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Craft beer craze arrives in Brandon area with pubs, home brewing

BRANDON

Ty Mathis just wanted a good beer.

Mathis, a Brandon resident for nearly the past two decades, called one of his buddies to make plans. His friend asked Mathis which pub they should go to.

"I said, 'Well, why don't we go to ...,' " Mathis said, his voice trailing off. "Then it hit me."

So Mathis opened the Stein & Vine at Bloomingdale and Kings avenues and joined the craft beer market that has grown into a national trend.

Craft and craft-style beer sales more than doubled from 2007 to 2012 — from $5.7 billion to $12 billion, according to a Mintel market study reported in the Nation's Restaurant News in April.

This even though craft beer generally has higher prices.

The report also noted that the rest of the beer categories had shown flat to declining sales in the wake of the recession.

The developing following in the Tampa Bay area, reflecting the national trend, is obvious from retail to upstart independent brewers and from home-brew masters to pubs both big and small.

American staple

From our founding fathers to Homer Simpson, ales and lagers have become as much a part of America's fabric as baseball and apple pie.

"Beer has had a place throughout history in nearly every society," Jason Lyons, a Brandon area home brewer, said.

Through the advent of the railroads and lagering, America took its place at the top of the global beer market with megacompanies like Budweiser and Miller leading the way. But those beers, which are categorized by light flavor and body, now have to share the spotlight with craft beer.

Made on a smaller, artisan level, craft beer generally packs a more powerful punch of palate-puckering hops and sweet, roasty malt. As consumers' appetites for these types of beers increased, so did production.

Exotic flavor combinations drew in adventurous drinkers. Searching out the newest products became chic. And the beers started becoming more prominently displayed and offered in everything from convenience stores to local bars.

"Almost any restaurant you go now, you're going to find some good selections," said Lindsay Nichols, a manager at the Brass Tap at Westfield Brandon.

The home brewer

Jason Lyons siphons a little beer out of a large glass container, pulls out a hydrometer and measures the alcohol content of his newest creation, an Oktoberfest. He takes a small swig of the still uncarbonated brew and approvingly nods while checking the color and clarity.

"I can't wait for this one," he says.

Lyons is one of many area residents who are dabbling in the world of home brewing. Startup equipment costs less than $100, and with a few ingredients and a recipe, a drinkable ale can be achieved in two weeks.

"You don't need a degree in chemical engineering to make beer," said Francis Booth, owner of Booth's Brewing and Bar Supply in Brandon. "It just takes a little patience and practice."

Of course, brewing drinkable beer and award-winning beer are two different things. Lyons mastered the first rather quickly and achieved the latter this year when he captured a gold medal at the Best Florida Beer Championships.

"It's the Super Bowl for home brewing in the state," he said.

His doppelbock, a dark malty sledgehammer of a beer, checked in at 7.2 percent alcohol. Most American macro lagers are less than 5 percent. (Fun fact: Doppelbock emerged in the late 18th century as a powerful lager variant of monks' "liquid bread," which they brewed for the Lenten fast, says the German Beer Institute.)

Lyons competes throughout Florida on the home brewers circuit and has plans to open a brewery locally within five years.

Fun with DIY

Booth's, at 333 Falkenburg Road, and Bootleggers, at 650 Oakfield Drive, offer extensive supplies for novices and experts and classes for beginners. Booth's will expand in the next two months to include an on-site brewery.

"Right now we are working on a Caribbean farmhouse ale that has some mango, ginger and habanero in it," Booth said. "Beer has gone gourmet."

Home brewing clubs are also a part of the scene. The Brandon Bootleggers Homebrew Club (no direct relation to the supply store) has seen its numbers soar in the past couple of years. The club (brandonbootleggers.com) started out with half a dozen or so members three years ago. It has nearly 100 now and offers home brewers a chance to bounce ideas and recipes off one another.

"It's really exciting because we have people off all ages and from all walks of life," said Bob Appleyard, director emeritus of the club. "And we have everything from serious competition brewers to people who just brew once a year."

An arduous task

Taking the leap from making beer in the garage to a full-scale brewery is a daunting task. There is expensive, large-scale equipment to buy. A place to house all the supplies is necessary. And, of course, there are a host of zoning and permitting hoops to jump through.

"There is a lot of red tape to get through, on the state and federal level," said Randy Reaver, owner of Three Palms Brewing.

Reaver opened Three Palms, at 1509 Hobbs St. in Tampa, about a year ago, turning out the company's inaugural brew July 4. Local pubs like Brass Tap and Stein & Vine serve some of his creations.

"But it was something I had talked about long before that," he said. "There's just so much that goes into making it actually happen."

Three Palms features a compact interior, with an area dedicated to brewing and a climate-controlled room for fermenting. Heavy sacks of grain line one wall, while an ice chest holds vials of yeast. There's a tiny room that greets patrons there for tours and an Entrepreneur magazine on one of the tables. Reaver, who brews twice every three weeks, does nearly everything himself.

"It presents a lot of challenges, and yeah, you have to wear a lot of hats," he said. "If I'm not brewing, I'm out at accounts trying to build relationships and increase the profile of my brand."

Reaver's immediate goal is to get wet zoning for Three Palms, meaning he can sell beer by the pint or to-go growlers from a tasting room inside the brewery.

"I've already ordered all the necessary equipment, so I think there's a good chance it goes through," he said. "Then people could come in and try the different beers I make, and that helps with brand recognition. It would be a good source of cash flow and we could keep regular hours."

The big guys

Big companies hoping to capitalize on the trend aren't far behind. The Brass Tap opened at the Brandon mall nearly three years ago. World of Beer, just south of Causeway Boulevard, will open this summer. Both focus primarily on craft beer.

"We really have all type of people who come in here," Nichols, the Brass Tap manager, said. "But what they all are is enthusiastic about beer and trying new kinds of beer."

The Brass Tap features 60 beers on draft and hundreds more in the bottle. WOB is about the same.

"We are all about beer," Nichols said. "Anyone who talks to me for two minutes can tell that."

Nichols, 25, said she has noticed that younger drinkers are shying away from products like Budweiser and are leaning toward craft beer.

"People are making the choice of quality over quantity," she said. "I think the younger generation realizes convenience isn't better. They don't want McDonald's anymore."

The little guys

Mathis has been involved with beer and food most of his life. He has cooked in a host of kitchens and worked as a sales rep at Pepin Distributing for 16 years before turning an aging bar at 827 W Bloomingdale Ave. into a beer lover's paradise.

"I would get out of my job (at Pepin) and come work here until 3 in the morning," he said. "It's my baby."

The feel inside Stein & Vine is welcoming, with rich planks of wood, wrought-iron chandeliers and a bar covered in hundreds of heads-up pennies. Mathis brought the brick in from Ybor City.

In Riverview, Matt Brooks has turned the beer passion he honed in college into a friendly pub called the Talking Pint at 13428 Boyette Road. Brooks focuses on American craft beers.

"There is so much great beer going on in America," Brooks said. "It has more character."

Mathis said the craft beer craze has plenty of room to grow.

"This area is just starting to see the potential of where this can go," he said. "There's nothing I like better than giving someone a beer and they go 'What is that? I've never heard of that and I want more.' '

Times correspondent Eric Vician contributed to this report. Brandon Wright can be reached at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

Craft beer craze arrives in Brandon area with pubs, home brewing 05/23/13 [Last modified: Thursday, May 23, 2013 10:05am]
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