Make us your home page
Instagram

Sarasota, Bradenton breweries explode in popularity, creativity

My girlfriend and I are going on a staycation. Well, maybe not in the strictest sense, as it would involve spending the night out of town, but at under an hour's drive, it's hard to call it anything else.

You see, craft beer is big business in Tampa Bay. It's near impossible these days to run into someone who hasn't had a Jai Alai, or sipped a beer in Green Bench's beer garden. A growler from the nearest taproom is a standard item in many bay area refrigerators.

But while we've been patting ourselves on the backs for our role in Florida's beer revolution, a new scene has been forming south of the Sunshine Skyway. Now's the time to pack a lunch, get in the car and head to some not-so-distant lands to see what's brewing in Sarasota and Bradenton.

Sarasota

For 25 years, commercial craft-brewing in Sarasota could be summed up in three words: Sarasota Brewing Company.

SBC was established in 1989, back when it was "micro" instead of "craft," and when the brewpub model was far more viable than the brewery-and-tasting-room model that prevails today.

Sarasota Brewing Company is, in that sense, old school. The décor is not unlike a family-friendly sports bar, specializing in typical brewpub food and classic beer styles. For years, brewer Vince Pelosi has been serving his flagship Sarasota Gold ale and Sequioa Amber Lager, the latter a bronze-medal winner in the American amber lager category at the 1998 Great American Beer Festival. These days, you'll find Pelosi's old standbys on the brewery's eight taps, alongside newer fare: Sarasota IPA, Sunset Red Ale and a ginger- and rosemary-spiced lager.

SBC has company now, and quite a bit of it. If you head a few minutes north, you'll run into Big Top Brewing Company, a modest production brewery tucked into an industrial park right off I-75.

Big Top, as its name suggests, pays homage to the city's long association with the circus — the legacy of the Ringling family pervades the history of the town in the early 20th century — with beers like its Circus City IPA and Trapeze Monk wit. One of the brewery's 30-barrel fermenters is named "Bearded Lady."

Big Top is a no-nonsense tasting room, featuring vintage photographs of Sarasota in its circus heyday to compliment rustic, carved wood tables. The brewery's de facto mascot is a custom jockey box made of three barrel-wrapped kegs, balanced precariously on each other in a decidedly circus-like manner.

Brewer Josh Wilson has crafted a diverse range of brews, with 12 taps ranging from a lime IPA, to an extremely sour twist on Floridaweisse, to a chocolate-and-peanut butter brown ale brewed in collaboration with a fan, as part of a contest held on the brewery's Facebook page.

Just up the street is JDub's Brewing Company, a partnership between founder Jeremy "JDub" Joerger and head brewer Tom Harris, formerly of Vermont's Long Trail Brewing Company. JDub's is working with a broad palette, brewing standards — a house pale, a brown, a Kölsch-style ale — alongside more currently "in" styles, such as a Berliner weisse and 100-IBU IPA made with New Zealand hops.

Until recently, the JDub's crew was in a perpetual quest to refine the recipe for its flagship IPA, featuring early prototypes brewed at St. Pete's Brewers Tasting Room, along with a handful of festival appearances. The brewery has since locked down the recipe; Up Top! IPA is available on tap at JDub's and other area bars, including some north of the Skyway, and if you stop by JDub's, you can score a six-pack of Up Top cans, sometimes canned just days earlier. That's fresh!

JDub's tap room, like Big Top's, is nothing flashy. There's a tiny bar, a few tables, and a giant window facing the brewery so you can watch the staff at work while you enjoy the fruits of their labor. JDub's also has a small attached beer garden, featuring rotating food trucks, cornhole and an oversized Connect Four game, making it a nice stop for some day drinking.

Bradenton

Not to be outdone by the Sarasota scene, two Bradenton breweries have also surfaced, both offering something other than the typical tasting-room experience.

Motorworks Brewing is a big-budget affair, built on a scale to rival that of just about any competitor. "We want to be the biggest brewery in Florida," said my bartender. By the looks of it, she's not kidding.

The brewery, built on the site of a former auto dealership, houses a few 30- and 90-barrel (930- and 2,790-gallon) fermenters, and the interior of the taproom is cavernous, filled with nearly every bell and whistle: Light fixtures cut into the shapes of motorcycles and race cars, a decorative engine block, video and board games, a pinball machine, flatscreen TVs, comfortable lounge furniture, a professionally lit stage for live music on the weekends, a cigar humidor, and — crucially — a popcorn machine.

While the super-slick clubhouse feel of Motorworks' interior is impressive enough, the outdoor courtyard is truly a sight to behold. Inspired by founders' Frank and Denise Tschida's trip to German biergartens, the outdoor space is just massive, built around a mammoth, 100-year old oak tree that stands in the middle of a sprawling, raised deck. The rest of the exterior is covered in artificial turf and features cornhole, bocce and even a putting green.

