Saturday, January 20, 2018
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Tampa Bay Beer Week could be a model for other beer-loving cities

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Tampa Bay Beer Week is that it was conceived and organized in a span of time not much longer than the week of events that it encompassed.

Using Philly Beer Week as inspiration, nearly every player in the bay area beer scene — brewers, distributors, pubs, and homebrew clubs — came together over a few short weeks, booking and hosting more than 50 events with the same love of the craft that turned Philly Beer Week into one of the nation's premier beer-centric events in less than four years.

A look at the Tampa Bay Beer Week events calendar reveals why now is the perfect time for a coming-together to take place. Local brewing is growing at an absolutely astounding rate, and if you're not clear on the extent of the Sunshine State's beer renaissance, look no further than Willard's Tap House — all 40 taps were occupied exclusively by Florida-brewed beers for the entire week.

From the sold-out Florida Brewers Guild festival to guest brewery nights and special tappings at nearly every area beer bar, Tampa Bay Beer Week was a strong start to a new annual tradition. Finishing off the week were several high-profile events, such as Cold Storage Brewing's one-year anniversary, barrel-aged beers at Peg's Cantina in Gulfport, and the big finale — Hunahpu's Day at Cigar City Brewing in Tampa.

I wasn't able to attend Cold Storage's party, but I did stop by a week earlier to try two new beers being debuted by the brewery and take a look at the taproom. It was a perfect place to enjoy a few pints and I thoroughly enjoyed the new releases: Copperhead, an easy-drinking amber ale; and Betchy Brown, a hoppy brown ale that took home a silver medal at the FBG earlier that day.

Peg's G.O.O.D. (and RARE!) Barrel-Aged Beer Day featured two tappings — one for the early birds at noon and again for the after-work crowd at 7. This was the first time that Peg's had held an event like this, so I imagine they were a bit surprised by the capacity crowd lined up at noon to sample the brewery's barrel-aged Rare and RareR D.O.S., Batch 100 and iPorter, as well as the notorious Rainbow Jelly Donut. When I arrived at 6 p.m., all but a few snifters of iPorter had been wiped out!

The 7 p.m. tapping included all of the previously tapped barrel-aged beers, as well as a batch of Funky D.O.S. — Rare D.O.S. aged in a second-use barrel to introduce a wild, tart flavor — and a line that wrapped nearly all the way around the outdoor courtyard. The beers were absolutely world class and the event was quite well-organized for a first attempt; I think it's safe to expect that we'll see a second in the future.

It's appropriate that Cigar City — the brewery that possibly played the biggest role in putting Florida on the craft beer map — finished the week's festivities with Hunahpu's Day, an event that is as much a celebration of quality beer as it is the official annual release of the brewery's highly-acclaimed Hunahpu's Imperial Stout.

Cigar City was expecting a crowd, but I think even they were surprised by an attendance of more than 5,000 people. Bottles of Hunahpu's cleared off the shelves in record time. Beers from nearly every Florida brewery were poured, as well as several legendary brews not normally available in these parts, such as Founders Breakfast and Imperial Stouts, as well as a tremendous lineup of beers from Indiana's Three Floyds Brewing, including the much-sought after Dark Lord Imperial Stout. Cigar City alone had 50 of its own beers on tap, a nearly unbelievable feat considering that it started brewing only four years ago.

Hunahpu's Day was an unprecedented success for Cigar City, and I'm excited to see what's in store for next year. My guesses are a shift from having pouring stations that charge by the glass to a standard beer festival format, where a ticket price includes unlimited 4-ounce pours. This year's event was a veritable beer carnival (they even had midway games, including a dunk tank featuring Cigar City staff), and I can only imagine what next year will be like.

As a serious longtime craft beer enthusiast, I've never been more proud of our local brewing community. Mark my words: before long, other cities will be modeling their own beer weeks on Tampa Bay Beer Week, just as Philadelphia inspired and informed ours.

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