Riding The Damn Good Beer Bus: Palm Beach County's Craft Brewery Tour

by Kristen Desmond LeFevre Nov 2017 Also on Digital Edition

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.

Damn Good Beer Bus tour guide and driver Ralph Perrone and owner and operator Jonathan Breines

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). 

Matt Stetson, the owner of Accomplice Brewery & Ciderworks, takes the tour group through the fermentation room where guests witness firsthand the cider-making process before heading to the tasting room to sample a variety of ciders on tap

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.”

Steve Dornblaser, co-owner of NOBO Brewing Company, explains the small-batch brewing process

Bus Stop #2:

NOBO Brewing Company 

Brews brothers Tim and Steve Dornblaser are the brewers/owners behind NOBO Brewing Company (short for North Boynton)—Palm Beach County’s newest craft brewery, tucked into a Boynton Beach warehouse neighborhood. 

Although NOBO opened to customers in early 2017, the Dornblasers have been brewing for almost a decade. “We started out like every other home brewer, with 5 gallons of beer on a stove,” Tim recalls. But the brothers believed that their brews offered something that people would gladly pay to pound by the pint glass. Their new facility features a tasting room with 18 taps and a small-but-mighty five-barrel brewhouse. “The size of our system gives us the freedom to experiment with different flavors and styles,” Tim explains. 

And they are always experimenting. “Our success is in identifying flavors and ingredients that blend together,” Steve says. During my visit to NOBO, the ingredient on the Dornblasers’ minds (and brewing equipment) are pumpkin, and from tasting room to brewhouse, everything smells of pumpkin spice. “That’s the Loaded Pumpkin Beer—80 pounds of pumpkins, yams, cinnamon, spice and maple—that we’ve got brewing in the back,” Steve explains. “It’ll kick in about three weeks. It’ll be perfect for fall.”    

By the time the pumpkin beer is ready to pour, Steve and Tim will have buttoned up a new distribution agreement that will showcase their beers at establishments across South Florida. And this fall, NOBO will compete at the nation’s premier brewing competition: The Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado. “We’re super stoked,” Tim says of the invitation extended to only 800 brewers nationwide. 

But the Dornblasers won’t let the limelight go to their heads. The way they see it, NOBO is a neighborhood brewery. “No matter what kind of day you’ve had, at NOBO you’re around beer, you’re around beer lovers,” Tim says. “How bad could your day be, really?”

What I Drank:

Jalapeño Honey Blonde Ale, 4.5 percent ABV  

With an early kick of peppery heat and a sweet but hoppy finish, this ale offers a surprising pairing of orange blossom and jalapeños.

Old School Hefeweizen, 5.5 percent ABV 

A naturally cloudy German Hefeweizen wheat beer with hints of banana, yogurt and clove. “We call this one ‘Old School’ because we brew it to exacting standards,” Tim says. “Steve and I think this is a recipe that our German ancestors would have really enjoyed.”

All That and a Bag of Hops IPA, 7.2 percent ABV

You can smell the hoppiness of this richly colored India Pale Ale with strong malt overtones and a smooth finish, brewed in what Tim says is the “English/East Coast style,” with a blend of Mosaic, Amarillo and Citra hops varietals. 

Coffee Pot Porter, 6 percent ABV

From first sip to aftertaste, this dark offering features full-bodied coffee notes that come from whole coffee beans that the Dornblasers roast in-house. 

Rachel and Jason Matta, owners of Dixie Grill and Brewery, lead the Damn Good Beer Bus tour through their fermentation room

Bus Stop #3:

Dixie Grill and Brewery 

Restaurants run in Rachel Matta’s blood (or at least in her family). Her father, Richard Preefer, and uncle, Jay Preefer, have owned and operated a handful of establishments across Palm Beach County since the early 1970s, including the storied (and now shuttered) Palm Beach Ale House. 

When Rachel and her husband, Jason Matta, moved to South Florida to manage Dixie Grill and Brewery, the couple had already caught on to the craft beer craze. Dixie had been part of the Preefers’ restaurant lineup since 2004, and it wasn’t long before Jason convinced his father-in-law to switch out three of the mass-produced beers Dixie was offering on tap—Budweiser, Miller Lite and Yuengling—for Sierra Nevada’s India Pale Ale, a Palm Breweries beer from Belgium, and a locally brewed option: Der Chancellor from Tequesta Brewing Company. “We developed a real following with people drinking that one especially,” Jason says. “People like local.”

