of piny hops and malt balanced by papaya and a hint of peppercorn on the back end.

Cigar City Asian Saison; Cigar City Brewing; Tampa, FL; Saison / Farmhouse Ale; ABV: 7.0. An wonderfully eclectic farmhouse ale. Golden in color with notes of citrusy fruit, toasted seawood, and an array of 5 Chinese spices.

Cigar City Spicy Plum Sour Ale; Cigar City Brewing; Tampa, FL; American Wild Ale; ABV: 8.0. A truly sublime sour ale. Substantial notes of plums and spices, backed by citrusy fruit such as apples, with a hint of tart cherries at the finish. Quite potent.

Cigar City Palm Ridge Reserve Barrel Aged Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Brown; Cigar City Brewing; Tampa, FL; American Brown Ale; ABV: 5.5. My favorite of the night on tap. Dark brown in color, with rich notes of sweet caramel and oatmeal raisin balanced by roasted malt and spices with a bourbon kick at the finish.

Cigar City Warmer Winter Winter Warmer Firkin; Cigar City Brewing; Tampa, FL; Barley Wine; ABV: 10.0. A smooth, full-bodied barley wine. Copper in color, with notes of sweet caramel and vanilla spices balanced by piny hops at the end. The double digit alcohol content is well hidden.

Cigar City Apple Brandy Barrel Aged Warmer Winter Winter Warmer; Cigar City Brewing; Tampa, FL; Old Ale; ABV: 7.5. An old ale crafted in the classic English tradition. Considerable notes of sweet caramel and toffee complimented by apples and vanilla spices with a nice brandy backbone from the barrel aging.

It should also be noted that the event marked the one year anniversary of Mr. Beery’s opening in Sarasota. I congratulate Mark and the gang, and thank Cigar City Brewing for working with Mr. Beery’s to make this tasting possible. Both of you have made the Tampa Bay area a more rewarding place for craft beer.

Il Cane Nostra

January 20th, 2011 Bill Zavorskas No comments

The Dogfather is an offer I can't refuse

I stopped by Mr. Beery’s the other evening for Beer Nerd Night. My offering for the gang was an imperial stout from a brewery known for its excellent IPAs such as Devil Dog and DogZilla.

Laughing Dog Bourbon Barrel Aged The Dogfather Imperial Stout (Laughing Dog Brewing; Ponderay, ID; Imperial Stout; ABV: 11.0) is a seasonal offering from the Idaho brewery. The Dogfather is jet black in color, with hardy notes of chocolate and toffee complimented by dark fruit and vanilla spices with a significant bourbon backbone. This is a smooth, extremely well balanced beer, and despite the bourbon presence, the alcohol content is well concealed. It’s easy to get whacked by The Dogfather if you’re not careful!

For fans of imperial stouts, The Dogfather is an offer you can’t refuse.

The Sludge Report

January 15th, 2011 Bill Zavorskas 2 comments

Toxic Sludge is for the a good way

I’ve been wanting to try a black IPA from one of my favorite breweries recently, and saw that Growlers had it on tap. I stopped by the pub the other night and ordered a pint.

Blue Point Toxic Sludge (Blue Point Brewing; Patchogue, NY; Black India Pale Ale; ABV: 7.0) is a smooth, easy drinking ale. Mocha in color, it has appreciable notes of caramel malt and chocolate balanced by grassy hops with a slightly bitter finish. There’s a hint of citrusy fruit in the backbone, such as grapefruit, that compliments the beer. Toxic Sludge has a somewhat lighter feel to it compared to others in its style, such as Cigar City Or, but nevertheless is a very enjoyable black IPA.

Blue Point donates 100% of the net proceeds from Toxic Sludge to Delaware-based Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research, in order to fund their Spreading Our Wings Campaign and long term efforts to build a Wildlife Response Annex. Please visit their website at to learn more.

I strongly suggest giving Toxic Sludge a try; this is one time when “for the birds” is a good thing.

