Islander Fan's Guide to Craft Beer: The Road Fans' Tampa Edition!

I am STILL trying to process the beauty and meaning of Sunday's win that sends our New York Islanders to the nation's "other" Bay Area on the Gulf Coast to take on the defending runners-up, the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The city is close to my heart for a number of reasons, but first and foremost because it was where my now-fiance and I first vacationed together. I took her to her first live hockey game there (Lightning vs Sabres, who were in town), and Amalie Arena's atmosphere played a big part in developing her appreciation of the sport.

Tampa is a place I had wanted to visit because of its climate, cigar culture, its status as the birthplace of American death metal, and of course...its cuisine and beer. For those of us who have decided to shell out to catch our team on the road for this second round of the playoffs, I humbly present you with the city's fine selection of craft beers. If you have any other questions about stuff you'd like to do while in town, feel free to ask me in the comments (or the kind folks over at (Raw Charge!)

1. Cigar City Jai Alai IPA: I truly have saved the best for first. This perfect 7.5% IPA is delicious when you can find it in cans, which I already knew. But on tap, it takes on a juicy deliciousness of aromatic citrus and resin that truly transforms it into nectar of the gods. One of my personal all-time favorites, and put the entire state of Florida on my personal craft beer map. Do not leave the city (or Amalie!) without drinking one of these!

2. Cigar City Invasion Pale Ale: For those who don't mind the bitterness of hops but are overwhelmed by the face-rearranging perfection of Jai Alai, Invasion is a bit milder. It's a yummy assault on your taste buds nonetheless, with a golden color and nice balance to the flavor all around. More sessionable than Jai Alai if you're driving with the "Check Liver" light on.

3. Cigar City Florida Cracker: A cloudy, soft white ale named after the Floridian cowboys of old, this one is perfect for the beach or for washing down excellent Cuban food with in your hotel room (not that I've done such an unthinkable deed). In addition to being the crown jewel of Tampa's craft beer scene, Cigar City has a number of brewpubs that serve as full-service restaurants to go along with its beer offerings so you don't have to visit the brewery itself. You can't go wrong with any of the seafood or Caribbean-style options for good eats. They really do their home city proud.

4. Tampa Bay Brewing Company Elephant Foot IPA: Another must-visit place, particularly if you like some good eats to go with your beer. This restaurant in the Ybor City district brews its offerings onsite to go with its numerous tasty wings, dips and other gameday fare. I liked their Elephant Foot IPA the best, but honestly order yourself a flight and try all their beers...they are all excellent and highly drinkable. A fun thing that we did was have a cigar and espresso drink at King's Corona cigar bar right nearby and walked over to this place to pregame before it was time to hit the arena for gametime. If you do go there, be sure to take home one of the best pint glasses ever designed: Beer Is Your Friend.

5. 7th Sun Brewing Company: Located not in Tampa proper but in Dunedin right across the bay, these guys can take over the entire block when they are full, as the wallside counters and tables outside the small brewery's windows spill over with patrons. Order a flight and enjoy, as I'm not sure how widely 7th Sun distributes even locally. Their menu changes quite a bit from what I hear, but when we went I recall many of the beers being on the experimental side with a couple of more standard flavors mixed in. I was told their orange creamsicle beer was delicious, but they were all out of it when I went. A nice relaxing afternoon to be had here no matter what they have on tap for the day!

6. Big Storm Brewing Company: Didn't get to actually visit this place as I didn't know of them, but Big Storm's Wavemaker Amber was on tap at the hotel lobby bar where we stayed. Good for a nightcap before turning in for the evening. It looks as though they have expanded quite a bit since I last visited Tampa and have a number of good-looking beers, so if anyone wants to let me live vicariously through them and perform a thorough recon mission of Big Storm, let me know!

You may not be there to root for the Lightning...but you can sure drink their beer. And friendly reminder to drink responsibly, as difficult as that is with so much excellent beer around! Enjoy your time on the road, Islanders fans! Written by Matt P

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