Let's just state the obvious up front: This is a great time to be a beer lover in Florida, especially Tampa Bay. • Small breweries and brewpubs are cranking out award-winning beers on both sides of the bay, and neighborhood taverns are popping up all over with 10, 20, 40 taps of high-quality brew. And World of Beer, once a small outpost in Tampa with 500 kinds of beer, has franchised the idea, growing to seven locations, with many more planned. • The next two weekends offer great opportunities to try some of the best beers from around the state and the country and to bend elbows with dedicated beerheads.
On Saturday, the third annual Craft Beer Expo at the Coliseum in St. Petersburg will feature more than 100 beers from such well-known microbrewers as Rogue, Dogfish Head, Terrapin and Bells. Local brewers, including Cigar City Brewing, St. Somewhere Brewing and Tampa Bay Brewing Co., will be there, too. The expo is expected to draw a high percentage of beer geeks — the ones who brew their own and can describe in great detail the difference between an India pale ale and American pale ale.
Expect twice as many beers, a wider array of food and a smaller percentage of beer geeks Aug. 7 at the 15th annual Wazoo, a fundraiser for Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo that USA Today once named one of the top beer events in the country. Dunedin Brewery joins other local brewers at both events. Since it's outdoors in August, a cold beer will come in handy (the Craft Beer Expo is indoors and air-conditioned).
Either one offers a quick overview of high-quality American beers, with an array of different types of beer for one price (but pace yourself or you might not make it home).
Imports no longer rule the beer world. "America has taken it on the chin as the home of crappy beer,'' says Joey Redner, owner of Tampa's highly regarded Cigar City Brewing Co. Not anymore. "The best beer in the world — especially from a variety point of view — is brewed in America.'' That's partly because of America's growing beer sophistication and because American brewers can experiment without the constraints of strict laws and traditions.
Florida is late to the party but it's catching up.
At the tiny St. Somewhere Brewery, in a metal warehouse in Tarpon Springs, Bob Sylvester is producing 250 barrels a year of some of the finest Belgian-style ale in the country. He has four months of back-orders and plans to double capacity. Florida is "definitely going through a boom,'' said Sylvester, who got his start with a Mr. Beer Kit his wife gave him for Christmas 10 years ago. "There are a number of up and coming breweries that should be coming on line in the next year.''
What's behind the recent growth?
Jon-Paul Taylor, organizer of the Craft Beer Expo, offers a simple explanation: One craft beer leads to another.
"Once you get into the craft beer scene you're not going to leave. Once you're in, you're in. You're not going to drink Budweiser again.''
Tom Scherberger can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8312.