Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Business

Pasco's first microbrewery serving up Big Storm beer

ODESSA — Brew day at Big Storm Brewing Co., Pasco's first microbrewery. Hard rock and warm weather filled the company warehouse.

Head brewer Mike Bishop manned a squeegee, drying the floor. Later, he scrubbed a fermenting tank. He washed the inside of a huge kettle. He sanitized the fittings on a pump system. A pallet of grain sat unopened, wrapped in plastic.

Wait, what happened to brew day? Oh yeah. The grain was later cracked and Bishop helped cook a 10-barrel batch of pale ale. But the process is 80 percent cleaning, he said. Even more if you're brewing in a sweltering warehouse in the middle of a Florida summer.

"It's a chore, but that's part of it," said Bishop, 27. "It's a pretty glamorous industry, because obviously people like beer. But really it's a pain in the a--."

Sure, the work isn't easy. Brew days can last 16 hours. But it's not that bad. Bishop makes pale ale for a living.

"We've been able to steadily produce good beer," he said. "As long as we're making good beer, I'm happy."

Big Storm president Clay Yarn admits the company slogan is a bit hokey: Blood, Sweat and Beers. But he said it's true. Bishop cut himself earlier in the week. The sweat is obvious. He adds: "And it's all about the beer."

They've got big dreams, aiming for 1,000 barrels a year. Cigar City, the microbrew heavyweight in Tampa, makes 10,000. (A standard keg is half a barrel.)

Yarn, 31, said the company is more ambitious than a nanobrewery. For instance, Seventh Sun in Dunedin is primarily focused on its tasting room. Big Storm just won Pasco County approval for a tasting room, but it's focused on distributing draft beer to local bars. Yarn notes that Cigar City has expanded three times.

"That's what we'll be doing," he said. "In a year from now, you won't see this little brew house."

Only in the last few years have Florida distributors become craft-beer friendly, Yarn said. He called the state the "last frontier" for craft brewing. "I know there's a place for us," he said.

Right now Big Storm is in 15 bars in Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas. The flagship beer, WaveMaker Amber, has been on the market for three weeks. Yarn and Bishop made their first batch of PalmBender Pale Ale this week.

The tasting room, attached to the brewery at the West Pasco Industrial Park, opens later this month. It will feature the two main beers, as well as rotating taps with experimental and seasonal beers.

And the beer? The amber scored well at the 2011 Best Florida Beers contest. It pours dark with a thick head. It's slightly sweet but also balanced with a touch of hops. The pale ale is lighter and the hops are more pronounced. It also includes a special spice. Try the FireStorm, a black India pale ale, for an "aggressive" beer with higher alcohol content and even more hops.

• • •

A lot of people wonder how Bishop and Yarn have remained friends for 10 years. Bishop sports an unruly beard, sideburns and a shock of reddish brown hair. Yarn's hair is cropped close, his face clean cut. He wore a tie to a recent County Commission meeting.

A series of stickers dot Bishop's bumper: "Drink Local," "Save the Ales." Yarn's black car is clean except for a Big Storm logo, centered.

Bishop likes dark, heavy stouts. Yarn likes a "good, traditional pale ale with a nice hop balance."

"This business would not be open without both of us," Bishop said with a wry smile. "In any operation, you need brains and you need beauty. I'm the brains."

The company began last summer. Bishop got laid off from his financial adviser job in June, and Yarn lost his insurance job in August. Friends since Bishop's freshman year at the University of South Florida — Yarn was his dorm's resident assistant — they always joked about starting a brewery.

Bishop had long been a home brewer. And in 2008, he spent nine months as an unpaid apprentice at Dunedin Brewery. He juggled his work schedule and took sick days so he could learn the operation of professional brewing equipment. Now, the folks from Dunedin Brewery and Ybor's Tampa Bay Brewing are giving advice about the new venture.

The pair drew up a business plan. They finally secured an investor in November and moved into their warehouse a month later.

"We said, 'What the hell, let's try this beer thing,' " Yarn said.

Lee Logan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236.

 
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