Something To Crow About

January 12th, 2011 Bill Zavorskas No comments

Blitzkrieg was right on target

The aptly named Hopfest is Darren The Mad Zymurgist's latest creation

Ladies and gentlemen, there’s a brand new brewery in Sarasota. And I can definitely say that it’s worth crowing about!

The Mad Crow Brewery & Grill opened its doors last Thursday, and I stopped by the other day to give it a try. In addition to crafting their own ales, the brewery has an eclectic artisan’s menu ranging from mussels and duck hot dogs to Arctic char and a beef shank that serves 6-8 people. There’s even a appetizer on the menu that features bone marrow! For the less adventurous, there’s also standard pub fare such as bangers on a bun and fried mac & cheese.

I ordered a smoked cheddar grilled cheese sandwich, with a side salad, then talked beer with Darren Fehring, the brewery’s resident Zymurgist, and Jeff behind the bar. The first beer that I had was Mad Crow Blitzkrieg (Mad Crow Brewery & Grill; Sarasota, FL; Marzen; ABV: 7.2), which is their German style offering. Caramel in color, it’s a smooth well balanced beer with big notes of sweet malt and spices. The alcohol content is more than 7% is well concealed, and Blitzkrieg has the feel of a session beer, albeit a robust one. Per Jeff, this has been their most popular beer to date.

Darren, who hails from New Hampshire and has been brewing for more than 20 years, decided to escape the New England winters and set up shop here. He brought out a sample of his latest creation, Mad Crow Hopfest (Mad Crow Brewery & Grill; Sarasota, FL; India Pale Ale; ABV: 8.2) for us to try. Amber in color, it’s a hop head’s dream with several varieties of hops, such as Cascade and Amarillo, complimented by fine notes of Brettanomyces yeast, with a crisp clean finish. Like Blitzkrieg, the alcohol content of this ale isn’t very noticeable.

I finished up by trying a sampler of several other brews currently on tap. Among them:

Mad Crow Winter Wheat; Mad Crow Brewery & Grill; Sarasota, FL; American Pale Wheat Ale; ABV: 5.5. Brewed for the Winter, this golden wheat ale has a smoother, more full-bodied taste than traditional wheat beers.

Mad Crow Oatmeal X; Mad Crow Brewery & Grill; Sarasota, FL; American Amber / Red Ale; ABV: 5.2. The first beer of Mad Crow’s experimental series, this amber ale has hearty notes of flaked oats balanced by a malty backbone. Delicious!

Mad Crow Hoppin’ Mad; Mad Crow Brewery & Grill; Sarasota, FL; American Pale Ale; ABV: 5.5. This APA has rich hoppy notes and makes an excellent session beer.

Mad Crow Perseverance Porter; Mad Crow Brewery & Grill; Sarasota, FL; Porter; ABV: 5.5. A blend between a porter and a pale ale, Perseverance has hardy notes of chocolate and coffee and is velvety smooth from start to finish. The first batch brewed by Mad Crow, hence the name. Darren said that he’d take the “Pepsi Challenge” with his porter against all comers, and I think that Perseverance would more than hold its own.

Ales, artisan dishes, and ambiance…what more can you ask for? The Mad Crow Grill & Brewery will appeal to beer lovers and foodies alike.

A Devilishly Good Beer

January 7th, 2011 Bill Zavorskas No comments

Even good boys & girls will welcome this Krampus

The Krampus is a mythical creature whose origin dates back to folktales from the Alpine countries. Resembling a devil, he was said to accompany Santa Claus on Xmas eve, giving lumps of coal and the like to the naughty, while good ole St. Nick doled out presents to those who were nice. Fortunately for us, there’s a pilsener out there that even good boys and girls would love in their stockings!

Southern Tier Krampus (Southern Tier Brewing Co.; Lakewood, NY; Imperial Pilsener; ABV: 9.0) is one wickedly delicious Imperial Helles Lager. Clear copper in color, it has monstrous notes of citrusy and piny hops, complimented by caramel malt and dark fruit. Krampus is finished with lager yeast and aged cold for 30 days. The hoppy presence and sweet malty backbone are perfectly balanced throughout this pilsener, leading to a crisp clean finish.

