If you’ve never been to a craft beer pairing dinner, you don’t know what you’re missing. I was fortunate enough to attend one put on by Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza in conjunction with iconic American brewery Samuel Adams.

The event took place at Anthony’s Pompano Beach location and the staff couldn’t have been more hospitable. They made sure that the each of the 40 or so attendees was being taken care of and having a good time.

Mickey Byrne's Irish Pub in Hollywood, Florida, is hosting a charity fundraising event on September 21st to benefit the St. Baldrick's Foundation.

Coconut Grove Festival Offers a Playful Approach to Some Serious Tastings

Spring is nature’s way of saying Get Sprung! On March 9th, the producers of Grovetoberfest will launch Sprung! – a true Spring and Summer craft beer festival. The idea behind this event came from the South Florida craft beer enthusiasts who were among the 6,500 in attendance at Grovetoberfest 2012. “Our inboxes were flooded with requests for a spring festival. This event is by the people and for the people, and it’s because of them that we sprung into action to create it,” said event director Tony Albelo. “We’re going to continue focusing on our mission of expanding craft beer in South Florida, while adding seasonal beers and sprinkling a little more fun into the mix,” he continued.

Because Sprung! takes place in March, beer fans will have the opportunity to sample over 150 Spring and Summer craft beers, which are considered to be some of the best seasonal beers of the year. Breweries like Sierra Nevada, Brooklyn Brewery, Kona, Magic Hat, Shiner, Shipyard, Harpoon, Blue Moon and many more will be showcasing their spring and summer offerings. Sprung! will also host a complete lineup of Florida beers from Schnebley, Cigar City, Tequesta Brewing and Florida Beer, to name a few. Local breweries like Wynwood Brewing, Most Wanted, Opus Ales and others are now also springing up in South Florida, so they'll be there too. In addition, the lineup includes a complete list of ciders including Crispin Cider, Magner’s and Woodchuck. As an added bonus, event goers will be treated to a selection of beer not available in South Florida from Sweetwater Brewing from Atlanta and Fat Cat Beer from Wisconsin. Sprung! will also offer a homebrew section featuring brews created by local beer lovers.

“The atmosphere at Sprung! is meant to be fun and free-spirited. There’s no event like it in the area, and much like Grovetoberfest, Sprung! will become a staple of the South Florida scene,” said Tony Albelo. Sprung! will feature a dedicated section for games including Corn Hole, Giant Jenga, Beer Pong, Mega Twister and Human Bowling -- complete with large, plastic balls big enough to hurl a person for strikes! Music will be provided by the hip hop ensemble, ArtOficial, offering their blend of jazz and funk influences. In addition, there will be plenty of food vendors offering a wide variety of tasty treats.

Tickets are currently on sale at IgotSprung.com, including a limited number of VIP tickets, which will give ticket holders a one-hour head start and access to the VIP tent where food and a special selection of beer will be available only to those ticket holders. Sprung! takes place in Peacock Park in Coconut Grove this March 9th. Tickets will be available online and will range from $39 for general admission, $69 for Beer Socialite and $89 for VIP. For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit www.IgotSprung.com, or call (305) 461-2700. To stay on top of the latest news “Like” their Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/IgotSprung.

jimmy russell 1I attended my first Total Wine class the other night. It was a Meet the Expert Seminar & Tasting with Jimmy Russell, Master Distiller at Wild Turkey. When I saw the advertisement for this class I immediately signed myself and my wife up for it. We took a long weekend trip to Kentucky two years ago with another couple and toured the Bourbon Trail. Even if you don’t like bourbon, it’s a wonderful, relaxing time but that’s for another posting.

Since it was my first time attending one of these classes, I didn’t really know what to expect but figured it would definitely be interesting and boy was it. Many of the Total Wine stores (if not most) have classroom spaces set up for events like this one. The room had narrow tables lined up in rows with several chairs along each. No different than what you would find at a business seminar. Each spot had some educational information about Wild Turkey as well as five empty glasses and some water.

After a quick introduction, Jimmy took his spot at the front of the room and filled us in on his background. He has been with Wild turkey for almost 58 years. No, that was not a typo. Fifty eight years. His family is very involved in the bourbon industry. He told us that when he finished school and started at Wild Turkey, there were six bourbon distillers in his town and he had relatives working at every one of them. He followed his father by working at Wild Turkey and his son, Eddie, followed him. Now his grandchildren are getting started too. Jimmy still has several relatives working at the other distilleries in his area.

The format of the class was pretty cool. It was a two hour session and there were only about a dozen people in attendance which made the class very interactive and informal. Jimmy had a young lady assisting him with the samples. As he spoke about the different products, she would come along and pour a sample for each person. It wasn’t all that different of a feeling then sitting around the kitchen table with someone and having a few drinks. Like I said it was pretty cool.

