Looking for a brewpub whose name reflects the size and color of the building in which it’s housed? Bingo.
Literally. Big Blue Brewing – which is big and blue and brews – used to be the home of Cape Coral Bingo. The old sign is in the brewery, while the numbers board is over by the restrooms, still working and still calling out numbers.
For some time, the bingo parlor sat empty. It was owned, however, by New York expat Joann Elardo, well known to the Cape Coral community for her other business Wicked Dolphin Artisan Rums. Interestingly enough, her distillers were the first to brew, making small batches of beer for themselves while working long hours at the distillery.
It was the city of Cape Coral that approached Elardo, asking her to use her business acumen and distiller’s brewing skills to open a brewery. They decided to take it one step further and open it as a brewpub, with an emphasis on local ingredients and being as accessible as possible (especially to families, which makes me very happy).
The brewery space is wide open with huge picture windows looking in from not only the restaurant but from outside as well. They’ve got a nice 5 BBL system that is woefully undersized for how much beer they have started to go through, especially during the winter tourist season. Yes, expansions are underway, and they have the floor space to do it, too.
Since I adore my wife and daughter and love taking trips with them, we decided to grab some lunch and beer while waiting for Joann to finish a meeting with other local business owners. As it happened we all got pizzas, which were fantastic, although my daughter enjoyed stealing the blueberries off my wife’s blueberry and jalapeno flatbread just a bit too much (don’t knock the combination; it worked wonders).
My wife is a big stout fan, so she immediately opted for the Coffee Stout (Stout, 6% ABV, 43 IBU), a big and bold and malty beer bursting with coffee. We later learned the coffee was locally roasted, and the brewers found it from a Farmers Market that occurs weekly in the huge parking lot behind the brewery. Actually, that roast is exclusive to Big Blue, and done expressly for the stout.
I always flight a new brewery, so here’s what I got from L to R:
Honey Brown Ale (Brown Ale, 5.8% ABV, 26 IBU) – I love brown ales, even as the craft beer community appears to be turning away from them. This one has a great malty, meaty mouthfeel complemented perfectly with locally sourced honey.
Orange Wheat (Witbier, 4.5% ABV, 14 IBU) – This wheat ale, while a bit darker than your traditional witbier, still has an excellent orange quality that is incredibly refreshing. Quite tasty and a bit on the juicy side.
Florida Gypsy (Berliner Weisse, 4.1% ABV, 4 IBU) – Ah, the Floridaweisse. Becoming a contractual obligation with Florida breweries. Big Blue’s weisse ignored the obvious addition of blueberries in favor of raspberry, bring an additional tartness to a beer that’s not as face melting as some weisses. It’s mouth-wateringly delicious, though.
Cloudy With A Chance of Grapefruit (Pale Ale, 5.2% ABV, 33 IBU) – I have to wonder if the person that named this beer had kids. Hops are present but low, as the copious amount of grapefruit brough enough bitterness to keep the beer interesting and flavorful.
Joann was very proud to give us a sample of Zombieboat (IPA, 8.5% ABV, 75 IBU), an IPA that was remarkably smooth and focused more on the citrusy flavors from the hops rather than being battery acid. It was expertly crafted and very balanced, extremely good for a brewpub. And I say this in the hopes that Joann and the Wicked Dolphin team can start looking for a production and canning facility. One can dream.
I must digress, since Joann told my wife and I what a zombieboat was, and we had to laugh since we were discussing that very topic while on Ana Maria Island. Apparently some boat owners will sail into a harbor, anchor their boat, get to shore, and just disappear for days/weeks at a time. They, in essence, abandon their boats in the harbor for huge stretches of time, rendering them – in essence – zombie boats.
We entered the brewery floor, currently tended by the enthusiasitc and talented Kaleb McCracken, where my daughter was quite intrigued by the equipment, not at all interested in the walk-in cooler. I find it interesting that they don’t filter their water a lot, preferring the natural quality of the Cape Coral water to come through in the beers.
I also got a sample of the still-fermenting DIPA (Imperial IPA, 8.3% ABV, 81 IBU) right from the fermentation tank, which was a lot like Zombieboat in terms of having the hop flavors shine through without being aggressively bitter. Being an imperial, however, means everything was amplified, but still drinkable.
We didn’t stay too terribly long, since we also wanted to visit Wicked Dolphin itself, about 15 minutes away. But it was definitely a great place for a meal for everyone, great beers, and pretty easy to find, to boot. My thanks to Joann Elardo and the entire team for their fantastic hospitality.
Now I want to play bingo…
Drink Florida Craft,