Nearly as remarkable as the fact that Tampa Bay has so many different beer festivals these days is the fact that they all have something unique and worthwhile to contribute. There are no run-of-the-mill festivals around here — we're just that lucky.
There are three beer fests furiously beeping on my radar right now. Maybe I'm just a sucker for this type of event (full disclosure: that's precisely what I am), but these are looking like the kind of standout events that make me proud of our local beer scene.
First up is the hotly anticipated Cajun Cafe Spring Beer Festival, taking place from 2 to 6 p.m. Saturday at Cajun Cafe on the Bayou, 8101 Park Blvd., Pinellas Park. The Cafe's waterfront patio deck, large outdoor dining area and rustic décor make it an ideal setting for a beer fest, but that's only part of the reason why its two annual festivals are among the most popular in the entire state.
Owner Paul Unwin has a tendency to stockpile rare and hard-to-find beers throughout the year in his climate-controlled storage facility. This includes highly regarded beers not available in Florida. For example, this year's event features kegs of New Holland Dragon Milk Ale, Port Old Viscosity, and Founder's Breakfast Stout. These names may not mean much to the casual drinker, but connoisseurs are drooling at their very mention. Local brewers will have a strong presence as well: Cigar City, Dunedin Brewery, Lagerhaus, Tampa Bay Brewing Company, and new kids on the block Seventh Sun and Barley Mow will all be in attendance, as well as brewers from the Pinellas Urban Brewer's Guild and Rapp Brewing.
In addition to 200-plus brews, the Cajun Cafe fest will feature live music, cajun food, and a raffle supporting Dunedin Doggie Rescue. Advance tickets from the Cajun Cafe website are $45, and the price is $55 at the door (or $15 for designated drivers, who can enjoy the food, music, and soft drinks). To keep lines short and the atmosphere relaxed, attendance is limited to 500. For more info, see cajuncafeonthebayou.com.
That gives you a few weeks of sticking to session beers to recover before the Brews With Attitudes Craft Beer Festival at 6:30 p.m. (5:30 for VIPs) May 15 at the Pepin Hospitality Centre, 4121 N 50th St., Tampa. General admission is $40 in advance, $45 on the day of and $70 for VIPs. The latter group will have access to special tastings of Pepin-distributed beers and spirits, including unreleased items, as well as complimentary food and beer pairings, but both groups will be able to sample well over 100 beers from breweries all over the world. For info, see pepindistributing.com.
Brews With Attitudes will also feature a few beers not currently available in Florida. Given that Pepin is a distribution company, it's likely that you'll be seeing some of these on shelves soon, so it's a good chance to try new beers before your friends do. Atlanta's Sweetwater Brewing will be in attendance, and there will be new-to-Florida releases from Southern Tier and Magic Hat, among others. In addition to the big names, Tampa's Southern Brewing will hold a homebrew demonstration and competition. The festival will feature a live art competition, live music, a variety of food from local restaurants, and a brewing seminar by Ben Dobler, brewmaster of Widmer.
Finally, Tampa Theatre's second annual beer fest is planned for June 23. Last year's festival was called The Brews Brothers in tribute to the classic film The Blues Brothers, which played on the big screen while brews from Chimay, Stone, Schmaltz, the Bruery, Cigar City, St. Somewhere, and others were poured in the lobby alongside food from Tampa eateries such as The Bricks, Ella's, the Independent, and Mr. Dunderbak's. Along with Jake and Elwood lookalikes and a prop police car, some of the restaurants played off of the theme by supplying food referencing the movie, such as marshmallow candy cigarettes and shrimp mousse on white toast provided by the Refinery.
This year's festival is titled The Big Lebrewski, so I'll leave it to you to speculate. With a screening of a modern cult classic accompanied by good brews and one of the most spectacular local venues of any kind, it looks very promising. As long as no one attempts a White Russian made of beer, I think this will be a winner. For more info, call the theater at (813) 274-8981.