Dispatches From The South Review: Cigar City Jai Alai IPA

In Beer Reviews by Ryan

Cigar City says:

“Jai Alai India Pale Ale pays tribute to the original extreme sport. Jai Alai, a game native to the Basque region of Spain, is played on a court called a fronton. Jai Alai players attempt to catch a ball using a curved mitt, whilst the ball travels at speeds of up to 188 miles per hour! Proving they have a sense of humor the Spanish dub this game, with its ball traveling at race car speeds, “the merry game.” Tampa was once home to a busy Jai Alai fronton but sadly all that remains of Jai Alai in the Tampa Bay area is this India Pale Ale that we brew in tribute to the merry game.”

City City Jai Alai IPA
American IPA, 7.5% ABV

Despite having lived in Florida for two years in my mid-20’s, my only exposure to Jai Alai (pronounced HI-lie) was the opening credits to Miami Vice and season 3 episode 4 of Mad Men.

Now, in my defense, I did live in north Florida where I felt more a part of southeast Georgia than the sunshine state, and Jai Alai didn’t make it that far north.  In fact, about the only place you can catch it now is in Miami.  So how “merry” is this tribute to the sport?  Well, it goes down as one of the best IPA’s I’ve ever had.

Cigar City’s Jai Alai IPA blurs the line between a high ABV IPA with blisteringly bitter hops and an IPA exploding with mouth watering citrus flavors.  The ABV is fairly high for a standard American IPA at 7.5%,.  In fact, it could be easily mistaken for an imperial IPA.  Its saving grace is that, no matter how hard you look, you can’t find that 7.5% ABV.  It’s non-existent.  And the flavor is so robust it leads you to believe you’re drinking something akin to a session beer.

Poured in to a snifter, Jai Alai is caramel in color with a huge off-white head that billows to the brim of the glass threatening to spill over.  Take a whiff you get bright and citrusy aromas of freshly squeezed grapefruit juice, apricots and lemon zest.  Take a sip and you get much of the same up front with splashes of passion fruit and tropical fruit, a bit of caramel and toast lightly sprinkled with cinnamon follow suit to balance things out before more waves of citrus bring up the rear.  Jai Alai finishes pleasantly bitter with a little hint of ground black pepper in the finish.

This is the fifth or sixth beer that we’d had imported from the South and I think I’m starting to get the profile of southern brewed beers.  Regardless of style all the beers we’ve sampled have been a little bit lighter in body than what we expect here in the Midwest but, especially in this case, they’ve had a bit more flavor.  That makes sense considering the region.  Who wants to kick back with a thick and burly imperial stout when it’s 70 degrees in February or March?

I will actually be in Florida in a few weeks, and rest assured you will find me on a beach, wasting away an afternoon or two, with a six pack of Jai Alai at my side.

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About the Author



Equal parts beer nerd and policy geek, Ryan is now the curator of the Guys Drinking Beer cellar. The skills he once used to dig through the annals of state government as a political reporter are now put to use offering unique takes on barrel-aged stouts, years-old barleywines and 10 + year verticals.

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