By Charles Passy
Cigar City Brewing’s Jai Alai IPA , $10.99 per six-pack
When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers qualified for this year’s Super Bowl, attention immediately focused on the fact that quarterback Tom Brady — love him or hate him — will be playing in his 10th edition of the big game. But perhaps equally noteworthy is the fact that the championship match, set for this Sunday, will be taking place in Raymond James Stadium, the Tampa, Fla., home venue of Brady’s squad. Never before in Super Bowl history has such a happenstance occurred — the venue is picked years in advance, with no thought as to which teams may end up competing.
All of which means we need a Tampa beer to toast the occasion. And Jai Alai IPA is the perfect candidate.
First, it is the signature beer of Cigar City Brewing, a brewery founded by fifth-generation Floridian Joey Redner in 2007. And indeed, Cigar City is all about Tampa: The brewery’s name refers to the city’s rich, Cuban-influenced history as a cigar-manufacturing hub more than a century ago. And many of Cigar City’s beers play off Florida themes. There’s Guayabera, a citra pale ale that refers to the popular Cuban-style shirt still favored by many a Floridian. There’s also Florida Man, a double India pale ale that honors, well, the Florida man, a ubiquitous creature who always ends up in the strangest situations (say, by accidentally driving his vehicle into the condo pool ).
And then there’s Jai Alai IPA, which speaks to the place that jai-alai, a lightning-fast game of Basque origination that’s like racquetball on steroids, has played in Florida history. Sadly, the last jai-alai venue (or fronton) in Tampa closed years ago, though the game is still played elsewhere in the state and is making a comeback of sorts .
But what makes Jai Alai IPA special goes beyond its connection with an admittedly obscure sport. It has to do with the fact it’s an IPA that doesn’t push the bitterness too far, says Cigar City Brewing brand manager Neil Callaghan. The style, especially in its West Coast iteration, had become known for its intense hoppy flavor. But Cigar City has been part of a wave of breweries, especially on the East Coast, to promote a more approachable version. Callaghan calls Jai Alai “a tropical beer for a tropical setting,” noting its refreshing quality.
What we think about it
We love West Coast IPAs, but sometimes we want to give our taste buds a break. And that’s what Jai Alai is all about. The beer has a delicious, citrus-y taste, which is probably not by accident (Florida is big on oranges, after all). But it has character and hints of depth, too — this isn’t your mass-made commercial brew. In all, a better-than-Bud alternative for your Super Bowl sipping.
How to enjoy it
We could down a couple of these with nothing more than maybe a few chips or pretzels. But Callaghan says Jai Alai goes well with a range of spicy foods, from shrimp tacos to slightly zesty chicken wings. Could the beer also pair well with another Super Bowl Brady victory? You’ll have to wait till Sunday to find out.