When we first got seated, everyone was poured a “special” sample from a couple of bottles that Jimmy had brought along. Since they looked like water, it didn’t take a genius to figure out that they were the distillery version of “moonshine.” Jimmy called it White Dog. It was the product that comes directly off of the still after the second distillation. He said it was 65% abv or 130 proof. It was highly recommended that we put a small amount of water to dilute it to a lower octane level. While I like a drink as much as the next guy, those guys on the Moonshiners show best not waste their marketing on me. I decided that White Dog is a little more than what I prefer.

We sampled four of the bourbons made by Wild Turkey while Jimmy explained how they were made, and what was different about each. We learned a bit about the history of bourbon along with some interesting tidbits about the various laws and regulations that go along with running a distillery.

While we really appreciated the class because we had visited Wild Turkey’s distillery, I noticed that it wasn’t just us. The others in the class were just as engrossed as we were. Think about it, where else are you going to sit down in a small group with one of the head honchos. This was the equivalent of sitting down with Bill Gates in the backroom of Best Buy and talking computers. I’m definitely going to keep an eye out for similar events and try my best to attend. You should too.

The Grind MiamiOn Saturday, March 31st, a burger showdown took place to determine who grilled the best of the best burgers in South Florida and deserved Golden Grinder and title. 30 of the best restaurants in the tri-county area convened in a warehouse to fire up the grills and duke it out.

Before I dig into the positives, I figure I ought to mention the negative first. As you may have heard, there were some ventilation issues caused by all of the grills combined with an air conditioning system the happened to die sometime around kick-off. The building had open windows down two of the walls, up towards the ceiling but since the air was kaput, the majority of the room was pretty smokey. Visibility was pretty bad on one side of the room. Besides the annoyance of the smoke, it got a bit toasty without the A/C.

Fortunately, attendees were allowed to take their food outside and eat. Was it what we expected? Nope. But we decided to take these lemons and make lemonade instead of whine.

These are the type of things that can go wrong when you put on an event like this, especially in the first year. The organizers have stepped up and publicly admitted that despite their best efforts, things went wrong. They have vowed to work hard to make sure the same problem doesn’t happen again next year and have reached out to make amends with those who bought tickets. I commend them for this. It would have been pretty easy for them to disappear into the shadows and never be heard from again. Instead, they have already begun working on next year’s event, and promised that they will correct their mistakes, while keeping the focus on the chefs, burgers and overall experience.

Now for the positives. I liked the concept. Worked just like a beer festival. They set up 30 top burger chefs around the sides of a big warehouse space and gave everybody a plastic plate and a guide (map). Soda, beer and rum stations were set up in the center along with dessert booths. High-top tables were scattered around the inner perimeter, providing spots to stand and eat.

Each of the restaurants had signs up describing their burger plus the descriptions were listed in the guides. This made it really easy for someone like me with a picky palate to avoid a particular cheese or topping without going through the process of waiting in line only to find out they don’t really want what’s on their plate.
The majority of the restaurants took their full-size burgers and quartered them, giving you more than enough to get a good taste of their product. Others gave out smaller versions that were about 3 inches or so wide.

There were no tickets, no limits, no restrictions. The lines moved along pretty quickly and several booths had virtually no lines at all.

I tried about 10 different burgers which considering I went back for seconds a couple of times, worked out to the equivalent of 3 full-sized burgers in a restaurant. Add on a few Leinenkugel & Blue Moon beers, some Fox Barrel Pear Cider and a couple of dessert samples, I hit my limit.
Besides the professionals, there were a couple of guys who earned their way into the competition through the “Best Backyard Burger” contest. Roly & Ryan. I had one of their burgers and it was un-real. It was topped with corned beef and all I can say is “WOW.” I had the name wrong in my notes so I honestly don’t know who it was but they know who they are and my hats off to them.

Shake Shack took home the honors with their signature “ShackBurger.” They use all natural, hormone & antibiotic free Angus beef and put their ShackSauce on what I would call an old-fashioned cheese burger. I had it and can’t argue at all about their award.

Some of the others that really stood out to us were El Rey de las Fritas, Burger & Beer Joint, Cheese Burger Baby, Georgie’s Alibi and Joe’s Stone Crab with their Holler Back Burger. My wife has already mentioned several times that she wants to visit Burger & Beer Joint for another of their Midnight Rider Burgers. She totally fell for the way the goat cheese worked with the bacon along with their Duck Fat fries.

I’m looking forward to next year’s event but in the meantime, I’m going to visit some the the great restaurants that we were exposed to at The Grind.


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