ODESSA — Their friendship wasn't formed over a pint of beer, but on the football field many years ago.
Mike Bishop, founder of Big Storm Brewing Co., played football while attending Clearwater Central Catholic High School, and during his senior year in 2002 he had a new football coach, Leo Govoni. The two remained close over the years, and now Govoni and Bishop are business partners at Pasco County's first microbrewery.
Big Storm was established in 2012, after Bishop decided to turn his hobby and passion into a business. After graduating from the University of South Florida in 2006, he worked in finance, but found himself wanting to learn more about brewing beer.
"I was cleaning kegs over at Dunedin Brewery, while also working as a financial adviser," Bishop said. "I was fascinated with the process."
He said that as an unpaid volunteer, he gained a tremendous amount of knowledge about brewing beer.
When Bishop decided to start his own brewery, Big Storm seemed like a fitting name.
"It was a symbolic thing with Big Storm," he said. "At the time, I had left the corporate world and was getting into this."
Bishop also wanted to pay homage to Florida, and the name reminded him of watching lightning storms and how beautiful the sky looked after storms had passed.
"It's a great name, and it's so fun to market," Govoni said. "It translates to everything."
About a year after Bishop started Big Storm, he teamed with his old coach and longtime friend, Govoni.
"Leo really believed in the vision of the brewery and the concept and myself," Bishop said. "We partnered up and brought it to where it is now.
"It's very much a family business."
Big Storm produces a large variety of craft beers, but began with Wavemaker Amber Ale.
"You don't see many breweries producing a solid, quality amber ale," Bishop said. "When we first started out, we looked at the market, and we wanted to find what our niche was, and amber ale is what we like to drink."
In 2013, Colorado-based New Belgium Brewery entered the Florida market, and its amber ale, Fat Tire, provided competition for Wavemaker.
"Fat Tire came at us hard, but we prevailed," Bishop said. "Consumers preferred having that local touch."
Big Storm has won numerous awards for its beers, and this year won the Best Beer in Florida trophy at the 2016 Best Florida Beer Championship for its Oktoberfest Marzen Lager.
"We're pretty excited about it," Bishop said.
Since Big Storm began, its growth and success have led to the opening of two new taprooms. In January, a taproom opened in Clearwater, and a new Pasco taproom opened April 16.
"The response has been overwhelmingly positive, and we're getting new customers every day," CEO Jonathan Golden said.
The Pasco taproom is at 2330 Success Drive in Odessa and is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. For more information, visit bigstormbrewery.com.