I’m a sucker for a small concept done well. A cozy hole-in-the-wall cocktail bar with a super-concise drink list. A rustic beer bar that only serves farmhouse brews. A region-specific wine bar with a matching food menu.
Here’s a new one for the list: a tiny neighborhood beer bar that serves a modest selection of exclusively Florida beers — plus wine, cider, mead, coffee and kombucha — with everything but the wine available for purchase in growlers.
Bru Florida Growler Bar opened in Odessa in September, doubling the number of craft beer bars in the small town. Big Storm Brewing makes up the other half, since Bell’s Tap and Tavern closed in October. There are a few options within a reasonable driving distance, but there’s not much truly local going on for the would-be Odessa craft beer enthusiast.
This puts Bru in an challenging but advantageous spot: there’s a somewhat captive audience, but it’s one that isn’t necessarily hip to craft brews in the way that a community already saturated with breweries and beer bars might be.
So Bru is not only in the business of providing quality beers to the neighborhood, it’s also in the business of converting the neighborhood to quality beers. That means that education and quality control are at the top of the priority list, and these are areas in which Bru excels.
The education part is pretty simple: Provide a diverse range of beers, with descriptions and tasting notes and encourage customers to try new things. Check. Quality control seems even simpler — keep the beer fresh and pour it properly — but it can actually be a real challenge for a small bar like this, especially in terms of keg turnover, which is directly related to beer freshness.
That’s one reason that the concept at Bru works so well. There are 16 taps, two of which are reserved for kombucha and nitro coffee, which keeps rotation of the beers a manageable task. The growler emphasis also helps. If you want to take your beer home, you don’t even need to buy a growler — you can pay a refundable deposit and just bring the thing back on your next trip.
Here’s the cool part: Bru fills growlers from its Pegas CrafTap 3.0 systems, which claim a beer shelf life of 30 to 45 days — considerably longer than the seven to 14 days that typical growlers are meant to last.
Pressurized chambers purge air from the growler before filling it with beer and a small amount of CO2, greatly minimizing the presence of oxygen — one of the biggest staleness factors — in the packaged beer. The growlers can then stay in the fridge for much longer without losing any flavor.
Bru nails selection, focusing almost exclusively on beers that aren’t otherwise available in distribution. If you wanted to enjoy these beers outside of their respective breweries (or in a beer bar that happens to carry them), growlers are your only choice. And Bru has the best growler setup around.
There are plenty of locals on tap, like Angry Chair, Escape, Six Ten, 7venth Sun and Tampa Bay Brewing Company, but you’ll also find lesser-known breweries from other parts of Florida, like Inlet Brewing from Jupiter, Barrel of Monks from Boca Raton, Four Stacks from Apollo Beach, Central 28 in DeBary and Hourglass from Longwood. For a relatively "small" selection of just over a dozen beers, it’s nice to not see the same old stuff on tap.
The all-Florida approach extends beyond the beer, too. There’s 221 BC Kombucha from Sarasota, Made Coffee from St. Pete, peach chardonnay and wild berry pinot noir from Plant City’s Keel and Curley Winery, and a Saturday morning market’s lineup of local vendors and artists for sale and on display, including Pinellas Chocolate, Urban Canning, Brown Bag Popcorn, Hopcloth and Pergamo Paper Goods. Even the growlers are made in Florida!
Most important, Bru is a friendly, casual neighborhood spot to drink and explore quality, Florida-brewed beer. Odessa can use such a place, and Bru is up to the task.
On any given night, you’ll find regulars talking shop with Christian Brugal, who owns the bar with his wife Jillian, or working feverishly on one of the bar’s maddeningly addictive puzzle games. Occasionally, someone will pop in for a growler on their way home. It’s a new beer community waiting to happen.
Contact Justin Grant at
Bru Florida Growler Bar
8729 Gunn Highway, Odessa; (813) 328-4721; brufl.com
The vibe: A small neighborhood bar pouring and packaging exclusively Florida beers.
Booze: Beer, wine and liquor. Beer, $5 to $7; wine, $8 by the glass and $16 by the bottle.
Specialty: The beer menu changes regularly, comprised almost exclusively of Florida beers that aren’t available in bottles or cans and that aren’t commonly found away from their respective breweries. All of these beers are also available for growler fills, packaged using an oxygen-purging growler station that helps to keep growlers fresh longer. If you need a wine break, Bru also serves wines from Plant City’s Keel and Curley Winery.
Hours: 2 to 9 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday; 2 to 10 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday; 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday.