Festival brewery is a term that I use to describe breweries in progress: reliably spotted working the local beer fest circuit, decked out with vinyl banners, cool jockey boxes with custom tap handles, clever beer names and concepts and professionally printed apparel boasting convincing logos.
No matter how good the beer, you can't get any outside of the festival, as these are essentially home brewers who aspire to eventually open a brick and mortar. When? "Soon."
I have absolutely no gripe with such brewers; I count several as friends. Festivals are a great way to build brand recognition and generate excitement in your eventual opening. The problem is that too many festival breweries never actually open, and the ones that do are often unable to re-create their small-batch quality in a big-time setup.
In July, Arkane Aleworks — a well-known festival brewery — announced, in regard to the "coming soonish" status of its official opening, that "today is soonish," making Arkane the second brewery in Largo, behind Barley Mow. I visited during soft opening week and revisited a few weeks later. I've been to more than a few brewery openings and can say that Arkane has pulled off a rare feat: a transition from small-scale festival brewing to a professional business, with beer that easily matches — and possibly outpaces — the output from its many festival appearances.
Partial credit for the smooth transition from festival brewery to actual brewery must be given to Greg Rapp of Seminole's Rapp Brewing. Arkane owners Joe Scheibelhut and Dan Graston both worked at Rapp prior to going into business on their own — Scheibelhut as head brewer, Graston as bartender.
While the duo are undoubtedly qualified brewers on their own, it would be tough to put in the hours at a facility as consistently good as Rapp —especially in a head brewer position — without getting some sort of education. At the very least, it would explain how a small-batch homebrew crew was able to open with a full lineup of great beer, brewed on a considerably larger scale (which, for reference, is very difficult to do).
So I say Arkane is pretty good, and if you give any weight to online reviews, it seems like a lot of people agree. What's so good? For one, it's roomy, with lots of seating. There's cafe seating out front, a fenced-in patio out back, lots of bar seating, high-tops and several picnic tables. Reclaimed wood and polished cement floors give the interior a stylish, if typical, look. There's local art on the walls and live music in the brewery area. Throw in some board games and you've got all the necessary trimmings of a comfortable, fun tasting room.
But ultimately, it has got to be about the beer. There's room for 28 beers on the tap wall, and a little over half are typically pouring — impressive for a new brewery.
There's Circle K Feet, which is a porter, and Skinny DIPA, which is a "session double IPA," clocking in at 5.8 percent. There's a watermelon gose called One in a Melon and Frickelsnitz IPA, which the menu helpfully informs us is "not the Snickelfritz," another of the brewery's IPAs. Then there's It's Gunna Be UUUGE, which is described as a "really full-bodied dark wheat beer." That's a missed opportunity, guys. It should have been an imperial blond ale.
The beers are great, all of them. But I'm especially into Arkane's Florida weisses, a revival of what could be our state's iconic style if it's able to re-emerge from the shadows of the current gose craze. These heavily fruited, tart wheat ales are unbeatable during the summer, and Arkane makes some really cool combinations. So far there has been cherry-lime, cucumber-hibiscus and cranberry-passionfruit — who knows what's next?
Don't get the impression that Arkane only brews German-style sour ales, though. The range is diverse, including a Scotch ale, a Kentucky common, a coffee stout loaded with beans from Tampa's Buddy Brew, a saison, a Belgian-style golden strong ale, a hoppy brown and so on. Remarkably, there's not a dud in the bunch.
Now that Arkane Aleworks has graduated from festival brewery status and is open for business, the promise has changed. Now it's "grand opening coming soonish." But honestly, don't bother — this place is ready to enjoy right now. — [email protected]; @WordsWithJG