ST. PETERSBURG — The brewer stood near the kegs, arms crossed, watching people drain 3-ounce glasses. He waited for smiles, nods, cringes.
"I'm extremely nervous," said Ty Weaver, 41, who concocts craft libations for 3 Daughters Brewing, slated to open in November on 22nd Street S. "It's the first time people have tried the beers beyond friends and family. It's our first chance to hear real criticism."
About 1,400 thirsty revelers crowded the Mahaffey Theater on Saturday evening for the second annual, sold-out 97X Craft Beer Experience. National and local vendors, including Tampa Bay Brewing Co. and Largo's Rapp Brewing Co., offered more than 100 beers, brand new and fan favorites, for patrons to sample. A limousine company advertised free rides home.
Weaver, who attended culinary school in Louisiana before moving to St. Petersburg, created the citrus-infused Beach Blonde Ale — among the 3 Daughters' dunkelweizen, stout and porter — for Floridians to enjoy on hot afternoons, toes in the sand. "Drink it on the beach," he said, "where you can legally drink on the beach."
Chris Lewis, a manager at Largo's Great Bay Distributors, which helped organize the event, said sipping local beer brings people together. It can be a highly personal experience, he said, especially in the bay area.
"You can walk into a Tampa brewery, hang out with the employees and tell someone, 'I'd like to see this or this in a beer,' " he said. "Four or five months later, you can see that in something new."
Andrew Heeren, a 24-year-old mechanical engineer who lives in St. Petersburg, waited in lines Saturday with his dad, Theo, who brews his own ales at home in Seminole. The pair wore matching pretzel necklaces.
"We made these in the car on the way over," Heeren said. "We've got a lot of beers to try."
His favorite so far? "A barrel-aged porter."
Flanked by two girlfriends, 22-year-old Carey Mears of St. Petersburg arrived with a budgetary mission.
"I really only drink craft beer, and that gets expensive," she said. "I'm going to try a lot here today so I know which six-packs to buy for $10 in the grocery store."
Jared Dech, 25, of Largo joked with four friends, his "wolf pack," between samples. They came for a good time, he said, raising a plastic glass.
"If you don't like beer, you're un-American."
Dech took a swig of Weaver's Beach Blonde Ale.
"Yeah," he said, eyes closed. "It's good."