The breakfast tour of Cigar City Brewery was the second best brewery tour I’ve ever taken. That’s what you call it when you show up for the first tour of the day on an empty stomach. It’s grrrrrreat! Throw in some clydesdales and you’ve got yourself a winner. (I would also accept more Florida-appropriate mascots like: bottlenose dolphins, flamingos, or panthers. Psst, go with panthers.)
All the time I’ve spent in Florida and I had never once had a Cigar City beer. And why the hell not? I was surely consuming enough brew – at the beach, in my kayak, by the pool, with an alligator, at baseball games, dressed like a pirate, while fishing, while dancing salsa, while “moving it like Bernie” – sooo I really don’t have an acceptable excuse. UNLESS – maybe I had so many that I just don’t remember having them at all? It’s possible. Shit happens when you drink alcohol in direct, near-equitorial sunlight.
I had definitely heard about it enough that when I returned to Florida last week, I knew Cigar City was the popular kid I should seek out to show me a good time on spring break. Sun’s out, guns out beaches!
Not all brewery tours are created equal. Some, like Anheuser Busch in St. Louis, MO, are so large and complex they deserve their own zip codes and mall-style directory that is NO HELP AT ALL. “I swear to God I smell Auntie Anne’s pretzels but WHERE THE HELL IS IT?!” Then, there are the “breweries” that offer “tours” but when you arrive the “tour” turns out to be nothing more than the act of standing near a keg and listening to a speech on the origin of cider. AND YOU’RE ALLERGIC TO APPLES. At least they had a dog.
REASON I LOVE CIGAR CITY BREWERY #1
The Cigar City brewery is incredibly inviting, a place I want to be. (Not necessarily be seen because I was all alone and almost, violently, fell off my bench in front of everyone in the room. Y’all should seriously nail those things down.) Like an intimate Hawaiian luau at sunset, a best friend’s backyard BBQ, or whatever the opposite of a job interview is.
All dumbassery aside, it’s a place I want to hang out. Maybe a place I’d love to work? Nope, I’d definitely like to work at a place with beer on tap that doesn’t frown on wearing T-shirts every day. Cigar City Brewery is the cool, big city kid who’s still got that laid-back, seaside, chill Florida vibe.
REASON I LOVE CIGAR CITY BREWERY #2:
One thing I learned shortly after moving to Florida was that shoes (eh, clothing in general) are optional. Going to bars in your bare feet? In a bikini? While I personally think that’s one of the grossest and most potentially disastrous ideas out there (for the love of God I hope you’re up-to-date on your tetanus shots), I get it. It’s just… so… “Florida.” Just chill, man. Soak up that sunshine. Take it easy. Who needs shoes? Who needs sunscreen? Who needs a job? Lighten up. What am I getting at here? In true Florida fashion, the theme at Cigar City Brewery seems to be “walls are optional.” Both literal and metaphorical.
I appreciate Cigar City’s quite literal open door policy. I’m on vacation… in Florida. It’s snowing in Boston and, besides drinking beer for breakfast on the reg, what I want is to piss off as many people back home as I can by not spending even a minute indoors. It was sick how perfect the weather was for my visit and we all know beer tastes best when the sun is shining on you, the breeze is breezing, and someone is hating your guts because of it.
Now, I 100% understand the reasons most breweries are so locked down. I can’t even imagine the liability issues that arise from inviting pumped up, outside boozehounds into your active and dangerous production facilities. Plus, I’ve already mentioned my incident with the bench. Sitting on the end of a long, empty, picnic-style bench all by yourself results in it tipping all the way over like a see-saw until you hit the ground, then slams back down on the floor at an ear-piercing decibel. Don’t let them think you can’t handle beer for breakfast!
