Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Good Southern Living on Tap at The Owl

Owl Tap Room
75 Commerce St.
Apalachicola, FL

Just a few short years ago finding good craft beer in a small Southern town was about as difficult as finding a virgin along Florida State’s sorority row.

Yuengling was about as exotic as it got.

My how things have changed.

For the better.

The Owl Tap Room in the oyster capital of the world, Apalachicola, Florida, is a perfect example.

The beer list spelled out on a big chalk board declares, “Welcome to beer heaven!”

Heaven indeed.

Recently opened as the younger, hipper sister to the frumpy white tablecloth Owl Café next door, the Owl Tap Room sports 15 rotating taps of top notch regional and national craft beers.

And I do mean top notch.

Somebody who knows their beer does the ordering for this place.

Obscure high quality beers from America’s greatest breweries like Ommegang, Bell’s and Southern Tier pour from the taps.

The best beers from Florida and the Southeast are also well represented such as Cigar City in Tampa, Intuition in Jacksonville and Highland in Asheville.

The selection is continually changing as evidenced by the multitude of colorful tap handles hanging from the rafters.

Florida was one of the last states in America to develop a taste for good beer, so finding creative breweries in the Sunshine State can be a challenge.

One of the best is Cigar City. So I was excited to try their High Seas IPA, a flavor I’d never tried before.

Cigar City is famous for its delicious Jai Alai IPA, but this was something different.

Brewed in Ponce, Puerto Rico and then dry hopped with Simcoe hops on its journey back to Tampa in a refrigerated vessel, High Seas IPA has a spicy, fruity snap you’d expect from a top notch IPA.

My Highland Gaelic Ale was a poor choice to follow such a kick-ass brew. There is no way the much more subtle flavors of this ale could match up against a hoppy IPA. But it grew on me as I approached the bottom of the glass.

Next up I had to try Hop House Pale Ale from Ommegang.

Ommegang is a tiny brewery in Cooperstown, New York (home of the Baseball Hall of Fame) that has earned a world renowned reputation. Literally.

Legendary Belgian brewery Duvel was so smitten by the Belgian-style beers being produced by this little Yankee brewery that they bought the damn place.

That’s like Formula One inviting me to race my Toyota Solara in the Monaco Grand Prix.

The Hop House Pale Ale is a hoppy version of a fruity Belgian ale. The Belgian yeast reminds you of the style while the spicy hop finish puts a smile on your face.

Next up I wanted to try the Thomas Creek Porter out of South Carolina but the guy sitting next to me got the last one before the keg blew.

Luckily for me, they replaced it with something even better, Southern Tier 2X IPA, one of my favorite double IPAs from one of my favorite breweries in America. Southern Tier never disappoints.

While my brain could still comprehend what I was drinking, I finished up with pint of Bell’s Smitten Rye, a hoppy pale ale brewed with rye grains, which adds a nice spicy kick.

While clearly beer is the most important item on the menu in the Tap Room, you can also order food.

Good thing too considering all the hops and alcohol flowing through my blood stream.

Of course the reason everyone comes to the tiny town of 3,500 people on the “Forgotten Coast” of Florida is to slurp down fresh Apalachicola oysters.

At the Owl, they proudly serve “13 Mile Brand” oysters.

Most oyster eaters on the Gulf and Atlantic coasts aren’t pretentious enough to fret over oyster brands.

To most southerners, an oyster is an oyster is an oyster.

At most, you might hear them comment about the oyster being “salty” or “fresh”, which varies based on the wind direction and the resulting salinity of the water from which it was plucked.

On the West Coast or at the Grand Central Station Oyster Bar in New York City, you pay four bucks a piece for oysters from specific estuaries and then must commence to pretentiously waxing poetic about the subtle differences.

Here in Apalachicola, if your oyster carries a brand, it will probably be “13 Mile”, which is the only brand sold by The Owl.

13 Mile is the name given to an oyster dock owned for four generations by the Ward family located along Apalachicola Bay which is…you guessed it…

…13 miles from town.

Most days you can catch one of their 13 Mile Brand shrimp boats tied up to the dock downtown.

Maybe I need to become a more pretentious oyster eater because my half dozen raw 13 Mile oysters were some of the biggest, plumpest, most delicious oysters I had in Apalachicola.

Clean, salty and sweet, each slurp was a succulent taste of Apalachicola Bay.

My 13 Mile Brand oysters were like a mini vacation on the half shell.

And at less than a buck a piece, an absolute bargain. After all, if you only have to transport them 13 miles in the back of a refrigerated truck, it dramatically cuts down the transportation costs.

And dramatically ups the freshness.

The fried 13 Mile oysters were excellent too, perfectly prepared to a nice golden crisp. The horseradish dipping sauce was good but unnecessary.

While the menu in the tap room is a bit more modest than in the more formal Owl Café next door, there was a nice selection of options to soak up all that good beer.

I went with the alligator sausage sandwich.

There’s just something fun about eating an animal more dangerous than me.

In the swamp in my backyard I might be at a disadvantage, but here at the Owl Tap Room it was Suit757 at the top of the food chain as I admired the black grill marks on my perfectly charred tube of mashed up gator parts.

The sautéed onions and sauerkraut gave the gator a nice sweet and tangy accent.

Full of beer, oysters and gator, I stumbled out onto Commerce Street a happy man.

I mean I’m always happy after a good meal.

But what put me in an especially good mood was knowing that the craft beer revolution has spread even to this tiny nook of the American South -- one of my favorite destinations of the wide Suit757 map.

A trip to Apalach no longer means a weekend of washing down my oysters with a steady stream of Miller Lite and Yuengling.

In fact, as I crossed the street, I peered into the empty storefront that soon will be “Oyster City Brewing Company”. The folks at the Owl are building their own brew pub!

How cool is that?

Life in the Confederacy just keeps getting better.

Rating: Bought the Shirt!

Owl Cafe on Urbanspoon

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