I highly recommend Krampus whether you’re naughty or nice.

Speaking of Christmas Bells

December 31st, 2010 Bill Zavorskas No comments

Bell's Christmas Ale is a nice way to ring in the holidays

I met my friends Brad and Rachael last night at World of Beer to catch up on things. It also gave me the chance to try a holiday ale that I was curious about.

Bell’s Christmas Ale (Bell’s Brewery; Kalamazoo, MI; Scottish Ale; ABV: 5.8) is an interesting, somewhat unconventional Scottish ale. Dark brown in color, it has subtle notes of sweet caramel malt and toffee complimented by cinnamon spices and floral hops with a slightly bitter finish. There’s a nice balance between the malty sweetness and floral hops, with the latter not too pungent as is the case with Anchor Christmas Ale (Anchor Brewing Co.; San Francisco, CA; Winter Warmer; ABV: 5.5).

For round two, I ordered a pint of Ballast Point Black Marlin Porter (Ballast Point Brewing Co.; San Diego, CA; Porter; ABV: 6.0), a rich full-bodied porter. Dark chocolate in color, Black Marlin is silky smooth from start to finish, with big notes of chocolate and coffee balanced by roasted malt and Cascade hops. It reminds me of a traditional British porter brewed with American hops. Definitely a beer worth reeling in!

I highly recommend both of these beers, and wish everyone a Happy New Year!

When Irish Eyes Are Smiling

December 29th, 2010 Bill Zavorskas No comments

The countdown continues

Christmas Day was a sunny 60 degrees in Savannah. With most of the pubs and restaurants closed for the holiday or at least until dinner, save for a handful of places, Anne and I decided to seize the day and explore the city. While walking downtown, we came upon the official headquarters of the Savannah St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee.

Savannah takes its St. Patrick’s Day seriously, and the city’s parade is the nation’s second largest after New York City, with as many as 750,000 attendees recorded one year. There’s even a clock located in the headquarters’ window, displaying the exact time left until St. Patrick’s Day in days, hours, minutes, and seconds!

For more information on Savannah’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, please check out the committee’s website below. Cead Mille Failte!

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Christmas Bels

December 27th, 2010 Bill Zavorskas 2 comments

Six Degrees was no apparition this Christmas Eve

Anne and I spent Christmas weekend in Savannah, which is becoming a tradition for us this time of year. As a local stated, “In Augusta, they ask you which church you belong to. In Charleston, they ask what your family name is. In Savannah, they ask what you drink.”

We arrived around dinner time on Christmas Eve, and were pleased to find that quite a few places remained open. We headed over to Moon River Brewing across from our hotel. This wonderfully eclectic brewery has been featured on Ghost Hunters, and is so laid back that you can show up one night, accidentally crash a wedding reception, and then be allowed to stay and drink from the open bar as long as you tip the bartender!

I started out with a pint of Moon River Six Degrees (Moon River Brewing Co.; Savannah, GA; Belgian Strong Pale Ale; ABV: 5.1), a refreshing golden ale. Golden honey in color, Six Degrees has notes of citrusy fruit such as bananas balanced by honey and light grainy malt. The crisp clean taste of this Belgium complimented the spicy Bajou shrimp and ravioli appetizer that I ordered.

For round two, we joined everyone in a Christmas Eve toast. I had a pint of their winter seasonal, Moon River Nick’s Balls of Gold (Moon River Brewing Co.; Savannah, GA; Belgian India Pale Ale; ABV: 7.0), which is their Belgian Abbey/American IPA hybrid. Amber in color, it has notes of floral hops and cinnamon spices with a nice warming feel at the close. This Belgian IPA paired nicely with the blackened sea scallops that I had for the main course.

After dinner, we headed over to Rocks on the River for dessert. Anne and I shared the Mascarpone cheesecake with blueberry sauce, and struck up a conversation with Dave and Karen behind the bar. I finished up with a pint of Allagash White (Allagash Brewing Co.; Portland, ME; Witbier; ABV: 5.1). Golden in color, this superb witbier has notes of Belgian wheat and citrusy fruit such as oranges up front, followed by coriander spices and a hint of vanilla with a crisp clean finish. Allagash White was a fitting ale to wrap up the evening.