On the other hand, tours where everything you see is through glass windows covered in other people’s face grease are borderline pointless. And icky. It’s like seeing it all on television or on a computer screen only YOU MADE ME PUT SHOES ON FOR THIS. I’ve been on tours where they demonstrate the brewing process on a film produced sometime in the early 1980s. I survived puberty. I thought we were all done with that nonsense? I’ve been shown tanks and told, “This is the same kind of equipment that we use only this one hasn’t worked in eight years. But I promise, this is pretty much what they look like.”
This is not what I want in a brewery tour. I want to see bubbles bubbling and yeasts yeasting. I want to see bottles and cans zooming down conveyer belts like a live version of that special feature on Sesame Street where they showed you how crayons are made. Only for drunks and with fewer grannies. I want to get in the way of someone just trying to do their job.
Cigar City Brewery gave me just that. Stepping over grain bags, touching things I’m not supposed to be touching, weaving around the equipment to get a proper photo, all with a beer in my hand… brewery tour perfection. Being allowed in the processes of the brewery makes a huge difference to my experience. Thank you Cigar City brewery. You trust me! You really trust me! (You shouldn’t, by the way…)
REASON I LOVE CIGAR CITY BREWERY #3:
This one just makes sense. It’s like, why do all breweries not do this???
I’ll let Kendrick Lamar explain…
Check in. Drank.
Po’ up. Drank.
Every single other brewery tour I have taken ENDS with beer samples. Not STARTS with them (like they should…). Bravo Cigar City. At each of the four stops on the tour you are given a different beer to sample. This kicks ass because:
- You don’t have to wait through the entire tour to get the only thing you woke up for anyway. Dranks.
- There’s a beer in your hand at all times on the tour.
- It’s better to space out trying the different beers than to sample them all back to back. (IMO & OAES*)
- It’s easier to learn about the beers this way and the alcohol softens the blow of LEARNING shit while you’re on vacation.
- Kendrick Lamar says so.
*on an empty stomach
CIGAR CITY BREWING
The Cigar City brewery is located at 3924 W Spruce Street in Tampa, Florida in a building that’ll have you thinking you’re at the wrong place. As it turns out, and this is news to me, Tampa was once the cigar making capital of the world earning it the nickname “Cigar City.” I always thought it was “that city that has the football stadium with a pirate ship in it.” Apparently, I was wrong. By the 1920s, half a billion hand-rolled cigars were being produced in the area annually, mostly by Cuban and Spanish immigrants.
Cigar City Brewery opened much later (2008) and after just a few years has grown to become one of Florida’s largest breweries, mostly by dudes with beards. They currently distribute to six US states aaaaaaand Denmark. ‘Cause why the hell not?
CIGAR CITY BREWERY TOUR
You know that awkward feeling when you’re meeting your friend at a restaurant and they’re already there but you don’t know where they’re sitting? And you have to wander through the place looking for them, knowing the whole time they are watching and laughing at how dumb you look? I have a friend who literally will not enter a restaurant until we both arrive and can enter together. She waits outside in her car. THIS IS WHY I BLOG, PEOPLE. I want you to know what to expect on your travels so you’re not just sitting in the parking lot the whole time.
Luckily, there aren’t
any many surprises at the Cigar City brewery. Just sit in the middle of the bench and you’ll be fine. The location is easy to find and the parking is plenty and FREE.
I know, I know. ‘Checking in’ to things isn’t always a great experience. Checking in …to rehab. …to the gynecologist’s office. …with your boss on a Saturday. …to a hotel in Japan when you are one half of an unmarried couple. Trust me on this one.
Checking in to your tour at Cigar City Brewery is another animal altogether. Check in, reservations or walk-ins accepted, fork over $8 for the tour, and they pour you your first beer in an adorbs 5oz glass that you get to keep! I bet you can’t say that about your OBGYN. Actually, if there’s anywhere you should get alcohol upon checking in it’s the gynecologist’s office.
