Plenty of places around Tampa Bay offer quality beer these days, but a few do it the old-fashioned way: They make their own.
CIGAR CITY BREWING
3924 W Spruce St., Suite A, Tampa. (813) 348-6363, ext. 206. cigarcitybrewing.com
It doesn't look like much — a light-blue metal warehouse behind a Home Depot off busy N Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa — but owner Joey Redner, 37, and brewer Wayne Wambles, 38, are turning out some of the most talked-about beer in the country. Opened two years ago, they already have won state and national awards for handcrafted brews with tastes of Tampa — guava, orangewood, Ybor City Cuban coffee, orange blossom honey from Lutz, humidor cedar.
Cedar? It's a subtle thing, but it really does taste like it spent time nestled among cigars. The secret: long spirals of cedar placed in the fermenting tank.
Redner, whose dad the strip club king helped finance the business, follows a simple philosophy: "We brew beer that we want to drink and we just hope other people will agree with us.''
It's working. Their Hunahpu's Imperial Stout was ranked 11th best beer in the world by beeradvocate.com, and even higher by ratebeer.com. It's flavored with Peruvian cacao nibs, ancho and pasilla chiles, Madagascar vanilla beans and cinnamon. It's dark and rich and complex. And it's $20 for a 750-millileter bottle.
Production quadrupled from year one to about 4,000 barrels this year — that's the equivalent of 8,000 kegs — with plans to hit 7,000 next year — and that's with limited distribution in parts of Florida, Alabama, Pennsylvania and New York.
They recently added a tasting room with eight to 10 beer taps (and a couple from other breweries they like), with pints $5 to $7. It's a small, narrow space, just a bar with a dozen stools and a few tables and chairs to the side, a dartboard in the back.
And you can take it with you, in bottles, kegs or old-fashioned "growlers,'' in quart and half-gallon containers. But no Hunahpu's. It sold out and won't be brewed again till March. — Tom Scherberger
3038 Beach Blvd., Gulfport. (727) 328-2720. pegscantina.com
Doug Dozark is the head brewer here, the son of the owners and production manager at Cigar City Brewing (the beer world seems very small). The "brewery'' is an odd-looking silver contraption out back, yet in just over a year of operation he has managed to make beer that recently won two gold medals at the Best Florida Beer Championship. Three of his beers are usually available on tap, with others. The Dude Porter is a particularly fine example, with notes of chocolate and molasses. Pints are in the $5 range. — Tom Scherberger
TAMPA BAY BREWING CO.
1600 E Eighth Ave., Tampa. (813) 247-1422. tampabaybrewingcompany.com
After surviving the microbrew shakeout of the 1990s, this popular Ybor City brewpub expanded to Centro Ybor in 2006. It seems to be thriving, with a dozen or so beers on tap, from the highly hoppy Elephant Foot IPA to the Moose Killer Barley-Style Ale with 10 percent alcohol. Try the rare cask-conditioned ale, which tends to go fast. Only available at the pub and no carry-outs. A better-than-average pub grub menu uses the beer as an ingredient. Seating inside and out. Pints are $5. — Tom Scherberger
937 Douglas Ave., Dunedin. (727) 736-0606. www.dunedinbrewery.com
One of the most popular microbreweries in the area, which just celebrated its 14th anniversary. Eight year-round beers on tap, five seasonals and special-release beers, including Biere de Cafe, a brown ale flavored with coffee. Pub grub and live music. Pints are $4.50. — Justin Grant
LAGERHAUS BREWERY AND GRILL
3438 East Lake Business, Palm Harbor. (813) 343-2449. lagerhausbrewery.com
An American brewpub with an Austrian accent, thanks to co-owner Franz Rothschadl, 53, who won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival in 1999 as head brewer for the defunct Hoppers chain. It has eight to 10 house beers on tap that change with the seasons, and 30 other beers. His Abbey ale is a little sweet, with an aggressive 12.2 percent alcohol content, but his most popular is the refreshing, slightly cloudy Fischer Hefeweizen. Pints are $4 to $5. — Tom Scherberger
BJ'S RESTAURANT AND BREWHOUSE
3800 Park Blvd., Pinellas Park, (727) 525-4640; 8002 Citrus Park Town Center, Citrus Park, (813) 852-1910. bjsbrewhouse.com
Part of a large chain of brewpubs. No brewing on premises, but the house beers are worthy. A full menu is available and liquor is also served. Try the various sampler combinations to see what styles you prefer, or ask your bartender to mix styles, like their hefeweizen mixed with the berry cider. Pints are $4.95, and 5-ounce tastes are $1.95. — Justin Grant