Cigar City Jai Alai
Cigar City Jai Alai

By Andy Phelps

You never truly go into a highly-rated beer blindly, at least if you're a "true beer nerd," you're gonna have one or two (at least!) preconceived notions about some of the highly-rated brews in the world. It's the nature of the hobby to read others' opinions and to pine for what you might not be able to get but still dream of one day obtaining. Jai Alai is one of those beers. Though not difficult to find around its Floridian stomping grounds, lack of Northeast distribution makes this a sought-after drink for those in this area. However, I have secured a single can of this beer to finally sink my teeth into and, of course, share my thoughts about!

The beer fizzes up big time when the tab is pulled, so I quickly poured it into my glass and watched the foam rise to a sticky, lasting white head about four or five fingers tall before it sank and left some nice equally-sticky lacing behind. The color is a deep, burnt orange hue with some slight highlights and a slick translucence to it, and the foam sits clinging to the glass even as it drinks.


My first sniff reveals big tannic and citrus notes with slight pine and caramel malt peeking through. Black tea, orange zest, lemon and grapefruit are redolent in the nose and the slight pull of honeyed malt is very satisfying and helps prevent the scent from becoming a full-on assault of hop oils. First few sips are big on the tannins as well; quite interesting when combined with the darker malt than I'm used to, though this is a bigger IPA, pushing being a double. Citrus rind and an oily slickness puncture through the body, and tropical fruits like mango and papaya quench big time on the bubbly, engaging finish. Very full-bodied feel with great interplay between all the elements and an awesomely hoppy build that drinks easy but doesn't forget to throw on some heat despite being rather refreshing. The hops can come across as a bit "dank" with some herbal and grassy qualities also shining through, but the main flavors are citrus, pine and tropical fruitiness with that underlying current of freshly-steeped tea that makes this stand out. They lend a deep complexity to this brew that would otherwise feel like a maltier sorta-double IPA, albeit of a much higher quality, and also probably much better than the sum of its parts. Bready malt backs up the oily zest and rind touches extremely well.

This is excellent and the reviews are definitely not incorrect. I've noticed some people being harsh about the maltiness, but I think this is one of the best-balanced IPAs I've had lately, and there's no funky or catty stuff going on with the hop blend that could really put anyone off; it's just straight up appealing juicy and tropical hops with some other interesting elements that push it beyond the realms of a "normal IPA"... not that I didn't buy the hype to begin with, but good beer is something one needs to experience for oneself. Worthy; very, very worthy. Cheers!

The official breakdown:

  • Style: American IPA
  • ABV: 7.5%
  • Appearance: Surprisingly dark orange with a fairly clear pour; head is initially huge and fluffy, but settles nicely and neatly with some sticky lacing
  • Scent: Big citrus rind/peel and mango/papaya coming through; lightly pine-y and oddly tannic with a big hit of caramel and bready malt behind
  • Taste: Chewy and malty with a closing hit of citric hop oil and black tea combined with a refreshing dose of mango sweetness; very juicy and quenching flavor
  • Mouthfeel: Slick and not too drying, and the carbonation helps the proceedings along quite nicely. Fairly oil-heavy and with no corner of the palate untouched!
  • Drinkability: This is a massively drinkable, enjoyable IPA with enough heft to make it a sipper, though you won't want to; you'll want to gulp this baby!