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2013: The year craft beer took over Tampa Bay

The past 12 months were huge for craft beer, but they were especially huge in Tampa Bay. The notion that Florida was not a beer-friendly state has been convincingly challenged in recent years, but if there was a year when any remaining doubts were put to rest, this was it.

This week, the Brewer's Association released an analysis of craft beer's contribution to the U.S. economy in 2012: $33.9 billion. Of that, Florida was responsible for more than $875 million, courtesy of nearly 11,000 Florida craft beer-industry workers. That number should be even more staggering for 2013, when we've seen a tremendous rise in new breweries, beer bars and even out-of-state beers eagerly entering the Florida market.

The three big new arrivals this year were New Belgium Brewing, whose Fat Tire Amber Ale is a long-time mainstay of craft-beer bars across the nation; Founders Brewing, a Michigan brewery with two beers in Beer Advocate's Top 10 (Kentucky Breakfast Stout and Canadian Breakfast Stout); and St. Arnold Brewing Company, the oldest craft brewery in Texas, and one that is only distributed in three other states.

Of course, new Florida beers have been popping up just as rapidly, with newcomers in both Hillsborough County (Zeke's Brewing, Three Palms Brewing, Cigar City Brewpub, Two Henrys), Clearwater (Pair O' Dice Brewing) and Treasure Island (R Bar), but St. Pete stole the show as the beer success story of 2013.

At this time last year, St. Pete had no breweries to call its own. Brewers Tasting Room, a North St. Pete nanobrewery specializing in beers brewed in collaboration with homebrewers and professionals from other commercial breweries, opened in January.

The stakes increased as Cycle Brewing, famous for its barrel-aged imperial stouts, opened its doors downtown in August, followed shortly after by the long-anticipated Green Bench Brewing. Then 3 Daughters Brewing, a full-scale, 30-barrel production brewery, opened to the public last weekend, bringing the St. Pete brewery count from zero to four over the course of a year.

In March, Tampa Bay beer aficionados collectively celebrated the second annual Tampa Bay Beer Week. The number of events more than doubled from nearly 100 in Beer Week 2012, and festivities included beer festivals, special releases, tap takeovers, food pairings, classes and tastings at bars, breweries and restaurants across the bay area.

Among many noteworthy events were the Brewer's Ball and Best Florida Beer Championships, held at the Cuban Club in Ybor City; as well as Cigar City's annual Hunahpu's Day, a massive festival centered around the yearly release of the brewery's barrel-aged imperial stout. The event featured beers from local homebrewers and breweries, as well as highly acclaimed beers from outside of Florida, such as Bourbon Barrel-Aged Vanilla Bean Dark Lord from Indiana's Three Floyds Brewing.

For those who couldn't get enough Tampa Bay Beer Week the first time around, the Halfway There Rare Beer Festival was held at the Cuban Club in September, featuring rare and one-off beers from myriad Florida breweries and homebrew clubs, as well as special releases from a handful of out-of-state breweries.

Florida continued to make its mark nationally in October, with seven Florida breweries participating in Denver's Great American Beer Festival, the largest in the country. Dunedin's 7venth Sun Brewing, Tampa's Cigar City Brewing, and Sarasota's Darwin Brewing represented Tampa Bay, with Cigar City taking home a gold medal in the Pro-Am competition for its Poblano Wit — a collaboration with local homebrewer Jeff Gladish — and Darwin getting a big nod from Draft Magazine, which named its Charapa Spiced Porter a must-try festival beer.

As was the case in 2012, some of the longest lines at this year's GABF belonged to Florida breweries. Boca Raton's Funky Buddha Brewery and Cigar City drew huge crowds at the main festival, while Miami homebrewer Johnathan Wakefield was one of the biggest draws at the first annual What the Funk?! festival, a sour and wild beer-centric festival held alongside GABF.

Big things are happening in the Florida beer scene, and 2013 was a great year for all involved. Florida is cultivating a stronger and stronger reputation as a premium beer state every year, and the rest of the nation is taking notice.

But best of all isn't the recognition or the notoriety — it's the fact that we get to drink some of the best beer money can buy, and it comes from right here in Florida. —

2013: The year craft beer took over Tampa Bay 12/18/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 31, 2013 11:25am]
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