Virtually every major city in America has their own identity. You think of Philadelphia, you think of cheesesteaks. Any picture of St. Louis includes the arch. There is a decent chance a marching band is strolling through the French Quarter of New Orleans right now. When you think of Miami, their Cuban culture immediately come to mind.
But then there's Tampa. Tampa just doesn't have the same national identity maybe, but it does have a rich Cuban history, not to mention a thriving craft beer scene.
Tampa is often seen as second fiddle in Florida, the boring little brother to cosmopolitan Miami. What has put Tampa on the craft beer map, though, is Cigar City Brewing. They feature an outstanding lineup of core beers, like Jai Alai IPA, and a true whale among whales in Hunaphu’s Imperial Stout.
Cigar City also selected the name of their brewery as a nod to Tampa’s Cuban past. The city has been home to many Cuban immigrants going back to the nineteenth century, many of whom worked as cigar rollers. Evidence of the Cuban imprint on Tampa abounds even today, from the Ybor City neighborhood to their annual Cuban sandwich festival.
From that Venn diagram of craft beer and Cuban culture springs forth Cigar City’s Cubano-style Espresso Brown Ale. An espresso Cubano is the unofficial national drink of Cuba. Served in small cups, this turbocharged coffee shot is often mixed directly with a heaping helping of sugar to balance out the coffee’s signature dark, roasted flavor.
This beer, though, comes pre-balanced for your convenience with cacao nibs and vanilla. Ever the locavore, Cigar City also used espresso beans from Tampa’s Buddy Brew Coffee in this offering. Finding this beer may require some sleuth work as it is a limited release, but Cigar City does now distribute to several states in the South and Northeast.
There is a comforting sweetness that lingers after you have set your drink down.”
A glance at the label already reveals something unique about the beer. Coffee beer has become entrenched as a sub-style, but unlike so many coffee beers, this is a Brown Ale, not a Stout or Porter. Mild-mannered Brown Ale is like a little brother to these dark, high-alcohol brethren. Men’s Journal put out a list of the world’s best coffee beers, and Cubano-Style Espresso was one of two beers, out of 14, that was not a Stout or Porter. Another list ranked Cubano-Style Espresso second overall among coffee beers, despite 21 of the 27 beers on the list being in the Stout or Porter category.
As beer drinkers are rapidly learning, coffee can successfully be added to any style of beer, from IPAs to Sour ales. The brown base of Cubano-Style Espresso is the perfect jumping-off point for the adjuncts as it does not overwhelm the flavors, especially the vanilla, as some darker beers might.
And those flavors jump out as soon as you pour the beer. I had just opened my beer and let it sit for a bit so I could get something from another room. I could easily smell the coffee the minute I entered the living room where I had left my glass. Further inspection revealed an underlying sweetness to the aroma, likely from the vanilla, but perhaps I was just imagining the candied sugar one would put in a cafecito.
The beer had a neat, tight head that rapidly disappeared. Waves of java rolled over me as I took a drink. All of the flavors, especially the vanilla, came to the forefront as the beer warmed up. There was a comforting sweetness that lingered after I set your drink down. The Cubano-Style Espresso felt thick and creamy, like a good cappuccino.
I took my beer out to the front yard, where I could listen to the cicadas. If I squint real hard, I can see the Everglades from there. Cubano-style Espresso may not have that heat-busting citrus kick of Jai Alai nor does it inspire a Hunaphu-like fervor that makes a #FloridaMan craft beer bro want to step over his own mother to get a bottle.
But it’s a beer that hits all the right notes and lets me appreciate the lessons I have learned: forget Miami. Get thee to Tampa. And don’t overlook the little brother.