You've heard about pairing food and beer. How about beer paired with authentic Florida experiences? Join us as we explore the state through the flavors of Florida's craft beer culture.
There's something brewing in Tallahassee, tucked into the center of Railroad Square Art Park. And, beyond the city's edge is a historic jewel, a country store linked to a time gone by.
Two businesses, old and new, separated by time and product, but both driven by passion.
Proof Brewing Company
Railroad Square Art Park, home to counterculture artists, carvers, and sculptors, is a colorful and vibrant mishmash of old railway warehouses.
In the heart of the square, in a massive black warehouse that sits in contrast to its colorful neighbors resides Proof Brewing Company.
In the courtyard, a melting pot of beer lovers of all ages, from 21 to 71, congregates around bocce ball courts and cornhole, well, holes.
Craft beer doesn't have an age barrier here. The canopy of lights strung above the tables and chairs makes it feel like a backyard party, the laughter and chatter the soundtrack from a neighborhood get together. (The talk is about FSU sports and politics, of course, because this is Tallahassee.) It's a community brought together by good taste.
Proof Brewing is making craft beer happen in Tallahassee. From the great brews marked with Proof's distinctive, stark black hexagonal logo to its two Tallahassee locations, Proof founder Byron Burroughs is well on his way to exporting something locals can be proud of.
"We saw a need in this town for local craft beer," Byron said. "Once we opened, it really blew up."
Said Angela Burroughs, Proof cofounder and Byron's spouse: "We've always been passionate about craft beer and it's something we've always enjoyed personally."
"We'd love to one day be an international brand, but we are taking care to focus on the local market right now," Byron said.
Proof is ready to grow in a big way. From large windows in the tasting room, patrons can see rows of steel fermentation tanks - with plenty of room for more - pumping out great beer.
"Florida, I wholeheartedly think, will be the next big state in brewing," Byron said of the Sunshine State's fast-growing craft beer scene.
"It's not just the quantity of breweries, but the quality of beer they are producing," Angela said. "We can compete with Colorado breweries, we can compete with California breweries. As a state, we're making some really great beer."
Proof's core beers include standard styles, but each has something unique about it.
"We tend to brew bolder," Byron said. "We are trying to brew specifically to style, but with larger and more robust flavors."
They even have a few surprises on tap. Mango Wit, a Belgian Wit, is flavored with organic mango. (That counts as a serving of fruit, right?)
Sweet mango hits your nose first muted by the hops after the first sip. Each sip begs another taste.
"Mango Wit is one of our most popular beers, but it was also something of a fluke," Angela said. "We cannot deny its popularity. If we stopped making it, people would go nuts." It's since become one of their core beers.
Need proof that Byron, Angela, and staff are serious about beer? Try this: They doctor the local water to match the mineral content of other famous brewing cities.
"We use a unique RO (reverse osmosis) system that allows us to rebuild the water we use in our beer to any profile we'd like," Byron said. "Say we are doing a Munich style beer. We can change the mineral content of our local water here to fit the water profile of Munich's water supply. This method allows us to have better consistency in our beers. Brewing is all science."
Brewing as a science makes Proof the best chemistry class I've ever had. I give them an A+.
Of Proof Brewing's many offerings, one of their darkest brews really stood out. Creatures in the Dark, an imperial stout noted on the Proof website as an "incredibly balanced sinister delight," is a potent beast. With 8 percent ABV (Alcohol by Volume), this Florida Best Beer Championships Gold Medal Winner will have you seeing creatures if you're not careful about your consumption. Made with cocoa nibs and Madagascar vanilla beans, Byron recommends pairing Creatures with dessert.
And that's when it came to me - this rich, black stout reminded me of the cool, shady back roads twisting throughout Tallahassee and into the countryside beyond.
The Tallahassee area is home to several designated and protected canopy roads, roads surrounded by gnarled live oak trunks hung thick with Spanish moss. On some stretches, the ancient trees block the sun, turning an ordinary drive into a journey through natural, cave-like tunnels. Most of the canopy roads take you deep into the countryside, through miles of pines and pastures, but some roads take you back in time.
Bradley's Country Store
Bradley's Country Store, a fixture in Tallahassee since 1927, sits along the edge of Centerville Road.
The stillness of the air hits you first, with only the sound of crickets humming in the warm air. Few cars pass by as you walk up the concrete steps, worn from the waves of patrons of old, or of those now seeking a taste of nostalgia. Rocking chairs, a Southern staple of slow-down culture, are sometimes filled with people chowing down on sausage dogs with a view of the pond and woods across the street.
Much like the well-stocked wild mayhaw syrup on the shelves, time is slower here. rich and thick with the past.
"People feel like they have reconnected with their past," store proprietor Janet Parker said when asked what first-time visitors find when they enter the store. "It (Bradley's) reminds people of their grandmother's house. It reminds a generation of their roots."
A checkerboard with bottle caps for pieces sits on one of the nearby tables. On the jukebox, Elvis and the Chordettes get top billings from a bygone age. Sunlight shines through soda bottles lining the window and casts a syrupy rainbow along the rough wood floor.
"The draw for the younger generations is definitely the food," Janet said, pointing at the old Coca-Cola cooler. "It's also an educational experience. We sometimes have to teach kids how to use the bottle opener on the cooler."
Another timeless treat? Picking through rows of candy. Penny candy may have fallen victim to inflation, but you can still get away with four boxes of Red Hots for a buck, a deal in any decade.
"Kids are amazed at how much candy they can buy. They will look over the candy for 20 minutes, mulling over the math in their heads as to how much candy they can get," Janet said. "They learn about money. They learn about taxes."
A man cannot live on candy and memories alone, so what makes the trip to Bradley's worth the drive?
Sausage. Oh, the sweet, smoky meat that is Bradley's sausage! If Tallahassee ever held a vote on what food best represents the city, Bradley's sausage would certainly top the ballot. The sausage, all made on-site, has a simple recipe, with no fillers, additives or gluten.
The sausage is so good that the late former Gov. Lawton Chiles would sometimes slip his guard detail to stop by.
"He (Gov. Chiles) loved the sausage and grits," Janet said. "He'd come to the back door of the store to buy them."
Ed Chiles, Lawton's son, buys Bradley's grits for his restaurants on Anna Maria Island. The sausage has even been a draw for international visitors exploring the Cotton Trail Tour.
"The Germans love our sausage." Janet said.
In operation for almost 90 years, this little store out in the country continues to thrive. Why?
"Blessings from above," Janet said. "I think it's because we are real. Dad always said if it ain't broke, don't fix it."
It's that passion that keeps a old country store out in the sticks open for generations to enjoy. A passion that grows a beer business into an icon in the community and a symbol that locals can be proud of.
If You Go:
Proof Brewing Company
Where: Pub & Bottle Shop: 1717 West Tennessee Street, Tallahassee, Florida 32304
Production Brewery: 644 McDonnell Drive, Tallahassee, Florida 32310
Bradley's Country Store
Where: 10655 Centerville Rd, Tallahassee, FL 32309
Phone: (850) 893-1647