A whirlwind trip back home for my dad’s birthday also gave me the opportunity to visit a few more Florida breweries. I started my adventure at a new brewery in Gainesville called Big Top Brewing Company. I guess it is technically not new, just new to the city, as the original brewery is down in Sarasota. They started brewing in 2013 as the first craft brewery in Sarasota, and since have expanded to Pensacola and now Gainesville. This review will focus on their Gainesville location though their beer selection seems to be mostly the same across all three breweries. So step right up and prepare to be amazed and mesmerized as I recount my adventure under the big top.
- Beer – Hit or miss. Their flagship porter was excellent, balancing the sweetness of the coconut with the dark, roasted malt and coffee flavors of the porter. The rest ranged from solid, like their Key Lime wheat, to ones I just did not like. They made some adventurous choices, like a PB&J pale ale, so I have to give them credit for experimentation and risk taking. I just was not wowed by most of their beers. I’d be willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, being so new at this location and still working out the kinks with their brewing systems, and give them another shot in the future. Score: 2.5/5
- Brewery – Set in the heart of downtown Gainesville, Big Top is one expansive room that houses both the brewing area and the seating, with a smaller game room and bar in the back. When you walk in, you are greeted by massive shiny brew kettles perched behind a large bar with tons of seating. Scattered throughout the room is ample table seating for larger parties, faithfully illuminated by numerous Edison lamps dripping from the ceiling, lending an air of turn of the century speak easy to the joint. They even have a small outdoor seating area for those with dogs, including a roll-up window that faces the bar where you can order drinks. As for food options, I think this is where they shine. The menu is mostly pub style food, but it was darn good. I highly recommend you get the tots, but really it was all delicious. The prices were reasonable for the area, and much better than what I’d used to out on the west coast, and their hours extend into the wee early morning for those who just want to party under the big top. Score: 3.5/5
- Ambiance and Entertainment – Big Top was hoping when I stopped in! From televisions on the wall for Gator football to several arcade-style games, you will find plenty of entertainment here. There is even a big projector screen and pool table in the back room and board games for those who like to drink and lose friends over Monopoly. The only thing I don’t see at this location are live events such as music or trivia nights. Granted they are new in town so hopefully more of that will come. Score: 3.5/5
- Location – I would be hard pressed to pick a better location than where Big Top settled on. Right in the heart of downtown with the word “brewery” up in lights above the door, you have easy access to so many different things. From the arts to dive bars and everything in between, you can find it within walking distance. Parking can be a bit challenging at times in downtown Gainesville, however the city is pretty bike friendly and the public transit is excellent, so take advantage of it and avoid the hassle of parking and risk of driving after one too many. Score: 4/5
- Customer Service – Top notch under the big top! From the moment I walked in I was greeted, seated, and beered in record time. They offer more of a table service type brewpub and our server was always on top of refills, food orders, and great recommendations. It looked to be the norm here as I watched other tables and I love that emphasis on customer happiness and satisfaction. Incredibly well done. Score: 4/5
Total Score: 17.5/25
Favorite Beer: Hawaiian Lion Coconut & Coffee Porter – 7.5% Porter
Final Thoughts: Concerns about their beer overshadow what was otherwise an enjoyable experience and a great brewpub, though I will give them the benefit of the doubt as they are still pretty green at this location. I’m always excited to see a new brewery pop up in Gainesville and I will watch how they grow and improve and will certainly make a return trip next time I’m in town. Definitely worth a visit if you are passing through and make sure you order the tots to go with your Hawaiian Lion!