Last year, after attending the Florida Brewers Guild Beerfest in Ybor City, I set a personal misison to be able to attend the Brewer's Ball this year. For those who are unaware, the Best Florida Beer Championships is a "not for profit organization founded by craft beer lovers, homebrewers, and commercial brewers in the Tampa Bay area." To sum up their mission, it is to promote craft beer in Florida through both commercial and homebrewing competitions. This all culminates with the Brewer's Ball, a "small" festival and celebration of craft beer in Florida. 500 people, period. 28 Gold Medal winning Florida beers. 13 mystery homebrews from around the state. Live music. Free food. Amazing raffle prizes. And then the award for "Best in Show" as well as a prize for Best Homebrew (voted on by the attendees after tasting them all). Bring your own glass (or use one of their plastic cups) and taste away. Yes, this is a free-pour-your-own event. And you can go back for anything you want. Skipper's Smokehouse is a great venue for rock and blues bands, and it lends itself well to this very loosely-structured event. One of the most enjoyable things - as always - is getting to meet many of the brewers whose beers I greatly enjoy.
I was especially excited to meet and spend some time talking with Mark Robertson of Pensacola Bay Brewery in - yes, you guessed it - Pensacola. They are a new brewery to the scene, but have some very good beers. I had their Lil Napolean IPA last year at the FBG Fest, back when Mark was still brewing out of his back yard! Now they are a "real" brewery and the quality is still excellent. I was very impressed with two of their Gold Medal winners, the DeLuna Extra Pale Ale (actually a Kolsch) and the Banyan Brown Ale. I really look forward to visiting Mark up in the Panhandle at some point and checking out the brewery in person.
The big story of the day was Swamp Head Brewing's seven golds and also taking first and second in the Best of Show. Their Blackwater Floridian Dark Ale was the big winner, with their Smoke Signal Smoked Porter taking the second spot. I got to try both and they were incredible.