The tours last somewhere around 45 minutes? If I remember correctly. Which I probably don’t. What I do remember is being the solo female on a tour of about 20 dudes celebrating a bachelor party. Nothing like making a group of strangers uncomfortable using only your presence!
This was our tour guide, Victor. Now, I’m short and a little bit creepy so this is what you get. If you’re lucky, you’ll get Victor as a tour guide because he’s prettay, prettay, prettay cool.
BREWHOUSE NUMERO UNO
The first stop on the tour is about five feet from check-in. Brewhouse numero uno is where the magic happens and by “magic” I mean yeasts eating sugars and pooping out alcohol and CO2. Magical, delicious yeast farts.
At the start of your tour you will learn about the process of making beer (the grown-up version, no “yeast farts” here, sorry), the history of beer in Florida and of the Cigar City brand, and they’ll call you out for taking photos while seemingly hiding behind other tour takers. I’m just short, I swear!
⇡ Introductory sample beer: Cigar City Lager
Light. Refreshing. Part of a balanced breakfast.
As amazing as humans are at what they can do–build pyramids, turn their eyelids inside out, break bricks with their bare hands, work at the mall–I’m even more impressed by what the machines can do. Thank you Sesame Street for setting me up for a life content with watching things go swiftly by on an assembly line.
The bottling/packaging plants of breweries are always my favorite part of a tour. All stages of this process are ON POINT, son. Washing, filling, capping, labeling, packaging – all with precision and like, wicked fast. Mesmerizing.
Cigar City is all about the canning and that makes this beer drinker happy. I don’t know at what point canned beers got a bad rap but it was probably started by the same asshole who came up with the term “crazy cat lady.” Cans are my favorite beer vessel and for good reason:
- To keep your yeast farts as fresh and delicious as possible you must keep them away from LIGHT. Light is the enemy. Bottles let light in but cans keep all light out. Only at the end do you realize the power of the dark side.
- Cans are more totable.
- Cans are shatter-proof. I drop things.
- I have a lot of koozies.
Sidenote: Had they been actively canning during our tour, we could have sampled some straight off the belt. Love these guys!
Cigar City beers are packed using Paktech toppers, the best thing to happen to beer since the Ping Pong ball. They are made with 96% recycled materials, are 100% recyclable, make carrying the beer so much easier, and pose a much smaller threat to ocean creatures. Any friend of the sea turtles is a friend of mine!
⇡ Packaging House sample beer: Cigar City Invasion Pale Ale
Brewed in celebration of Tampa’s annual Gasparilla Pirate Festival. Does anything, anywhere sound more fun than a pirate festival? Nuh-uh.
BREWHOUSE NUMERO DOS
I know, this tour is a little out of order but get over it.
Brewhouse numero dos (putting that Spanish minor to good use, see?) was a lot like brewhouse #1 but on a much larger scale. It’s also a storage room of sorts, obviously. It was here we tried horseradish beer.
⇡ Brewhouse #2 sample beer: Sister Golden Pear
Sorry, there’s actually no information on that link. What gives CC? BUT, what I do remember is that the secret ingredient to this beer is horseradish – the product of an Iron Chef-esque brewing competition. It was better than it sounds. Like ‘sour cream’ or ‘weiner schnitzel.’
TASTING AREA & GIFT/BEER SHOPS
The tour ends back at Brewhouse #1 for beer sample #4 and restrooms for… well you can keep that number to yourself. After the tour, check out the tasting bar just inside the main entrance which has all the Cigar City beers. Taste beer. Drank. Buy stuff. Drank.
⇡ Tasting room sample beer: Cigar City Jai Alai IPA
Cigar City’s signature brew and a really fun word to say. I never liked an IPA until this one.
There is also a small merchandise area with some much swaggier swag than I’ve seen at other breweries. Now, I have no idea what a ‘skate deck’ is but I’m guessing it’s a hoverboard. But these have bees and as a beekeeper, I love it! Perhaps skateboarding without wheels is a new hobby I should take up?
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