After our first brewery of the day, we found ourselves a bit ahead of schedule. I was determined to get my money’s worth for the rental car which meant that it wasn’t quite time to head up to Tampa. Falling back on my pre-trip research, I knew that there was a brewery on our way north. It was without hesitation that we piled into the car and headed for our next stop: Big Top Brewing Company.
As we pulled into the parking lot of Big Top, it expected more of the same. It’s a light industrial area and the taproom is nestled inside a nondescript warehouse. It had become a familiar theme with each of the Sarasota breweries that we had visited. This was where the similarities ended. When I stepped through their front door the differences were immediately apparent. My initial reaction was to relate them to a dive bar. There is very little natural light, a standard drop ceiling, a pair of dart boards, rustic black tables, and a small corner bar. This all lends the place a certain charm.
While my group approached the bar to begin ordering their beer, I used the time to stroll through the taproom and take some photos. True to their name, they’ve got circus themed decor. This is immediately apparent at the front door when you’re greeted by a colorful statue and a mural of an elephant grasping a mug of beer! If you look a little closer you’ll begin to notice old photographs and posters of their circus themed beers. For those that aren’t familiar, Sarasota has a rich history with the Ringling Brothers Circus. In the early 1900s Charles and John Ringling began purchasing land in the area and eventually the town became the circus’ winter headquarters. There was one point where John and Charles owned approximately 25% of the land within Sarasota! The Ringling now maintains that legacy with several different properties, museums, and gardens. And Big Top Brewing has wholeheartedly embraced that history.
With drinks in hand we followed a small sign down a hallway and out onto their backyard patio. After our eyes adjusted to the sunlight, we sat down at a quiet table on the grass and started in on our beer. I can’t turn down a peanut butter beer, which meant that I had to start with a pint of Decklin’s Indulgence. It’s a deeply colored brown ale, with a flavor akin to one of my favorite cereals: Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch. It wasn’t overly sweet and had a slight chocolate taste . I enjoyed it immensely, but I’m a sucker for the flavor.
While looking over the tap list it became clear that Big Top gets a little crazy with their beers. My second drink was a Hawaiian Lion Coconut and Coffee Stout. It was extremely coconut forward with a nice clean coffee and dark chocolate flavor that provided nice balance. I was riding a little high after these two adventurous and tasty beers so I had to try their Chicken and Waffles beer. It’s hard to imagine what a beer with a name like that could taste like, and I spent almost the entire drink trying to figure it out. Most of the group settled on cherry cough syrup, but after racking my brain I came to the conclusion that it tasted exactly like Hershey’s Strawberry Syrup. I don’t mind crazy beers, but this was a bit much.
Their outdoor area really sold me. There’s a mixture of different types of seating, each space creating a private area for your group. They’ve also got a great mural of a couple of flamingos drinking a beer and sitting on the back of an alligator. The fact that it’s next to a major highway could be seen as a bit of a drag, but after awhile I didn’t notice it at all. There beers were available in an 8oz size which I find is just enough of a beer to make a decision on it. It’s very hard, if not impossible, to get a real sense of a beer in only 4oz. Overall, I’ve got mixed feels about Big Top Brewing Company. They had unique styles of beer that were brewed relatively well. Their interior was just not my thing, but when you’re in Florida how often do you want to sit inside anyway? But being nestled in the shade of an 80 degree day, with a warm breeze on my face and a cool beer in hand is good enough for me.