It’s always something special when you get to eat at the table favored the owner of a restaurant whose company has been in business for well over a hundred years.
Sure, that table is close to the business end of a gigantic horse statue, but that’s as maybe.
So we found ourselves in Tampa recently, and it’s almost a requirement to head to Ulele, easily one of the best brew pubs in the state of Florida.
Actually, I’m just going to say it’s one of the best breweries in the country. It really is that good.
I’m not going to mention the number of the table, but suffice it to say this is one of the favorites of Richard Gonzmart, fourth-generation owner of the Columbia Restaurant Group, the people behind Ulele. (Yes, that Columbia Restaurant.)
I’ve written about them before, but for newcomers Ulele is an interesting departure from the traditional Spanish fare the Columbia has perfected in over a century of their existence. Ulele;s food is sort of Proto-Florida, inspired by pre-Columbian cultures in the foods they would eat here in what had yet to be known as the Sunshine State.
Their signature dish is their chargrilled oysters, cooked over a large open pit in the center of a very nice on-stage kitchen. At the insistence of their marketing manager and our dining companion Jeff Houck, went for the Ulele burger, an expertly crafted blend of three different meats which was utterly phenomenal.
I ordered it without the onions, however, and I wish I hadn’t after realizing after I finished that they actually use fried shallots and not your traditional boring raw red onion slice.
The best thing about Ulele is their brewmaster Tim Shackton. Tim is a genius, coming from generations of brewing experience, and was a part of Ulele before the doors ever opened.
You can see that experience in the tap list crafted over the five years of their existence. Tim has built an absolutely phenomenal set of core beers and continues to innovate with a number of great rotators, many of which are aged in some insanely hard to source barrels.
In fact, they just released a new beer to celebrate Tampa’s new mayor Jane Castor, an American wheat ale. This is not the first time they’ve done that, as their Buckhorn Stout (named for the previous mayor Bob Buckhorn) is still on.
Of course, things happen when you have connections, and we were graced by Tim’s assistant Thomas O’Neill came over to us with a reserve bottle of Augen der Liebe (Lambic, 5% ABV).
It translates to “Eyes of Love,” Tim’s tribute to his wife Leah. According to Tim, the beer “started out as my recipe for a classic Schwarzbier, crisp and delicate chocolate.” After six weeks of fermentation in a standard steel barrel, it was “transferred to a third fill bourbon barrel and infused with blackberries and raspberries, as well as Brett Lambicus, then aged an additional ten months.”
Tim describes the beer as having a tart cherry and chocolate farmhouse nose, followed by a burst of berries, chocolate and oak finish. “It was one of my favorites on draft, but even better after several months in a bottle.”
The beer was amazing, y’all. There’s a thick, chewy body with the most amazing fruity nose that had a light accent of yeasty funk. There was a moderate bourbon note, but it blended well with the other aromas in the beer.
As for the flavor, it had only a kiss of tartness. It’s not heavy or aggressive, and just gives a little tap of tart flavors that bring out the berry qualities above a malty, molasses-forward beer. Bourbon qualities were light and added a nice meaty character without becoming overly boozy.
I can only imagine how this beer would have developed upon further aging.
My wife is a big fan of penguins, and having a beer named Penguin P.I. (Golden Ale, 8% ABV) was practically an engraved invitation to get the beer.
We had to for other reasons, since Time let us know this was “an English style golden strong ale, Knob Creek Barrel-aged and nitro dispensed. Distinctive Knob Creek bourbon and oak nose coupled with a malt and oak palate. Traditional Maris Otter Malt and oak on display in a smooth aftertaste.”
And if you’ve never had a barrel-aged strong ale dispensed on nitro, it is a transformative experience.
Beyond amazing, as nitro always makes a beer creamier and velvety smooth. This really brought the sweet malts out with a bright pop, coupled with a delightful vanilla note from the bourbon barrel, with maybe a light earthy hop lurking somewhere in the distance.
This is a style, however, where the malt shines, and shine it did. It was a bit brighter and crisper than the Lambic (easily to be expected), and the two were a wonderful pairing together.
I think I have said this before, but it is a shame that Ulele does not get the respect and reverence for the incredible beer destination it truly is. There are a lot of good breweries in Tampa, obviously, and Ulele needs to be spoken about in the same cherished tones that other breweries enjoy. The experience is amazing and needs to be experienced by basically everyone.
Regardless of what table you’re at.
Very special thank you to Tim Shackton & Thomas O’Neill for the beers and the descriptions, and Jeff Houck for the hospitality, the incredible tales of historic Tampa, and the awesome photographs of Augen der Liebe you see in this post.
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