It's old news that the Tampa Bay area will soon be home to several new breweries.
Still, when Cycle Brewing unexpectedly opened its doors on St. Petersburg's Central Avenue two weeks ago, it came as a big surprise, even to those who are closely following the progress of local brewery development.
Cycle's surprise opening officially made it the second brewery to open in St. Petersburg — behind Brewers' Tasting Room, which opened earlier this year — and the first to open downtown, where three other breweries are nearing completion on facilities of their own. Cycle's brewing still takes place at Peg's Cantina — Cycle is the house beer there — but a new brewing system will allow Cycle owner and brewmaster Doug Dozark to brew at both the downtown facility and Peg's by October.
I visited Cycle on opening night and again last week, and one thing's clear: It's 100 percent about the beer. The interior is so bare-bones that you wouldn't even be able to identify what kind of business it was, were it not for 12 tap handles lined up neatly on an unadorned wall behind the polished wood bar. The retro, honeycomb-style tiles that made up the floor when the space was occupied by its previous tenant, a pharmacy, are still in place, as is the mortar-and-pestle design near the entrance, which serves as an oddly appropriate decoration.
Still, Cycle could be operating out of a refrigerator box and there would still be a packed house. The tiny operation is world-renowned for its barrel-aged stouts, such as RareR D.O.S., an imperial stout aged in rum barrels that consistently pops up in top 100 lists of the best beers in the world. And though these beers are usually extremely limited, Cycle has been quietly serving them on tap since the opening, though you won't see them listed on the adjacent tap menu.
Close on the heels of Cycle is Green Bench Brewing, a production brewery that's been working intensively for months to get its 15-barrel brewery up and running. Named after the iconic green benches that lined the streets of St. Petersburg during the first half of the 20th century, Green Bench is the project of partners Steven Duffy and Nathan Stonecipher, along with homebrewer Khris Johnson, who's been building his chops before the brewery's official opening next month by collaborating with other area breweries, such as Cigar City, 7venth Sun and Tampa Bay Brewing Company.
Another two breweries are also on the way for downtown. St. Petersburg Brewing, whose beer is contract-brewed in Maryland until the new brewery and tasting room on First Avenue N open this fall, already has its popular St. Pete Orange Wheat on tap at many local beer bars. 3 Daughters Brewing, a project of Bella Brava co-owner Mike Harting, will open an 18,000-square-foot production brewery in the Grand Central district in late November. Harting recently debuted his flagship Beach Blonde Ale, along with a dunkelweiss and well-received Bourbon barrel-aged porter at the 97x Craft Beer Experience at the Mahaffey Theater this month.
Of course, St. Pete's not alone in the push for new breweries. Florida natives and former Anheuser-Busch employees Julia and Ken Rosenthal recently moved back to their home state from Austin, Texas, to open Pair O'Dice Brewing, a 15-barrel brewery and tasting room that's slated to open in Clearwater in October. In Plant City, Two Henrys — a brewery offshoot of Keel & Curley Winery — has a soft opening planned for early October as well, followed by an official "Biertober Festival" launch party on Oct. 19.
October will also mark the launch of Zeke's Brewing, an 8.5-barrel brewery built almost entirely by hand by owner and brewmaster Zac Myers, a former chemist who now hopes to establish a distribution network that will have his beers pouring at bars all along the west coast of the state. His tiny, East Tampa tasting room will feature four beers when it officially opens, including an English-style Southern brown ale, Harbor View IPA, a classic American lager and an Oktoberfest-style lager.
If that's not enough beer for you, you'll have to either travel south of the Skyway to enjoy any of four new breweries opening in Sarasota and Bradenton in the next couple of months, or wait until next year, when Tampa will add two new breweries, Angry Chair Brewing in early January and Coppertail Brewing Company in March.
Either way, I think it's safe to say that there will be plenty to go around.