ZEPHYRHILLS — When Robert Hilferding made his first batch of beer from a make-your-own kit in 2012, the result was good. So he made some more — and some more after that.
Then, in 2013, when he discovered there were competitions for home-brewed beer, Hilferding began entering those. And, in 2014, he won the American Homebrewers Association's Homebrewer of the Year award.
"That meant I had a beer that beat 8,000 other entries, from 3,000 brewers in six countries," Hilferding said.
Today, that winning beer, a Scottish ale named Way Off Kilter, is among the selection of craft beers sold at Zephyrhills Brewing Co., which Hilferding and his wife, Terry, recently opened. It is the first microbrewery to open in eastern Pasco County.
The Hilferdings decided to open the business after they retired from the T-shirt business, which they sold to their oldest son this year. After the transition, Hilferding said, he and Terry looked at each other and said, "Now what?"
"Retirement was the worst three days of my life," he said with a laugh.
The couple acquired an old bank building, built in 1969, in the historic district of downtown Zephyrhills. They did most of the renovations to the nearly 5,000-square-foot structure themselves. What was once the bank lobby is now a tasting room, where the original wood ceiling and brick walls remain. The former teller line area is now a private meeting room. Hilferding said that in the next six months, the bank vault will be used to store barrel-aged beer.
The brewery has 24 taps — 16 are for beers, four are for sodas and four are guest taps. Robert makes the beers, and Terry makes the sodas.
The product selection is constantly changing, yet some favorites are always on the menu. Along with Way Off Kilter, other favorites include: Dean Dairy Stout (very dark, sweet stout), Delightfully Obnoxious Schaper Ale (an American IPA that Hilferding named after his general contractor, Paul Schaper), Zephyr Weisse (a sour ale) and Hook Turn Pale Ale (an American pale ale made with mosaic hops).
The handcrafted sodas vary upon Terry Hilferding's mood. Most recently, her sodas have included root beer, cream soda, lemon-lime and a cola. Sometimes she makes "triples," such as a raspberry-ginger-lime concoction.
The brewery also offers bottled wine and some unusual bottled beers from other breweries. Ciders made by other brewers are sold, but Hilferding hopes to make his own hard cider once he gets his cider license, which takes up to nine months.
"Federal licensing takes forever," he said.
Business has been steady since the grand opening celebration on Oct. 15. The Hilferdings believe local beer can help "bring the community together." In fact, patrons are welcome to bring their well-behaved pets and children. Customers are coming not only to enjoy the unique handcrafted beers and soda, but also for the atmosphere.
"Clearly, you can tell we're having a good time," Hilferding said.
"This is the best thing I've done since I retired. In fact, it's the only thing I've done," he said. "It's definitely a whole lot more fun."