There's little question about it: Tampa Bay is an attention hog when it comes to Florida craft beer. It makes sense, with the density and quality of beers coming from the area, but it's easy to forget that there are breweries just south of the Sunshine Skyway putting out quite a few fine beers, many of which are widely available in local distribution.
One of these is Ringmaster Raspberry Berliner weisse from Sarasota's Big Top Brewing, which recently bested 70 other beers to win a silver medal in the style at this year's Great American Beer Festival. Its success called for a packaging run, so you'll currently find Ringmaster in canned six-packs at your local beer store, as well as at Big Top's tasting room at 6111 Porter Way in Sarasota.
It's appropriate that a Florida brewery would perform well in the category — after all, Florida breweries were largely responsible for the enduring trend of heavily-fruited Berliner weisse, a.k.a. Florida weisse — but a silver medal is no token nod. This is a good beer.
The label art depicts Big Top's cartoon ringmaster, Sir Wellington, standing amidst floating raspberries and lemons, the two fruits used in the beer. The beer is a hazy pink-purple, with a frothy, white head. The nose is lemony-tart: part lactic acid, part actual lemon zest.
The rise of Florida weisse has conditioned us to expect bombastic fruit flavors and shocking tartness, but Ringmaster is comparatively subdued, with a rich, smoothly tart raspberry flavor and clean, dry finish that plays well with the beer's restrained acidity and authentic fruit flavor.
A straightforward and balanced fruited Berliner in cans is a relative rarity that we could always use more of. Big Top's version has done Florida proud, and it has a silver medal to show for it. If you're in the market for a crisp and even-keeled Berliner, this is a solid pick — no toll required.
— Justin Grant, tbt* correspondent
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