It gave me a fine feeling of hometown pride a few months back to order a Wiseacre down at SoBou in New Orleans. Still, I try to drink local wherever I go. There is something about local breweries that act as a barometer for the local vibe.
Where I'd gone was St. George Island, a long, thin barrier island some 28 miles long and barely a mile at its widest, out in Apalachicola Bay. It's a great, dusty little beach town in a world where dusty beach towns are getting hard to come by. That the place hasn't yet been ravaged by developers may have something to do with a third of the island being a state park and the gulf side being a nesting ground for the loggerhead sea turtle.
At what looked like a sort of charming garage on the dodgy side of the island called Paddy's Raw Bar, the beer selection is mostly cheap domestics and a few cheaper ones, but as with most places, the waitstaff will proudly push the local brew, here the aptly named Oyster City Brewing Company from across the bay.
In the spirit of things, I ordered the Apalach IPA and sat reading the sensible hurricane evacuation directions — 1. Grab Beer 2. Run Like Hell. — and hoped this wouldn't be one of those IPAs with something to prove. I was there for the oysters, and they will sit as well with a Jamaican Red Stripe or a Budweiser as they will Champagne.
The Apalach IPA is well balanced and light, with a good flavor that went well with the briny oysters. There is, though, a definite downside to finding a great local beer three states away: the distribution — or more to the point, lack of it. Oyster City beer is available from Tallahatchie to the legendary Flora-Bama bar — which does include Highway 30A, Memphis' southernmost suburb.
The Apalach fits well into a busy schedule: parking myself on a beach for a few hours until I managed to drag myself down to the secluded park at the eastern tip of the island to go fishing. Or not. Fishing in a thunderstorm is strongly discouraged by the Florida Parks Department. You'll be the tallest thing on the beach, made even more so swishing around that six-foot-plus metal-tipped fiberglass shaft. The effect of just a little bit of bad luck at this point, the park ranger told me, is electrifying.
All other options exhausted, I figured I'd just do my job and drove across the causeway into town to visit the Oyster City brewery in person. Their beers tend to be on the light side, but that doesn't mean watery pilsners: The chalkboard sign out front proclaims a love of "blondes, reds, and browns!" Inside, I found what just might be my favorite taproom, with tables and chairs set in the same room as the vats of brewing beer. The friendly bartender, Jennifer, offered me a Red Snapper IPA — released every year to celebrate the start of red snapper season. It's made with beets to give it a bright-red zing but lightens things taste-wise. Thankfully, it doesn't taste like borscht.
That gulf air is hot and salty, so if you find yourself down here, try the Lemon Shark Wheat, a Belgian-style wheat steeped in the lemon grass from a "patch of Florida next door." Oyster City does make a stout, but they won't release it until Thanksgiving when the average Memphian has retreated back to the bluff.
None of this is to say that Oyster City can't get clever with their beer, the Dirty Blonde Ale and Hooter Brown Ale are both available as soap — for those of you who want to step out of the shower smelling like a Florida taproom. Make of that what you will.