By Joni Williams
If there’s a silver lining to the Mid-Bay Bridge’s tolls and the all-too-often tangle of traffic, it’s the number of businesses that have sprung up that allow drivers to keep closer to home, especially when home is Seminole, Freeport or the Twin Cities. When you find one that’s stellar in every way—service, fare, pricing and, most importantly, vibe—the ultimate test becomes, “Is it bridge worthy?”
It can be a game changer. While there are plenty of fun places to hit up north of the bridge, there aren’t too many compelling enough to justify the bridge’s hefty fares and frustrating summertime traffic. But 3rd Planet Brewing in Niceville is.
We showed up around 7 on a Saturday to find the regular and overflow parking lots already packed. Likewise, a good-sized crowd was taking over the front decks, and we had to move fast to find available seating inside the small pub. You’d expect flustered, but there was a friendly and unpretentious vibe here that was comfortable and relaxing.
The selection of brews was not only varied but featured names cleverly depicting the local area, such as Choctaw-hoppee IPA, Rocky Bayou Wheat and Bluewater Hefeweizen. Despite the budding crowd, service was fast, also friendly and knowledgeable. The beertenders expertly assisted more than a few of us, both newbies to seasoned hopheads. Besides brews, 3rd Planet serves wine and cider.
We opted for a flight of five—Crow Cream Ale, Bluewater Hefeweizen, Panhandle Pale Ale, Postal Point Porter and Boggy Bayou Stout. Though we’ve never met a stout we didn’t like, and Hefes and pale ales are typically among our favorites, it was the cream ale that surprisingly won our hearts.
Billed as a California blonde that makes good use of Europeans and some not-so-common common hops, the Crow has a super smooth feel that’s citrusy, hoppy and infused with what we call sweetishness—an authentic by-product of the brewing process that’s naturally good and not overpowering. Besides winning new fans among a seasoned brew crew, the Crow would be a good gateway ale for wine drinkers new to the suds scene.
On the other end of the palette (and palate), the stout proved rich, robust and dark with a hit of creamy, chocolate and coffee notes. But as much as we love stouts, it was one-upped by the dark, raisin-y goodness of the well-balanced Postal Point Porter. On the lighter side—though the Panhandle Pale Ale showed up slightly cloudy—it was packed with delicious flavor and citrusy hops that rendered the bitters tame.
The Hefe was more spicy than sweet, not too citrusy, finishing with a crisp, celery-like bite. Though we came away with a few new surprise faves, all the brews were tasty and well balanced, and none were mediocre. That’s saying a lot, especially since we weren’t paying a lot.
Pricing is based on ABV content, with most brews going for five dollars and a few stronger ones for six. Flights are 10 bucks but can be pared down in both in number and price. One of the many thoughtful touches offered by 3rd Planet is a dry-erase strip for flight patrons to keep track of the selections. Another, using glass rather than plastic cups.
They not only allow outside food to be consumed on the premises, we were told customers can even opt for deliveries like pizza. Eats are also available from a food truck that’s often parked outside, or you can stop in at the One 20 A Bistro next door.
And we didn’t even have to ask if the pub is Fido-friendly, as more than a few pooches were happily hanging on the outside decks. Likewise, families with kids will fit right in with the crowd. It’s not unusual to find live bands like Spanish Fly or Purple Monkey playing or a running club stopping by for a brew.
Open Wednesday through Saturday at 4 p.m., 3rd Planet is an ideal place to duck out of the snail-slow traffic crawling over the Mid-Bay Bridge. But even if a special trip is made (and tolls paid), this is one pub that’s totally bridge worthy.