TAMPA — The next evolution in Tampa Bay's small but growing craft brewing community came Sunday.
Dave Doble, head brewmaster at Tampa Bay Brewing Company, some family members, staff and friends gathered around a canning machine they named "Anita," as in "I need a beer."
Doble grabbed one, poked his car key into the bottom, flicked open the tab and shotgunned the cold contents down his throat while everyone else took giant gulps of their own.
Just like that, down went the first craft beers canned in the Tampa Bay area, a milestone opening the door for further sales and distribution of the Ybor City brew while also increasing the exposure, relevancy and availability of Florida's microbreweries.
"We never thought we'd be anywhere near here," Doble said. "It's pretty awesome."
Coming to a store near you, Tampa Bay Brewing Company's flagship Old Elephant IPA will be sold $10 for a four pack of 16 ounce cans. It's a fancy, local beer in a convenient and accessible package.
"I prefer cans," Doble said. "I like to fish. I like to boat. For everything I do, cans make sense."
Although canned beer is common, comprising roughly half of all sales, it has been only since 1935 that beer came in cans, when Krueger's produced 2,000 cans in Richmond, Va.
Craft beer makers avoided cans, largely because of the perception of off flavors. But with improved technology, more craft beer is being put in cans. They're now considered superior by ensuring purity and taste by preventing light damage and oxidation.
The first craft beer produced in cans was said to be Dale's Pale Ale by Oskar Blues in Lyons, Colo., in 2002. Reportedly producing canned beer as a joke, the popular brewery found its cans popular with hikers and nearby Boulder's backpack crowd who found it easier to lug around.
For Florida, a late entry into the microbrew market, friendly races to be "first" and "best" are constant between the handful of larger craft brewers. Tampa Bay Brewing Company hoped to be the first craft brewery in Florida to sell canned beer, but it was beat last week by Intuition Ale Works, a Jacksonville brewery.
"We were very close," Doble said.
Intuition, which distributes in about five North Florida counties, churned out about 300 cases of its signature People's Pale Ale, I-10 IPA and a Kolsh style ale called Jon Boat, on its first run.
"We were hoping we'd be the first," Intuition owner-brewer Ben Davis said. "It kind of fits the lifestyle here, people going to the beach, the golf course, sitting around the pool. Plus it's a lot more environmentally friendly — they're lighter, cheaper to ship so they take less energy, they get recycled quicker. To me it was kind of a no-brainer, honestly."
Craftcans.com tracks the growth of craft beer in cans and lists more than 480 breweries canning beer, a huge jump from 2010 when just 80 breweries canned their products.
Cigar City Brewing of Tampa has also announced plans to can. It bought a canning line from New Belgian Brewery in Colorado, but has yet to get it running. Cold Storage Craft Brewery in Seminole Heights also plans to move toward cans this year.
Tampa Bay Brewing Company bought its $74,000 canning line new from a Boulder, Colo., company, which flew in an engineer — or "flying beer mechanic" as Tristan Shaffer called himself — to help with the first run of 2,000 cans. Also assisting inside the brewery — which is better known as one of Centro Ybor's anchoring restaurants — were a few of Doble's friends who woke early.
"Wouldn't miss this big day," said Brian Fenster Macher, owner of the Southern Brewery and Winemaking supply store in Seminole Heights. "Florida used to be a wasteland of craft beer. We're on the map. It's phenomenal what's happening here."
Tampa Bay Brewing Company hopes to someday open a warehouse where it can brew and can beer on a larger scale. It already distributes kegs and sells 32-ounce and gallon growlers.
"This symbolizes a giant step for small business," said John Doble, David's father and vice president of the Florida Brewers Guild. "We're just a normal family pooling our talents, working 24 hours a day to the point where we can can our own beer. So this is quite a milestone for a small family business. It means more jobs and local beer — all good."
Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or [email protected]