For BBC16, we have a panel discussion on Friday moderated by the legendary Gerard Walen who not only wrote this “dooms day” report on the boom of great craft beer happening in Florida but is a long time partner and friend of the conference. Make sure to register soon for BBC so you can’t get the chance to sip and smile a bit with him!
It’s a familiar, almost cliched, movie scene in the apocalyptic-plague-nearly-wipes-out-humanity genre. A group of mostly men, clad in either military uniforms or the nondescript business suits of the career politician, gather in a war room while the scientist who understands it all draws their attention to a video screen at the front.
On that screen is a map, and on that map is an animation of how quickly the contagion is spreading from where it started, and just how little time is left for all of them unless SOMETHING IS DONE RIGHT NOW.
Florida currently suffers from a similar circumstance, and the Tampa Bay area is Ground Zero.
Fortunately, the contagion is craft beer. And there’s no containing it
When the new millennium arrived — whether you count it starting on New Year’s Day 2000 or 2001, it doesn’t matter. The number’s the same — there were three small breweries in the Tampa Bay area that had opened during the final decade of the 20th century. All were brewpubs — Tampa Bay Brewing Company, Dunedin Brewing and Sarasota Brewing Company.
(Note: In listing the earlier breweries, I have left out some that flared into existence for brief time, and closed relatively quickly).
The virus took a while to incubate and at first spread slowly. No other currently existing craft breweries opened until 2006, when Bob Sylvester debuted Saint Somewhere Brewing Company, crafting mostly Belgian-style saisons and farmhouse ales using an open fermentation system and the wild yeast from the air around Tarpon Springs, within hailing distance of the Gulf of Mexico.
The next year, Franz Rothschadl, a German immigrant whose lineage stretches through generations of brewers and vintners, opened LagerHaus in Palm Harbor.
Then in 2009, Cigar City Brewing in Tampa began making some boundary-pushing styles of beer, as did Cycle Brewing across the bay at Peg’s Cantina in Gulfport.
That’s when the contagion began to grow, but still slowly — only one new brewery opened in 2010, but many more were in planning. At the end of that year — the year of the first Beer Bloggers Conference in Boulder, Colorado — there were nine operating breweries in the greater Tampa Bay area. Then here’s how it went, with the numbers of breweries open by end of each year:
2016 (to date): 60*
* adjusted to include brewery locations that closed, moved or consolidated during the total time period.
At least another dozen or so are on the way to start brewing for the public by the end of this year.
NOT JUST THE NUMBERS
Quantity is one thing, but what about quality?
No worries there. The Tampa Bay area overflows with brewing talent. Wayne Wambles at Cigar City enjoys a stellar reputation in the global brewing community, as does Saint Somewhere’s Bob Sylvester. Khristopher Johnson at St. Petersburg’s Green Bench Brewing brought innovation such as the area’s first foeder in a brewery, and continues to develop new twists to standard styles. Greg Rapp of Rapp Brewing in Pinellas Park introduced many local beer geeks to nearly extinct styles such as gose and rauchbiers, and his coveted, 22 percent-ale OMG, an old ale that’s only released once a year.
The list goes on.
To illustrate how much the breweries of west central Florida have embraced variety, quality and experimentation, consider this. At the recent Bad A** Beer Festival on the grounds of Tampa Bay Brewing Company’s relatively new Westchase production facility and brewpub, 40-plus breweries showed up to pour samples, along with a handful of local homebrew clubs.
Not only were all of the breweries from Florida, but all were based in the greater Tampa Bay area. And the longest lines formed not at the breweries already with national reputations, but at the newer players that had generated positive buzz amongst the crowd. The innovation continues.
CATCHING UP? NO, CAUGHT UP
Though it started later in the Sunshine State than in other areas of the country, the contagion is not limited to the Tampa Bay area. Florida is in the midst of a brewery boom, with nearly 200 open at the time of this writing, and a lot more on the way. Craft beer taps in restaurants used to be rare, but it’s become difficult to find one that doesn’t at least have a few, and separate and extensive beer menus are becoming more common. Store shelves have more offerings — even in grocery and convenience stores — and not a weekend goes by these days when the craft beer lover doesn’t have a choice of multiple, quality beer festivals from which to choose.
There are walkable brewery clusters now. For example, downtown St. Petersburg, where six local brewery taprooms — along with multiple craft beer-focused pubs and restaurants — operate close enough together that you can spend an afternoon or evening strolling among them. (pssst…don’t miss the Visit St Pete Clearwater post-con excursion!)
Attendees of the 2016 Beer Bloggers & Writers Conference will have the chance to experience a sampling of all the area has to offer, but if you want to come earlier or later to expand your personal explorations beyond that, you won’t be disappointed.
- “Tampa” is a city. “Tampa Bay” is a body of water. Depending on who you talk to, the Tampa Bay area encompasses only the counties that touch that water (Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Manatee). Or it might include the counties that touch those three counties as well, or beyond. For the purpose of this post, I included eight counties in my calculations, all within an hour’s drive from the core of Tampa — Hillsborough, Pinellas, Manatee, Sarasota, Polk, Pasco, Hernando and Citrus. Most are in Hillsborough (main city Tampa) and Pinellas (main city St. Petersburg), but all have breweries that are well worth the visit.
- The numbers of breweries are best estimates based on my research and the map I maintain on the Beer in Florida site http://beerinflorida.com/florida-brewery-map-list/. If they are not exact, they are pretty darn close.
Gerard Walen is the founder and owner of BeerInFlorida.com, the author of “Florida Breweries” (Stackpole Books, 2014), and a longtime member of the BBWC Advisory Board. He also serves as Saturday tour guide at Marker 48 Brewing in Weeki Wachee, less than an hour’s drive north of Tampa.