Local brewery Cigar City Brewing has received rave reviews for many of their beers. From the highly coveted Hunahpus Imperial Stout to the gold medal-winning Humidor Series IPA, the creativity and quality of their specialty beers has garnered a dedicated following quickly.
Barrel-aged and limited production brews only available at the tasting room and beer shrine are greatly desired and anticipated by locals and beer travelers alike. But the true measure of a brewerys worth is in their standard production beers. Sierra Nevadas Harvest line is amazing, but their Pale Ale has been a consistent, excellent beer for many years. Stone Brewings Vertical Epic series is engaging and innovative, but their Arrogant Bastard is a standard people turn to on a regular basis. And so it goes with all successful craft brewers. Creativity and experimentation are the source of greatness, but the workhorse brews are what people rely on.
Jai Alai IPA is that workhorse for Cigar City. Currently the only Cigar City offering available in six-packs (the Maduro Brown is coming later this year), it is also the most frequently offered in local bars on tap. It is also the base for several of the brewerys special lines. The Humidor Series IPA, White Oak-Aged IPA, Creamsicle IPA, and Twigs and Berries all start as the Jai Alai. This is a testament to the solid quality of the IPA. It is a fantastic India Pale Ale, first and foremost. Pouring a beautiful hazy golden hue, you are immediately hit with the aroma of grapefruit and pine with a hint of caramel. The hops are king here, and the flavors range from a sweetness initially to the bitter hop finish, with a full run of citrus throughout. Orange, grapefruit, tangerine and then the sticky, resiny finish. But the balance with the malt is excellent, too. The alcohol ranks in at 7.5%, but it is well hidden by the flavors.
Jai Alai is great with food, too. Like most IPAs, the hop characteristics lend themselves to an array of food pairings, like spicy crab cakes, Thai curries, Jamaican jerk chicken, Indian vindaloo, sharp cheddar, apricots, enchiladas con salsa verde, and brie with orange marmalade. Experiment with different flavors to find what works for your personal palate.
The variations are definitely worth trying, too. The Humidor Series IPA -- Jai Alai aged on cedar -- won the gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival in 2009 for Wood- and Barrel-Aged Beer. It is readily available in bottles around Tampa Bay, and on tap at select craft beer bars. The White Oak-Aged Jai Alai was such a hit at the Cigar City tasting room (and apparently has become owner Joey Redners personal favorite), that plans are now in place to release it in bottles in September. Twigs and Berries -- Jai Alai aged over juniper berries and cedar -- is a local favorite at the tasting room, and is only available there.
There are a growing number of truly excellent beers being produced in Tampa Bay. With craft beer getting more attention than ever before, and new craft beer bars opening up across the bay, a lot of credit can be given to the solid consistency of beers like Jai Alai. All the others are great, but when you just want a good, un-messed-around-with IPA, you cant go wrong with Cigar City.