I Talked to Strangers and Drank Little Beers at Cigar City Brewing

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Dominance. That’s what you see on the back wall of the Cigar City tasting room.

It’s breathtaking: a banner from the Global Warming Open; a cut-off chunk of a barrel with PEOPLE’S CHOICE burned into it; plaques, too many to arrange logically; and medals, hanging from just about anything resembling a hook.

It’s a display of force indeed, but it’s also a helluva sales pitch. It says, “If you skip anything here, you’re missing out.” I didn’t drive from Orlando out here to Tampa to miss out, but I did drive from Orlando out here to Tampa. I ordered a 12-oz glass of “Milk Stout was a Bad Choice” and weighed the options (this stout, by the way, excellent choice).

If only they served really small portions that I could … wait, shit, they do! 

Per ounce, you pay nearly double for beer in a flight then you would in a pint at most breweries. Well, gee, should I get a five-ounce glass for $3 or a pint for $5? My inner economist treats ordering beer the same way as ordering pizza, but I’m sure I don’t have to explain the significance of limiting alcohol intake. If I was going to try than two, flights were my only option.

And you know what? The small sample sizes begat slower, more thoughtful drinking. There were some I enjoyed, others not so much, but I took the time to understand what it was about them I did/didn’t like rather than just assigning them a “yes” or a “meh” and moving onto the next. Individual flights took me over a half-hour to drink, and I really got into ’em! I might have even discussed them had I been there with someone.

There were two bartenders in particular. One was a slender young man who turned 23 that day, wore a snapback hat and threw coasters with lethal precision; one was a young lady with chocolate-cherry hair tied tight in a bun and maroon, talon-like fingernails.

Can you do me a favor?” I asked the young lady when I got up for the loo. “If anyone touches my phone, KILL them.”

She promised to do so with remarkable enthusiasm, and referenced her promise a few times after the fact. What am I trying to say here? DO NOT try to steal anything at this taproom.

Let’s discuss people some more.

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To my left were two men pecking away at their phones, frantically checking their beers into that obnoxious Untappd app. To my right, a bearded big man talked up a staffer all buddy-buddy like – really driving home the fact he was “in the biz” and had a beautiful, sparking fountain of knowledge craft beer outsiders just could not wrap their minds around. I turned on Angry Birds Epic and tuned them all out.

It got worse before it got better. Everyone’s phone began to go flat at once, and we all moved together like a herd of wildebeests to an oasis of chairs near a plug-in strip.

I went back to my Birds. Two men were now to my right, discussing big beer fests like Cigar City’s Hunahpu’s Day. They talked about the environment, the vibe on release day, the taste of the beer, and it was interesting and I could relate and I could not stop myself in time.

I dragged a glowing chili pepper over my Bomb bird, blew my opponent to bits, set my phone down and said: “Minnesota’s got one like that, too, Surly Darkness Day.”

They asked me to go on, and I did! I told them about last year, when Rob of Limited Release Beer and I camped out in the rain; our tent, stationed in a shallow mud puddle; how I nearly reached hero status with my growler of Town Hall’s Mango Mama, and the riot that almost ensued after I dumped a half-swig of Cantillon (didn’t like it, sorry).

They all had stories like that. They were interesting. I was interested. In these people, I was now interested.

Nobody’s phone screens were on.

We all turned and saw a line to the bar now, snaking all the way through the back tasting room and halfway through the merchandise hub in the front. Every once in a while some yak-off would stand behind me and try to game the line, but the bartender would set them straight. We all enjoyed it, together.

I bought a bottle of Puppy’s Breath Porter, which my wife loved. I bought a bright yellow-ass Jai Alai shirt, which she hates. When the credit card cleared, I’d spent over three hours and sampled 13 or 14 beers. I certainly hadn’t seen that coming; but, I guess, when every beer has a medal or two hanging beneath it, you can’t help but be curious.

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