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Finally, a Beer That Lives Up to the Hype

Hype can ruin a beer, because few brews can live up to the expectations heaped upon them by mad beer geek love.  Hype ruined Pliny the Elder for me, and it screwed up my approach to sour beers – had I know they tasted like week-old laundry left in the washer, I would’ve expected less.  In a nutshell, hype tastes awful.

But hype’s younger brother (let’s call him buzz) can taste delicious.  The way I see it, buzz is a form of hype, but it’s based on an actual visceral interaction with a beer (I just had Beer X and it was awesome!), not a predetermined notion about a brew based on what others have said about it (I’ve never had it, but Dark Lord is the best stout evar!).

Enough buzz can eventually lead to hype, and sometimes that hype is warranted. Case in point is Cigar City’s Jai Alai India Pale Ale, a beer that wiggled its way into the “great beer” portion of my brain without me ever tasting it.  How did it get there?  Hype, or at least lots of buzz. 

I was prepared not to like this beer, mostly because I don’t like the name Cigar City – I think about a beer served in a dirty ashtray every time I hear it.  Not tasty. But this beer was the opposite of that – it was VERY tasty.

I got to sample Jai Alai India Pale Ale from the bottle at a conference in Orlando last week, and it was love at first sip – there’s a lot of wonderful stuff happening in this beer.  There’s a rich biscuity foundation, loads of citrusy hops, and an underlying tropical fruitiness (pineapple, maybe a touch of mango) that walk up to the line of overpowering your senses the way DIPA might, but then back away.  Cigar City (dirty ashtray – dammit!) has created a beer that’s not quite a double, but more than a single IPA.  Let call it a 1.75 IPA.  All told, this is a beer that’s big on flavor that won’t totally weigh you down, but at 7.5% ABV, it might just creep up on you.

It’s a wonderful beer, and even better, it surpassed my already elevated expectations, which is a rare thing for me these days.  I’m not saying it’s the best beer in the world (I don’t want to hype it after all), but if this stuff were available in New Jersey, it would be in my fridge all the time.  I’m glad I finally had a chance to taste it for myself.

I should also note that our brother-in-law Sassoune is Basque and was a professional Jai Alai player in Milford, Connecticut (where he met our sister Wendi) and later went on to win the French Outdoor National Championship.  I’m not bragging, but I figured Don would go nuts and Wendi would be pipe up in the comments if I didn’t mention it.  That would be like reviewing Bear Beer and not mentioning that Don is one.

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Categories: Beer, review

Author:Jim

Craft beer nerd, frequent beer blogger and occasional home brewer.

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21 Comments on “Finally, a Beer That Lives Up to the Hype”

  1. May 1, 2012 at 2:14 pm #

    Ahhhh….. I absolutely love this beer! Glad to hear you enjoyed it too. It is somewhat available in Philly, so I pick it up every so often. You described it perfectly. And FYI, their Maduro Brown Ale is really good too. If only their funky big bottles weren’t so expensive. Guess I’ll just have to go to Tampa.

    • May 1, 2012 at 2:23 pm #

      I had the Maduro as well from a 12oz bottle, and thought it was just okay – Jai Alai was a reveleation!

  2. henderan
    May 1, 2012 at 2:30 pm #

    Congratulations on finding a decent beer in Orlando!! Best beer I could find is Drifter pale ale from WIdmer 😦

    • May 1, 2012 at 2:35 pm #

      I stayed at the Gaylord Palms (which really lends itself to homophobic handjob joke) and was psyched to see it on the menu at the sports bar there. Later in the week I was at Disney with my family (and without a car) and was so happy to grab some beers at the River City Brewing Company at the Boardwalk. They brew everything on premises and it’s all pretty good. I’m writing about for my Today Show web article this week – it’s an oasis in a see of mouse-controlled macro brews!

      • henderan
        May 1, 2012 at 2:48 pm #

        “Mouse controlled macro” is right! I actually was on a Disney cruise. One small bar on the ship had the drifter on tap.

  3. May 1, 2012 at 2:47 pm #

    This is the second really good review of a beer that I’ve seen from this brewery. BGN had great things to say about their imperial stout. Would like to get my hands on some.

  4. David Satterfield
    May 1, 2012 at 3:14 pm #

    I understand how “Cigar City” could cause the dirty ashtray connection, but keep in mind the name derives from Tampa/Ybor and the rich history of the local cigar industry. I think it’s fitting.
    Also, being a Tampa local, I’m disappointed in myself for avoiding the Cigar City brews for so long. I’m a new big fan of Jai Alai.

    • May 1, 2012 at 3:19 pm #

      Oh, I know the brewery is named after the city, but the “cigar” thing still grosses me out, however appropriate it might be.

      If you had a brewery in Cedar Bluff, Alabama (the “Crappie Capitol of the World”), you wouldn’t name it the Crappie Brewing Company, would you? 🙂

      • David Satterfield
        May 1, 2012 at 3:43 pm #

        Good point!

  5. johnking82
    May 1, 2012 at 3:34 pm #

    Loved this beer and even enjoyed the oak aged version. I also love bears.

    • May 1, 2012 at 3:44 pm #

      I imagine you’d pee your pants if you came across an oak aged bear!

  6. May 1, 2012 at 6:46 pm #

    Hey Jim, while I think you sometime let irrelevancies (i.e., popsicle stick, et al) get in the way of enjoying a good beer, I have to agree that the thought of a beer made by a company called Cigar City is somewhat offputting. (Not that I’d allow that to stop me from trying it (LOL.)

  7. jf1smith
    May 1, 2012 at 9:34 pm #

    Ditto for Mr. King on the Oak Aged. I grab several types of CC beers whenever I drop down to FL to visit the folks but the Oak Aged is my current fave.

  8. May 2, 2012 at 7:47 am #

    Cigar City IPA is a bright light in an otherwise dull brewing market down here in Florida. It’s a regular pick in my mixed-six from Publix, right alongside Terrapin’s Hopsecutioner!

    • May 3, 2012 at 10:56 am #

      I wish I could buy beer at the grocery store here – no dice in NJ!

    • bdivvy
      May 6, 2012 at 4:33 pm #

      While Florida in general is bereft of good craft beer the Tampa area is a haven for those seeking great craft beer. Along with Cigar City you have Peg’s, Dunedin, Seventh Sun, and Tampa BAy Brewing Co.

  9. Brett
    May 2, 2012 at 11:26 am #

    I had this beer when I visited FL in February…..I had no idea there was buzz surrounding it, I just ordered whatever I had never had up in the northeast before (also had Monk in the Trunk and Hopsecutioner). I feel like a hipster for liking it “before it was cool”.

    I agree with your assessment of hype vs. buzz………buzz is your friend telling you “I saw Hunger Games last night and it was awesome”; hype is the tv commercial for Avengers telling you “This Is The Awesomest Movie You Will Ever See!!!”

    • May 3, 2012 at 10:55 am #

      Yes, you’re an OH (Original Hipster). I wonder how that’s fly in Compton?

      I agree with your movie analogy, but the Avengers looks pretty awesome…

  10. bdivvy
    May 6, 2012 at 4:36 pm #

    Just did a tour of the Tampa Bay area breweries and was quite impressed with Cigar City’s beers. The Jai Alai is quite tasty but the vanilla Maduro is where it’s at.

  11. Dave
    August 28, 2012 at 2:07 pm #

    Wait till you try the oak aged version

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