Jon-Paul Taylor knows he must make amends.
The Craft Beer Expo he organized last year at the St. Petersburg Coliseum drew a big crowd — too big.
Unprepared for the 1,600 people who showed up, he soon ran out of beer and scrambled to buy more. But it was too late — many streamed out angry that they paid $30 (plus $5 to park) only to find drained taps at the end of long lines. There were vows never to return. The buzz in the local craft beer scene has been brutal.
Undaunted, Taylor is back for the fourth annual Craft Beer Expo with some changes he hopes will win over his detractors. No distributors are participating, so few big names will be pouring — no Dogfish Head, no Stone, no Sierra Nevada.
Instead, he will cap ticket sales — 1,000 regular tickets and 100 VIP tickets (already sold out) — and focus on cask beers from Florida brewers. And he raised the general admission price to $35.
Will hard feelings from last year, along with the proliferation of craft beer pubs and festivals, keep people away?
After all, you can throw a personal beer fest any night of the week at one of the many pubs specializing in craft beer around Tampa Bay. And Wazoo, the annual Lowry Park Zoo fundraiser that is the area's oldest and biggest beer fest, is just around the corner on Aug. 6 (with a lot more beer).
"We had some reservations about attending after last year,'' says Joey Redner, owner of Tampa's Cigar City Brewing, "but the renewed focus on Florida-produced beer and casks assuaged our fears about this event ending up like last year's.''
All the big brewers in the Tampa Bay area will be there (Cigar City, St. Somewhere, Dunedin, Tampa Bay Brewing, Cold Storage, Peg's Cantina) along with some upstarts, a few craft beer pubs and some home brew clubs. Only three vendors are from outside Florida (Shipyard, Terrapin and Red Brick).
Every vendor this year will have at least one cask beer — the old-fashioned method of naturally conditioning and carbonating beer in casks (actually firkins, or smaller casks). It's risky: Cask beer doesn't always reach full carbonation and can be delicate (Highland Brewing in Asheville, N.C., won't be there because its firkin exploded).
Several vendors will use randalls, which infuse beer with specialty flavors. Southern Brewing & Winemaking, which had the only randall last year expo, infusing oatmeal stout with Oreo cookies, returns with several more.
Other Florida brewers include Swamp Head of Gainesville, Sarasota Brewing Co., Little Giant of Anna Maria, Bold City of Jacksonville and Funky Buddha of Boca Raton, whose maple bacon coffee porter turned heads in March at the Florida Brewers Guild Beer Fest in Ybor City.
Taylor hopes the lineup wins over skeptics, along with this promise: "There's no way we're going to run out of beer.''
Tom Scherberger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8312.