We're only halfway through 2009, and while it will certainly go down as the year of the recession, locally, it could earn another title: The year of the multi-tap.
The past year has seen the relocation of an old stalwart of the multi-tap scene — Mr. Dunderbak's — to swanky new digs in New Tampa. Five other multi-tap establishments open in Tampa Bay: Tap's Wine and Beer Merchants in downtown Tampa, Dunedin House of Beer, the Brew Garden in Clearwater, the Brass Tap in Zephyrhills and the International Beer Garten in Lutz. That is quite a few beer-focused places in a short time for a once beer-starved region.
And that growth doesn't include newer places with a relatively smaller selection of 20 or fewer taps, like Lagerhaus in Palm Harbor (which is also a brewpub). The very fact that I now have to consider up to 20 different beer taps somehow too few sort of makes my head hurt.
Also, 2009 could even be considered the year craft beer finally broke through in Tampa Bay. Consider that when I first started writing about beer for tbt* in August of 2005, 10 taps was considered a copious number of beer faucets in the bay area. Twenty taps was a positively heady selection and 40 taps was full-on beer bar nirvana. That says a lot about how far support for good beer has come, when up to 20 taps is now commonplace.
And the recent growth of beer- focused establishments hasn't come at the expense of the old-timers. Established beer locales like Mr. Dunderbak's, New World Brewery, Tank's Tap House, World of Beer, Dunedin Brewery, Tampa Bay Brewing Company, Oldsmar Tap House, the Independent and chains like Mellow Mushroom, Bar Louie, Old Chicago and BJ's Brewhouse continue to cater to a growing population of beer lovers thirsty for new tastes.
The awareness of craft beer has even spread to more mainstream places like Ruby Tuesday's, which features a handful of craft brews. Local restaurant GrillSmith offers a selection of craft beers that would make any beer fancier happy.
Recently, I visited the new Citrus Park location of South Tampa hotspot The Dubliner, off Gunn Highway. I was happy to see a varied selection of beer, including one of my all-time personal favorites, Left Hand Milk Stout. I find Left Hand Milk Stout an imminently quaffable brew, but with a pronounced coffee and roasted malt profile, it is not for everyone. And for that reason, you seldom see Left Hand Milk Stout on tap, except at beer-focused places. Which suggests that the newest Dubliner intends to be just that: Craft beer focused. The multiple other selections of quality craft beer available there, from Stone Brewing to Dogfish Head, offer plenty of tasty proof that craft beer can be at home even in an Irish bar, alongside Guinness and Harp.
Even my favorite local Italian restaurant, Gino's Bar and Restaurant in Forest Hills, which has long featured craft beer, has greatly expanded their beer menu, including an adjacent wine and beer shop focused on some of the more esoteric brews and leaning heavily toward the American side of the craft beer spectrum. Specials like $2.50 microbrews on Wednesdays make it affordable for beer novices to experiment with different brews.
Even Publix carries an impressive beer selection these days, which is about all the proof anyone needs that craft beer has unquestionably tapped into a groundswell of support in Tampa Bay.
— Joey Redner is a beer enthusiast and the owner of Cigar City Brewing in Tampa.