SeaWorld's Craft Beer Festival shines spotlight on local breweries

It's not often our hometown breweries get an international stage, but we’re getting one at the Craft Beer Festival at SeaWorld, which runs Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from now through Sept. 12 (though we're likely to see an extension through October).
click to enlarge SeaWorld's Craft Beer Festival shines spotlight on local breweries (4)
Holly V. Kapherr
New to the festival this year is a Craft Beer Dinner Series, the brainchild of new Corporate VP of Food & Beverage Transformation, Anthony Stice. His goal is to up the culinary ante at all of the SeaWorld Parks — including the new SeaWorld Abu Dhabi —  and his first endeavor is this event.

"After the last 18 months where we've seen breweries have to shut down, stop making certain beers, and many have been without business ... to be able to give them this opportunity and commit to this level of volume is really gratifying and fulfilling," he says.

Each four-course dinner features one of the showcased breweries at the festival in partnership with the kitchen team from Sharks Underwater Grill.  The event takes place in the Reef Room, a private dining space, and of course the main highlight isn't the beer or food at all — it's the sharks and other sea life swimming past the floor-to-ceiling windows into the aquarium.

Before the dinner, the brewers provide the beers they want to highlight and the restaurant's chefs come up with dishes that pair perfectly with their suds. Throughout the evening, reps from the breweries will give a brief description of the beers and a little about their development and backstory. Beer nerds can ask all the obscure procedural questions they like.

Here's the calendar:

  • Aug. 27
    : Sam Adams
  • Aug. 28: Ivanhoe Park Brewing Co.
  • Aug. 29: South Beach Brewing Co.
  • Sept. 3: JDub's Brewing Co.
  • Sept. 4: Persimmon Hollow Brewing Co.
  • Sept. 5: Alcatraz Brewing
  • Sept. 10: Sierra Nevada Brewing
  • Sept. 11: Elysian Brewing
  • Sept. 12: Woodford Reserve Bourbon (we know, not beer)
  • Sept. 17: Cigar City Brewing
  • Sept. 18: Yuengling, featuring Sheryl Yuengling
  • Sept. 19: Jack Daniel's Family (also not beer)
The first few dinners featured Orange Blossom Pilsner, Crooked Can Brewing Co., Funky Buddha Brewing and Big Storm Brewing.
When you walk in, you'll be greeted with a welcome beer paired with a light bite. I attended the inaugural dinner featuring Funky Buddha (FB). The Truffle-Dusted Popcorn was damn good snackin' with the classic FB Floridian wheat beer.

click to enlarge SeaWorld's Craft Beer Festival shines spotlight on local breweries (3)
Clifford Alejos
The second-course pan-seared sea scallop was served with the Vibin' Groovable Lager, and sat atop mushroom risotto made with pilsner beer, pesto, sriracha and some fried basil. I'm pretty sure I spied the reef shark swimming next to me eyeing my bivalve.

The lamb lollipop we noshed next was paired with one of Funky Buddha's perennial favorites, the Hop Gun IPA, and the gamy chop foiled that hoppy beer to a tee. The lamb was marinated in the IPA and served with roasted potatoes and tzatziki.

click to enlarge SeaWorld's Craft Beer Festival shines spotlight on local breweries
Clifford Alejos
We tried both entrees: the Lemon Caper Salmon, served with wild rice boiled in lager and vegetables, and the Grilled Filet Mignon with stout and cabernet demi-glace. Both were served with FB's new low-cal Chant IPA Repeatable Ale, which carries all the flavor of an IPA with about 100 calories per serving. Perfect for the seltzer crowd.

Sharks Underwater Grill has a chocolate cake to write home about, and they served it with the diner's choice of IPA. The forkfuls of mascarpone buttercream and cabernet ganache layer cake were likely the best bite we took all night, and there were some good ones.

click to enlarge SeaWorld's Craft Beer Festival shines spotlight on local breweries (2)
Clifford Alejos
If you don't want to partake in the dinners, but want to support our local breweries, the "huts" set up throughout the park feature selections from each brewery in both sample and full-size portions.

The dinners are priced starting at $109 (not including your park admission, but according to Stice, a combined ticket is in the works), start at 4:30 pm and last about 2 hours, and reservations are available here
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