|The Florida Keys
I was in a bad mood when we flew out from Roberts Manor to Fort Lauderdale. I was dog tired from a (mostly) sleepness night, plus the fact I’d left my
favourite beer cap at the Manor. Still, upgrading to Business Class put me in a better space. It gave us extra leg room (and at 5’ 4”, I really needed extra leg
room), plus unlimited cans of Heinekin lager, which eased the pain noticeably. Yes, it may be a crap lager, but in this instance, it was “any port in a storm”.
The following day, we left our overnight stop at Fort Lauderdale and made our way in our Royal rental car to the Florida Keys and to our destination of
Marathon, in the mid-keys.
Rather like the glorious Outerbanks, in North Carolina, the Keys are thin and mostly one lane traffic in each direction. True, there are attempts to increase the
lanes in some parts, but even then, there is fierce opposition from the locals and all manner of environmental and wildlife concerns.
With all this on my mind, I considered the beer scene – what was available for this person of Royal heritage? Let us begin….
1) Key West Sunset Ale (4.8%)
With a horribly touristy name worthy of Jimmy Buffett, Key West Sunset Ale was one the two mainstays of our time on the Keys. Brewed by the Florida Beer
Company in Melbourne, Florida, this amber, predominantly malty beer – brewed with pale and caramel malts – presented a mild caramel body underscored
with hoppy flavours. Rather similar to Sam Adams Boston Lager, if you will. 8/10
2) Hurricane Reef Pale Ale (4.8%)
Another nautical-based name from the Florida Beer Company, the Hurricane Reef Pale Ale was another sturdy ale with a backbone of sweet malt flavours. In
this instance, the Hurricane Reef was hopped, then dry-hopped with the meritorious Cascade hops which gave the ale its floral nose and a citrus balance to
the chewy malt. Indeed, this truly was a well balanced ale. Rather similar to Sam Adams Boston Ale, if you will. 9/10
3) Southernmost Brewery Havana Red
The Southernmost Brewery is – believe it or not – the most southernmost brewery in the United States, located in Key West. It is actually part of Kelly’s
Caribbean Bar, Grill and Brewery, which was once owned by actress Kelly McGillis (Witness, Top Gun). Nowadays, it rather prides itself on its location with a
reputation of dodgy food and dodgy service. But, were the beers dodgy?
The Havana Red was a strange one. Deep red in colour, it had a confusing initial taste of aniseed and coffee, leading into cherry mid-flavours with a sweet
and sour beetroot finish. It was unlike any red ale I had previously tried and suffered for a lack of malt sweetness (unusual I would say that as malt sweetness
does not often work for me) . Dodgy? YES, if you will! 3/10
4) Southernmost Brewery Key Western Golden Ale
This, I was told, was their most popular ale and it actually wasn’t too bad. Brewed with Cascade hops, it was rather like an IPA without the bitterness. There
were some soft brown ale malts which came to the forefront with a late hoppy finish. A bit on the unremarkable side, but a vast improvement on the Havana
Red and not entirely dodgy either. 6/10
5) Southernmost Brewery Southern Clipper Wheat Ale
Made with German malted wheat and British pale malts, the Southern Clipper was nothing short of a disaster with a bizarre overall taste of bathwater (after you’
ve bathed the dog) mixed with pureed potatoes. Weird. It didn’t get any better either, with a nauseating finish of lemon washing up liquid. Horrid in every way
and most definitely DODGY! 1/10
Dodgy food and strange beers aside, it’s worth visiting the brewery purely for its historical perspective. It’s housed in the original Pan Am building and is
famous for having a bi-plane crash through the ceiling – hence the name, the Crash Bar! It’s also located in a pretty neighborhood, just up the road from
Hemingway’s house, which we also visited. Just have some decent beer in a cooler sitting in the boot of your rental car.
6) LandShark Lager (4.7%).
I tasted this in a really offbeat, excellent local seafood restaurant in Marathon which had been recommended to Lady Roberts and myself. I knew LandShark
had connections to Jimmy Buffett and indeed it’s brewed in Jacksonville, Florida for his Margaritaville Brewing Co.
That aside, he needs to stick to singing terrible songs about margaritas because LandShark was a total catastrophe. Pouring the faintest of yellows in the
glass, this lame apology for a lager was highly carbonated with no taste or finish whatsoever. It was just a fizzy nothing in a glass with 4.7% alcohol. It made
even those atrocious Baltica lagers look appealing!
I could see what was going on here – the man of rubbish songs had brewed a rubbish beer for those “Real Men” blokes that you see in those NutraSystem
advertisements; blokes with no discerning beer tastes of their own, who simply want the effect of alcohol reaching the brain - the sort of bloke who drinks
straight from the bottle.
And to that effect, LandShark is perfect - Jimmy Buffett needs to be congratulated for doing his homework on his market audience because as sure as eggs is
eggs, there are blokes all over the country who simply want a “a cold one” without too much thought being involved. Thankfully, there are more than enough
people out there who actually want to taste their beer and that’s part of the brewing industry that Buffett can thankfully play no part of with his hideous
LandShark Lager. -15/10
7) Heineken (5%)
Okay, so once again we upgraded to business class on our Air Tran flight back to Columbus, which meant unlimited amounts of Heineken. With a pencil in
hand, I reviewed my unlimited amounts of Heineken on the back of a paper napkin.
Reading the can of this Dutch lager informed me that it had won the Medaille D’or Paris in 1875, the Grand Prix Paris in 1889, the Diplome D’Honneur
Amsterdam in 1883 and the Hors Concours Member Du Jury Paris in 1900. Hmmm, all rather a long time ago. Were there any recent awards – perhaps in the
last one hundred years? Apparently not.
But anyway, let’s see what a 21st century tasting could offer. Not a lot actually. In the Air Tran plastic beaker, it looked like a urine sample and tasted a bit
watery with a faint trace of hop bitterness. It was quite fizzy too. More to the point, like any characterless lager, if you leave it sitting – as I did - it loses all
shape and flavour and ends up tasting like warm dishwater. To quote Denise, from The Royle Family, it tasted “manky”. 1/10
And that, fellow Royals, was The Roberts Manor trip to the Florida Keys. A terrific place to visit – Lady Roberts got to swim with the dolphins – but falling
somewhat short on the beer offerings. Still, there was The Michigan Craft Brewers Festival to come!