It is a hot topic at BBC to learn about and understand the economic position of a state where craft beer is hitting huge numbers. It is also important to understand the roots of craft beer and how the industry began to take shape . In Florida, it all starts with flight. A big thanks to Eric Criss, President of the Beer Industry of Florida, for writing this post. Eric will be one of the Friday panelists regarding The Beer Industry in Florida.
When America’s beer bloggers and writers descend upon Tampa Bay for their annual conference, the first thing they’ll see is the name “Tony Jannus” plastered all over Tampa International Airport. A few might even enjoy a “Tony Jannus Pale Ale” before making it to baggage claim, leaving them to wonder, “Who the heck is this guy?”
Conference participants may hear or read (on any of the seven small monuments and plaques scattered throughout Tampa and St. Petersburg) how a pilot named Tony Jannus made the world’s first commercial airline flight in 1914. On that historic New Years Day, Jannus commenced operation of the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line by flying across Tampa Bay. Three thousand people watched his airplane takeoff from St. Petersburg with Mayor Abe Pheil aboard. Thousands more welcomed Jannus and Pheil to Tampa on the other side of the bay.
Jannus’ flight was significant because aviation had struggled to gain credibility as a commercial enterprise. In spite of the Wright Brothers’ successful flights and their improvements in steering control, it took a decade for the airplane to be considered more than a novelty. During the run-up to prohibition, when beer was still popular among all but the more strident teetotalers, Jannus worked with airplane manufacturer Thomas W. Benoist to overcome negative perceptions of the airplane’s moneymaking viability and to promote Benoist’s airplanes.
One late-September afternoon in 1912, Jannus loaded a case of Falstaff beer onto his Benoist pontoon plane at the Lemp Brewery. He took off for the New St. Louis State Fair and twenty minutes later found himself lost in the smoky skies of industrial St. Louis. Forced to land in a tomato patch and drag his plane to an open field, Jannus took off again into clearer skies.
Landing at the state fair, Jannus delivered the first aerial consignment of beer—or freight of any kind for that matter. Benoist was a conservative Methodist who didn’t drink Falstaff beer or alcohol of any kind, but seemed unbothered that his plane was thereafter dubbed the “Falstaff Flyer.” Air transportation was finally on the verge of realizing its potential and Benoist was selling his airplanes.
A short time later, Jannus flew his pontoon plane down the Mississippi River and personally delivered a case of Falstaff beer to New Orleans Mayor Martin Behrman. The “Birdman,” as the newspapers called him, executed the longest ever flight in a “hydroaeroplane.” According to folklore, Jannus drank the beer before arriving in New Orleans and delivered a case of empty bottles. Press reports do not indicate that Jannus committed such a faux pas.
If he were alive today, perhaps Jannus would arrange for the first-ever shipment of a case of Cigar City Jai Alai IPA from Tampa to St. Petersburg in a Google driverless van (Note to Google and Joey Redner: please feel free to borrow this idea).
Check out more about the beer industry in Florida here
About the author: Eric Criss is President of the Beer Industry of Florida and adjunct professor of public policy at Florida State University. He earned his B.A. from the University of Florida in political science, M.A. from Johns Hopkins University in government and PhD from Florida State University in history.
 Thomas Reilly, Jannus, an American Flier (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1997), 61.
 “Jannus Congratulated By Mayor Behrman,” New Orleans Times Picayune, December 17, 1912.