Call it a case of give-the-people-what-they-want: After purchasing Dixie in 2012, the Mattas have reimagined the space as a 31-tap gastropub, offering more than 50 craft beers and a scratch kitchen that serves food with the same vibe as the beer: something you can’t get any place else.

As if offering beers from across the country wasn’t enough, Jason and Rachel have decided to take local one step further, adding their own house-brewed beers to Dixie’s already-deep lineup. 

“I originally decided to take a stab at brewing to better understand the process of beer making—how it all works,” Jason says. He set up a one-barrel brewing system, putting out his first batch in April: an amber ale in the tradition of New Belgium Brewing Company’s Fat Tire. Jason named his version Ambrocious Amber Ale, paying homage to a favorite dog whose likeness now serves as the beer’s logo. 

Jason’s experiment turned out even better than he had hoped, and he decided to put it on tap at Dixie to see if it would sell. The only problem? A one-barrel brewing kit puts out just
6 gallons of beer. That first batch of Ambrocious Amber Ale sold out in four days. “It was a great problem to have,” Jason says. 

Today Dixie features a two-barrel brewhouse, doubling the Mattas’ production abilities, and three of their house brews are prominently featured on a menu that’s a craft beer lovers’ dream, with selections rotated on a seasonal basis. “We want to offer the most interesting beer menu in the county,” Jason says. “I’m always looking to bring in what’s new, what’s exciting, what’s the best of what’s out there all the time.” 

Tour-goers relax outside on Dixie Grill and Brewery’s patio while sampling Dixie’s latest brews

What I Drank:

Session Pale Ale, 4.9 percent ABV

This easy drinking pale ale with earthy tones and a hint of citrus is clean and balanced, with no bitter aftertaste. 

Ambrocious Amber Ale, 6.2 percent ABV

A refreshing amber ale with hoppy hints of citrus. “My dog Ambrocious was my drinking buddy,” Jason says. “We like to say that this one has hints of a good boy biscuit on the nose, because that’s just the way Ambrocious would’ve wanted it.”

Straight Tail Stout, 6.5 percent ABV

A dark beer you can drink year-round, this oatmeal stout is lighter than you might expect and finishes with a surprise sweetness from the cocoa nips the Mattas use in the brewing process. 

Strait Tail Stout Sour Cherry, 6.5 percent ABV

A traditional oatmeal stout with a twist, this one’s been combined with cherry kombucha for sweet-and-then-sour fizzy cherry surprise. 

Backyard Brews

From north to south, these 11 Palm Beach County craft breweries should be on your to-visit list.

Tequesta:

Tequesta Brewing Company, 287 U.S. Highway 1, Tequesta; tequestabrewing.com

Jupiter:

Civil Society Brewing Company, 1200
Town Center Drive, Ste. 101, Jupiter;
civilsocietybrewing.com

Palm Beach Gardens:

Twisted Trunk Brewing, 2000 PGA Blvd.,
Ste. 5506, Palm Beach Gardens;
twistedtrunkbrewing.com

West Palm Beach:

Accomplice Brewery & Ciderworks, 1023 N. Florida Mango Road, West Palm Beach;
accomplicebrewery.com

Dixie Grill and Brewery, 5101 S. Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach; dixiegrillandbar.com

Boynton Beach:

Copperpoint Brewing Company,
151 Commerce Road, Boynton Beach;
copperpointbrewingcompany.com

Devour Brewing Company, 1500 SW 30th Ave., Ste. 4, Boynton Beach;
devourbrewing.com

Due South Brewing Company, 2900 High Ridge Road, Ste. 3, Boynton Beach;
duesouthbrewing.com

NOBO Brewing Company, 2901 Commerce Park Drive, Boynton Beach; nobobrewing.com 

Delray Beach:

Saltwater Brewery, 1701 W. Atlantic Ave., Delray Beach; saltwaterbrewery.com

Boca Raton:

Barrel of Monks Brewing, 1141 S. Rogers Circle, Ste. 5, Boca Raton; barrelofmonks.com

Hop on the Bus: Fast Facts

Who: Damn Good Beer Bus

What: For $65 you get an approximately 4-hour tour of three local breweries, complete with flights of beer at each stop and behind-the-scenes visits. Private tours are also available for an additional cost to parties of 10 or more.

Where: Tours are available for breweries in the Northern Palm Beaches, Central Palm Beach County and the South End of Palm Beach County.

How: Schedule at damngoodbeerbus.com or call 561.906.7212


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