Some breweries in Jacksonville are known for pushing the envelope. They like to do the big, bold, crazy sours and desert forward porters that Florida beer is starting to become very well known for.
But when it comes to the big boys, Bold City is one of my favorites for sticking with the tried-and-true classics. They just celebrated their 10th anniversary, and their distribution reach has been as far as Orlando and Tampa for as long as I can remember.
They are also the only brewery in Florida I can think of whose top selling beer is a brown ale, named for the owner Brian Miller’s late Boxer and fully embracing a style which has fallen out of favor with the brewing community in recent years. This beer has even been released in the bigger 16 oz cans that some state breweries are starting to make for their most popular brands. Bold City also releases one of the only cream ales I have seen canned in the state of Florida, a style which I have seen be the focus of many breweries in and around the Jacksonville area.
I adore the cans just for the art work themselves, and would love to get something with the Mad Manatee logo one of these years. Many of their seasonal beers feature the faces (and names) of brewers at the company. This year Bold City will be releasing four seasonals, also in those 16 oz cans. Already released was a spring Pilsner and apricot wheat for Summer. I was there while their fall seasonal, a Wee Heavy, was out, and they’ll follow up with a winter Imperial Stout.
There are two locations, with the new downtown Bold City being very close to the Jacksonville Jaguars, the iconic Main Street Bridge, and hosting a small pilot system where each of bold City’s Brewmasters brew on occasion.
But it’s their big production facility that I wanted to see, and I was lucky enough to get a tour with their Head Brewer/Production Manager Jeremy Baker on a cool fall evening. Jeremy “came about a year late” to Bold City, being with the company for 9 of its 10 years. He started small as an occasional bartender, working his way through the ranks. In his current position, he focuses on making sure that their crowd-pleasing beers remain true to style as they come out of their fermenters (especially the massive 120 bbl fermenter that is almost always full of Duke’s Brown Ale).
Inside, it’s a rather spacious warehouse facility that used to be a furniture manufacturing space. In the back, there are even train tracks that held a lot of the big heavy machinery as it went through its paces everyday. There’s also a lab in the middle of the space with old cans to check on previous batches in case anything is reported.
The production floor is spacious and big, with their right-to-left brewing system in the center, being fed grain from the huge silo full of 2-row just outside the building. Not too far away is Bold City’s canning line, a change from he glass bottles they used when first opening.
Jeremy is a big fan of the canning line, especially for ease of use. With a crushed can, he mentioned, it’s a simple task to remove the offending can and restart the system. If a bottle is broken, however, the entire system needs to be immediately shut down and cleaned thoroughly to remove any of the broken glass.
But those are production issues, whereas most visitors will enjoy their time at Bold City in the charming and quaint Old England-style pub taproom. This is where I first met Jeremy, who took me on a tour of the non-core beers they currently had on tap. Starting with the lighter beers:
Fritz (Hefeweizen, 5% ABV) – This wheat beer has an interesting funky aroma, almost like a Belgian ale, with a clean crisp finish.
Consolidation Ale (Amber Ale, 4.8% ABV) – Done to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the consolidation between the city of Jacksonville and Duval County (meaning the governments of Jacksonville and Duval Co. are one in the same). It was on this date that Jacksonville earned it’s nickname of the “Bold New City of the South,” from which the brewery gets its name. The beer carries with it a slightly fruity aroma with a heavy alpha acid character, mixing a surprising dankness with some fruity qualities.
Chinook IPA (IPA, 6% ABV) – An older recipe they used to make all the time, newly revamped by Jeremy. The beer, obviously, uses all Chinook hops for an earthy and herbal hop character.
On the darker side:
Kilt ‘Em (Scottish Ale, 7% ABV) – The aforementioned Wee Heavy that is currently being distributed in 16 oz. cans. It has great notes of caramel, raisin, and plum, while the flavor is big and boozy, definitely leaning more towards the plum, then prune qualities.
Imperial Vanilla Porter (Porter, 7.8% ABV) – Found on both regular taps and again on nitro, this porter has a clean, bready aroma, but you definitely taste a nice streak of vanilla.
Bourbon Barrel-Aged Duke’s (Brown Ale, 7.5% ABV) – It’s a trip to Bold City, hanging with Duke is a necessity. This one, however, was aged in Buffalo Trace barrels, lending a strong raisin and bourbon aroma and flavor to an already deep and bready beer.
I have been a big fan of Bold City for some time, so it was a bit of a pilgramage to finally get up to Jacksonville and see the facility. The next time I’m in town, I definitely want to visit their downtown tap room to see some of the things going on there as well.
Or I can just move to Jacksonville and get a job at Bold City to try and get my face on a can. Sounds like a plan to me.
Special thank you to Kevin Miller and Jeremy Baker for your incredible hospitality.
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