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Robert Trigaux

For now, beer making defies nasty recession



Cigarcitybrewing Wake up and good morning. It's a bit early in the day for a pint. But not to early note that despite the recession, microbreweries and brewpubs -- restaurants that make their own beer -- are apparently on the upswing. And the Tampa Bay area is no exception (more on that below). The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) today reports that schools that teach brewing are being showered with applications from people interested in getting into the business.

And last year, 114 microbreweries and brewpubs opened in the country, says the trade group the Brewers Association in Boulder, Colo. That marked the highest number since 1999. The Journal story cites Brewers Association director Paul Gatza, who says openings will decline this year though start-up activity "remains robust."

An estimated 200 microbreweries and brewpubs already are on the drawing board for the next few years. Still, it's not easy to succeed among all that competition. Starting a microbrewery costs about $450,000 to $800,000 to start and, as the Journal story notes, finding distributors willing to take on unproven brands can be difficult. As for brewpubs, they can cost a few million dollars depending on size.

One brewery start-up cited by the Journal is Tampa's Cigar City Brewing. Joey Redner, 36, recently started the microbrewery and even blogs about the experience with this revealing headline: "How To Open a Craft Brewery in 7000 Easy Missteps." "Joey" is, as you may have guessed, the son of Tampa strip club king and general community entrepreneur Joe Redner, who is helping to bankroll Cigar City Brewing. Full disclosure: The younger Redner also writes about beer for tbt* (Tampa Bay Times), a free newspaper and sister publication of the St. Petersburg Times.

According to the Journal story, Joey Redner says he has spent $585,000 to start the brewery, which is creating such beers as Jai Alai India Pale Ale and Marshal Zhukov's Imperial Stout. Most of the money came from bank loans for which his father put up business property as collateral. "He has stood back and sort of let us run and fall down as we may," the younger Redner told the Journal. One amusing sideline to all this entrepreneurism: To stay dollar-lean, Joey Redner says he has relied on "dozens of volunteers" to help move beer, wash kegs and haul boxes in exchange for free beer.

Floridabrewingcompany.cigarcitybrewing Plenty of other microbreweries have peppered -- and still do -- the Tampa Bay landscape, inspired perhaps by the area's first: the Florida Brewing Company, founded by cigar industrialists in 1896 and which survived until 1961. (Photo courtesy of Cigar City Brewing.)

The Doble family started Tampa Bay Brewing Co. in 1996 and now operate out of Centro Ybor. There's also the Dunedin Brewery, also started in 1996, as well as Hops in Clearwater and other area locations, and the Yuengling brewery, which operates from a former Schlitz plant here.

Despite the brewery boomlet, the rough economy has claimed some industry victims. Last year, 42 brewpubs closed in the U.S., the most since 2005, the Brewers Association reports. But only nine microbreweries shuttered, the lowest figure since 1995. Cheers.

-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist

[Last modified: Tuesday, June 1, 2010 11:24am]


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