While it’s primarily known for its rustic Florida cuisine and Riverwalk location, Tampa Heights’ Ulele is also quite an interesting local brewery.
Headed by brewmaster Tim Shackton, Ulele’s quirky lineup is heavy on lagers, though it’s also quite experimental — for every 15-barrel batch of the brewery’s excellent light lager, there’s also something new in the works, like the currently featured barrel-aged Imperial Honeymoon lager, part of a series of unusual and food-friendly barrel-aged brews tapped weekly.
"Nothing does a beer better than to have a kiss of the barrel," Shackton said. "Aging by barrel fills the mouth with flavor without being too sweet and can take a lager or ale to a completely different dimension at the table."
Shackton’s Imperial Honeymoon lager is a dialed-up riff on his Wedding Beer, a crisp lager flavored with berries. The Imperial Honeymoon version is stronger, flavored additionally with fresh Plant City strawberries and aged in wine barrels. The current batch was aged in a Jordan Vineyard & Winery 2015 Russian River Chardonnay barrel, which adds some light oak and grape notes, with a subtly creamy finish.
The beer is slightly hazy due to the fruit pectin, making the finished product even juicier and more intensely fruited than a filtered version would be. No strawberry extract here — just ripe, sweet strawberries from down the road.
Whether you view it as a feature or a bug, these barrel-aged beers typically sell out quickly, sometimes in a matter of days, and rarely lasting beyond two weeks. That’s because they’re typically done in much smaller batch sizes: "from 46 to 60 gallons, depending upon whether it is a Bordeaux-sized barrel or Bourbon-sized," Shackton said.
The Imperial Honeymoon lager was brewed in a larger batch size than most, with a variety of barrels used for aging, so if you visit within a week or two, you’ll have no trouble getting a glass. If you miss it, however, just stop in on any weekend and have a sample of Shackton’s latest.
"My favorite barrel release happens every few months with the Honey Berliner Brett, a barrel-aged Berliner Weisse that sparkles like Champagne and has a kiss of funky honey on the nose and palate," Shackton said.
"Buckhorn Stout in any barrel available is a hit (the current batch was aged in tequila and bourbon barrels), especially when we serve the stout on our nitro tap. Talk about a chocolate cream bourbon bomb. It can be incredible."
— Justin Grant
Have a suggestion for the Local Craft Beer of the Week? Brewers, have a limited release coming that we should know about? Email [email protected]