All in all, it was a great evening and start to the weekend.

Moon River Brewing Company on Urbanspoon

Rocks on the River on Urbanspoon

Bright Lights Brew City: Take Flight

December 16th, 2010 Bill Zavorskas 2 comments

Magic Hat has brewed a beer to Howl for

After a fun filled weekend in the City, it was time to head back to Florida. After going through security, I stopped by one of my favorite airport bars to grab lunch and have a pint or two. The NY Sports Grill, located in Terminal 5 at JFK, is a little gem of a pub. Along with a decent bar menu, it has 48 beers on tap, with something for everyone. I decided to try the Winter lager from Magic Hat.

Magic Hat Howl (Magic Hat Brewing Co.; South Burlington, VT; Schwarzbier; ABV: 4.6), also known as Magic Hat Howl Black As Night Winter Lager, is the best schwarzbier I’ve had since Sprecher Black Bavarian. Brownish black in color, Howl has subtle notes of sweet chocolate and caramel complimented by roasted malt and light floral hops with a crisp clean aftertaste. The velvety Howl is well balanced, and at 4.6%, it’s a perfect session beer for Winter. It paired well with the Kobe beef sliders that I ordered for lunch.

Kudos to Magic Hat for crafting a schwarzbier to howl about. It was a fitting end to my New York adventure.

In addition to the NY Sports Grill, there are quite a few excellent brewpubs at airports throughout the country where frequent fliers and weary travelers can enjoy libations before taking flight. has put together a nice city-by-city guide at the website listed below.

Bright Lights Brew City: Prohibitive Favorite

December 15th, 2010 Bill Zavorskas No comments

The Blind Tiger is a cozy place to enjoy a pint or two

I’ve been watching Boardwalk Empire on HBO, which focuses on Atlantic City during the days of Prohibition. During this time, speakeasies were popular; in fact, Chumley’s in Greenwich Village started out as a speakeasy in 1926 and remained a neighborhood icon until its closing in 2007. And in between seeing family and enjoying the sights, I stopped by a contemporary Village landmark on Saturday.

The Blind Tiger Ale House, named for the nickname given to speakeasies back in the days of Prohibition, is a hip little brewpub with an exceptional beer list, artisan food, and live music to boot. I was especially pleased to see that they had one of my all-time favorite DIPAs on tap.

I ordered a pint of Green Flash Imperial IPA (Green Flash Brewing Co.; Vista, CA; Imperial India Pale Ale; ABV: 9.0), the first time that I’ve had it on tap in almost three years. While excellent in a bottle, it’s on tap where this ale’s effervescent character is brought out. Golden amber in color, with a burst of citrusy notes up front balanced by sweet malt and piny hops. GF Imperial, which I’ve raved about several times on this blog, is smooth, nutty, and spicy with a crisp clean finish. Definitely one of the classic West Coast IPAs.

I tried the Grilled Cheese w/ Tomato & Olive Tapenade, along with the pub’s homemade tomato soup, then ordered a mug of cask conditioned Sixpoint Chocolate Rye Porter (Sixpoint Craft Ales; Brooklyn, NY; Porter; ABV: 6.3), which was on. Dark brown in color with subtle notes of chocolate complimented by roasted malt and a rye backbone. This porter is silky smooth through and through with a nice dry finish.

I finished up by sampling Sixpoint Righteous Rye Ale (Sixpoint Craft Ales; Brooklyn, NY; Rye Beer; ABV: 6.5), which was also cask conditioned. This amber colored ale has notes of sweet caramel and rye malt complimented by spicy hops. Righteous Rye Ale is an easy drinking beer throughout, with the rye backbone in perfect balance with the sweet and spicy notes.

I highly recommend each of these ales, and strongly endorse a trip to the Blind Tiger Ale House next time you’re in town.

Blind Tiger Ale House on Urbanspoon