Riding The Damn Good Beer Bus: Palm Beach County’s Craft Brewery Tour
Jonathan Breines insists he’s no beer snob, but he knows a good brew when he tastes one. More often than not, he says that craft brewers make the best beers in small batches. “It just makes sense,” he says, ticking off the advantages on his tan fingers: “They’re local, they’re fresh, you’re drinking them right from the source, they’re stronger, they taste better.”
Breines is the owner and operator of Damn Good Beer Bus, a brews-on-the-brain tour company that’s taking day drinking to the next level. “I was reading about some of the new breweries coming to Palm Beach County,” he says. That was his ah-ha moment: The 30-year-old ended his on-again, off-again relationship with corporate America, bought a 20-passenger bus, forged partnerships with brewers from Tequesta to Boca, and began giving tours in April.
Nine months later, business is hopping. His one-man staff doubled in size when Breines brought buddy Ralph Perrone on board to help handle the demand.
Just don’t call it a party bus. “We’re about beer appreciation, not binge drinking,” Breines says. “It’s a craft beer tour. Are you trying a lot of samples? Absolutely. People have to be mature and remember this is fun—it’s educational. Over-intoxication is not on the agenda.”
With 11 breweries currently in operation in Palm Beach County and six more slated to open by year’s end, the craft brewing boom, which has given rise to more than 5,000 craft breweries across the U.S. today, is in full effect in South Florida. To drink it all in, join me for a beer run aboard Breines’ bus (and we’ll have a damn fine time in the process).
Bus Stop #1:
Accomplice Brewery & Ciderworks
You might think that teaching a 9-year-old how to brew alcohol could lead to a life of trouble. But Accomplice Brewery & Ciderworks’ owner and brewer Matt Stetson’s early brewing education helped him build a life he loves. Stetson is a sixth-generation cider maker and brewer. “My grandfather taught me everything he knew,” Stetson says. “I soaked up every detail.”
Stetson’s friends went wild over the craft beers he turned out of the home-brewing rig he’d constructed in his walk-in closet. But when Felonice Merriman, Stetson’s partner “in life and in crime,” was diagnosed with celiac disease, she couldn’t sample his gluten-laden brews. Out came his grandfather’s cider recipes, which are gluten-free. “Felonice was totally digging them,” Stetson recalls.
The pair began showcasing Stetson’s beers at festivals in 2011. But when the demand began to outstrip supply, there were only Merriman’s ciders left to pour. “People loved the beers,” Stetson says. “But when we started showing our ciders, folks were really like ‘wowza.’”
In 2014, the couple established Accomplice Brewery & Ciderworks in West Palm Beach as a distribution-only operation. But when their delivery partnership fell flat, Stetson and Merriman used their last $5,000 to open a tasting room in a defunct fencing warehouse. Two years later, they’ve gone from serving their ciders from three homemade jockey box taps to a 21-tap draft box—though the industrial edge of the place remains.
If you’ve never sampled craft cider, you may be thinking that 21 varieties are overkill. Not for Stetson. “I’m constantly looking to the edges of the globe for interesting ingredients,” he says, rattling off familiar fixings like pineapple, banana, mango and passion fruit—plus more exotic offerings like jackfruit, agnus-castus berry, blackthorn, guanabana and mamey sapote. “We do crazy stuff that scares the brewing industry,” Stetson says. “But I don’t care, because I’m really good at what I do.”
So good that Accomplice ciders are now available across Florida, thanks to a new distribution agreement. “People try our ciders and ask, ‘Where can I get this outside of Florida?’” Stetson says. “It kills me to admit that we don’t make enough of it yet. But we’ll get there.”
What I Drank:
Coffee Cider, 5.5 ABV
Crafted with coffee beans from Pumphouse Coffee Roasters in Jupiter, this lightly hued cider tastes like a sparkling iced coffee with a kick. “We were the first cider works in the world to register a coffee cider,” Stetson says.
Semi Dry Italian Black Cherry Cider, 4.3 percent ABV
If you count yourself in the rosé-all-day camp, this is the cider for you. It’s pretty in pink and sweet without being syrupy, and finishes with a rich, deep berry taste.
Strawberry Cider, 5.7 ABV
This cider pays homage to Stetson’s grandfather who farmed strawberries and made cider from them when they were past their peak. “I think I’ve greatly improved on his recipe,” Stetson tells me. The resulting cider is elegant and balanced, imparting the essence of freshly picked fruit.
Mango Madness Cider (Mark’s Yard Version), 8.2 percent ABV
Made with local mangoes, this cider’s mix of sugars is offset by notes of lemon curd and earthiness. It is pleasantly crisp and delicious—and I’ve never been a fan of mangoes (or ciders, for that matter). When I confess this to Stetson, he’s not surprised. “The most common thing we hear people say is, ‘I don’t like cider, but I like your cider.’ That’s powerful to me. It’s fueling us to take Accomplice to the next level.”
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