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Dig These Biergartens

Some great places to chillax over a couple of cold ones

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In Northeast Florida, the demarcation line between spring and summer can be a bit hazy. It's not like the weather shifts and suddenly it's summer. Really, it's kinda summerish here all the time. (Recall the 80°F Christmas a few years ago?) Regardless of what season the almanac says it is, 'winter' is over, spring has sprung. Several local breweries have beer gardens, and there plenty of spots to grab a cold summer brew and enjoy balmy summer nights.

Jacksonville's second-oldest craft brewery, Intuition Ale Works, began as a small King Street taproom-now it's a massive state-of-the-arts brewing facility in Downtown's Sports & Entertainment District. The new site features a major outdoor perk: a popular rooftop bar with vistas of the St. Johns River and ITAA Stadium. Imbibers ... well, imbibing Intuition's refreshing new Shrimp Boat Kölsch cool down in the evening breezes, then walk one block to catch a Jumbo Shrimp baseball game-for which the German-style brew was named.

Tucked under the trees on the bank of Goodbys Creek on Baymeadows Road, Wicked Barley has what may be the region's best beer garden. The area between the brewery and the creek features a deck, a dog-friendly lawn with picnic tables, a boat dock and a canoe/kayak launch. The sunny spot usually sets up an outside bar with cold beer, mead and cider, brewed just steps away. A perfect brew to sip soaking in the sun or enjoying a night on the creek is 32217 Hefeweizen, a light wheat beer with hints of banana and clove. The name references its ZIP code.

First to conquer Springfield is Hyperion Brewing Company. Its bold, black Main Street storefront is easy to spot. Behind the brewing facility is Helios Beer Garden, complete with a patio shaded by sails; games are off to the side. Musicians play from an intimate stage area. Neighbors and visitors enjoy Hyperion's innovative concoctions there almost every time it's open. A favorite refresher is Hyperion's Selene Citrine, a blood orange blonde that packs a mouthful of citrus flavor in an easy-to-drink golden quaff.

Just a block south down Main Street is another brewery, Main & Six Brewing Company. M6's beer garden is a long, narrow area furnished with a cushioned bench and tables along an outside wall; a long counter separates it from a wooded lot next door. On hot days, a retractable awning shades folks from the sweltering Florida sun. M6's Stairway to Hefeweizen is ideal to sip (and by sip, we don't mean slug it down) at dusk on a balmy Southern eve, chilling with friends new and old.

Engine 15 Brewing Company's production center is nearly hidden in an old warehouse district west of I-95, near Downtown. Through a chain-link fence, between two warehouses, lie the biergarten and taproom. The space is beautifully landscaped, and has picnic tables, horseshoe pits and a kids' play area. The biergarten is temporarily closed, but the hard-working Engine 15 folks aim to reopen it soon. Get ready-a frosty J'ville Lager is sure to beat the heat.

As summer slams into Northeast Florida, be sure to frequent these local beer gardens and reward yourself with a refreshingly cold brew.

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