Two weeks after Marco Islanders turned out for the Jerry Adams Chili Cookoff, many were back at the Esplanade for another tasting event. Sunday afternoon hundreds of guests wandered the courtyard at The Esplanade for the third annual Craft Beer and Fine Food Festival.  

The event, a fundraiser for the Marco Island Area Chamber of Commerce, had a $50 admission price (with a $30 “designated driver” – i.e. beerless – option), but more than 200 people still turned out to explore pairings of foods with beers. Six breweries, all in Florida, although no Southwest Florida producers this year, poured over 20 different brews, and six local restaurants complemented the beverages with a smorgasbord of tasty food samples.  

Theoretically, each restaurant’s food offerings were matched to a given brewery, but the beer makers tended to offer a range of styles over their entire line, so patrons were free to drink what they liked, eat what they fancied and concentrate on having a good time.  

The Speakeasy brought seafood paella, crab-stuffed mushrooms, teriyaki meatballs and Cajun boiled peanuts. Its partner, Islamorada Beer Company, offered Sandbar Sunday, an American wheat ale, “No Tan Lines,” advertised as a citrus ale, a citrus wheat ale, and Channel Marker IPA.  

For those who think the only time fruit belongs in beer is when one pushes a lime wedge into a Corona, the proliferation of mango, raspberry, guava and cranberry brews was more than enough, but each brewer did seem to have something for an unreconstructed traditionalist to drink. The beer makers also enthusiastically jumped on the bandwagon of appending cute names to their quaffs, saying something about their location or their attitude.  

Perhaps the champion in this category was Darwin Brewery, with beverages named Summadayze, Pirata Pilz, and Llama Mama Milk Stout, along with Circa 1926. The brewery's food counterpart, Mango’s Dockside Bistro, served spicy BBQ cocktail meatballs.  

Coppertail Brewing Company offered, among others, Night Swim, described as “dark and luxurious like a midnight dip in the warm gulf waters off St. Pete Beach. Rich and Roasty with a hint of chocolate. Both this porter, and a night swim, are best enjoyed with a friend.” 

Coppertail was paired with Chop 239, which served blackened shrimp tacos with black bean mango salsa and BBQ short rib sliders with coleslaw. Sail Fish Brewing of Ft. Pierce offered three beers, including Tag and Release amber ale, next to Kretch’s booth serving hickory-smoked pork sliders.  

CJ’s on the Bay, with its serving station set up between the restaurant’s front door and its open-air courtyard bar, served beef and Wild Jimmy’s sausage Sloppy Joe with a fancy coleslaw, Chef Nick’s beer cheese sauce and soft pretzel bites and a pumpkin mousse with candied pecans.

To pair with that assortment, Three Daughters Brewing of St. Petersburg offered Rod Bender Red, Key Lime Cider, an apple cider and Awake Coffee Blonde, a pale ale infused with coffee and presumably caffeine, to make festival attendees sleepy and wired at the same time.

Mario’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill kept it simple with two “street” taco offerings: adobo chicken and barbacoa. Its partner, Florida Avenue Brewing Co., did the same and eschewed the cute names, serving up Florida Ave. Ale and Florida Ave. IPA. 

The Marco Island Hilton, which was unable to secure a spot offering food with all slots taken, promoted its upcoming events, including this Friday’s fashion show benefiting the Marco Patriots group. 

Patrons mingled in the courtyard, sipping and nibbling, and enjoying the tunes of four-piece band Tripleshot. Those who had had enough beer, and not too much food, danced with abandon. Others stood and watched or sat and talked, and everyone soaked up the relaxed vibe of a gorgeous November day along with a beer. Or two. Or… 

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