The beer at Motorworks is fairly standard but very well-executed, ranging from a Cascade IPA and classic Kölsch-style ale to a rich Scotch ale with a touch of smokiness due to the addition of peat-smoked malts (like the kind used in Scotch whiskey). There are 30 beers on tap, eight brewed in-house, as well as a full liquor bar and solid wine selection.

While Motorworks features classic styles in a big package, Darwin Brewing Company, which celebrated its grand opening May 24, takes the opposite approach, serving elaborate, culinary-inspired brews inside a low-key tasting room that's just a short walk down the road.

Darwin Brewing Company is the extension of owner/chef Darwin Santa Maria and Munich-trained brewmaster Jorge Rosabal's Peruvian-infused creations at the former's popular Sarasota restaurant, Darwin's on 4th, a gastropub featuring beers crafted in its seven-barrel brewhouse.

With such a pedigree, it's no surprise that the beers are unique. Designed with food pairings in mind, it's not uncommon to find exotic Amazonian fruits or traditional Peruvian ingredients like chicha morada — a sweet beverage made from purple corn, pineapple and spices — in the beer descriptions. Take, for example, the Chapo — a weizenbock brewed with roasted maduro plantains. Or the Charapa, which features aji charapitas pepper, annatto and cocoa from the Amazon.

Everything at Darwin, from murals depicting pre-Incan brewing culture to in-the-works custom-carved flight boards in the shape of a finch, done in the style of the Nazca Lines (finch, Darwin — get it?), is extremely well thought-out and wholly unique in the area. Darwin's has a lawn game for its beer garden, of course, but even that is something different: A Peruvian game called sapo ("frog") that involved tossing coins into the mouth of a tiny metal frog.

With the exception of Sarasota Brewing Company, all of these places have only popped up within the past six months. That's tremendous growth. If you're a beer fan who hasn't yet borne witness to the variety and flavor of the blossoming beer scene to our immediate south, then it may be time for you to hit the road for a short, but impressively flavorful, road trip.

— jg@saintbeat.com

Sarasota Brewing Company

6607 Gateway Ave., Sarasota. (941) 925-2337, sarasotabrewing.com. Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday-Saturday, noon to midnight Sunday.

Big Top Brewing Company

6111 Porter Way, Sarasota. (941) 371-2939, bigtopbrewing.com. Hours: 2 to 10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday.

JDub's Brewing Company

1215 Mango Ave., Sarasota. (941) 955-2739, jdubsbrewing.com. Hours: 3 to 11 p.m. Thursday-Friday, noon to 11 p.m. Saturday, noon to 8 p.m. Sunday.

Motorworks Brewing

1014 Ninth St. W, Bradenton. (941) 567-6218, motorworksbrewing.com. Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday-Saturday.

Darwin Brewing Company

803 17th Ave. W, Bradenton. (941) 747-1970, darwinbrewingco.com. Hours: 4 to 10 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, noon to 10 p.m. Saturday, noon to 8 p.m. Sunday.

Sarasota, Bradenton breweries explode in popularity, creativity 05/28/14 [Last modified: Thursday, May 29, 2014 3:27pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Glen Campbell's wife Kim discusses challenges, guilt caregivers of Alzheimer's patients, others face

    Life Times

    If there's one thing Kim Campbell would change about caregiving for Alzheimer's patients, it's the attitude so many of us have toward transferring a loved one from home to a long-term care facility. According to Campbell, it's often the most kind, loving decision you can make. It's not a sign of failure, but one of …

    Kim Campbell, wife of country music legend Glen Campbell, is acknowledged by those attending the free event where she shared the story of her personal journey with Alzheimer???‚??„?s disease and the struggles she faced caring for her husband on Friday (5/26/17) at the Suncoast Hospice's Empath Health Service Center in Clearwater. Empath Choices for Care, a member of Empath Health, and Arden Courts Memory Care hosted the free event where Kim shared her story to help others understand the early stages, how the disease changes lives, the challenges families face and the role of caregiver.
  2. What happened when I took my dad to a Pitbull concert

    Music & Concerts

    TAMPA — "So, you know how you like Pitbull?" I asked my dad. "We can see him."

    Selfie of Divya Kumar and Anand Kumar at Pitbull/Enrique Iglesias concert.
  3. Tampa City Council votes to accept travel invitation from Cuban ambassador

    Blogs

    The invitation came to Tampa City Council chairwoman Yvonne Yolie Capin in a June 9 letter from Cuban ambassador to the United States José Ramón Cabañas Rodriguez.

    The Tampa City Council voted 6-0, with Frank Reddick out of the room, to respond to a travel invitation from Cuban ambassador to the United States José Ramón Cabañas Rodriguez.
  4. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for June 25

    Events

    St. Pete Pride Festival: The daytime festival covers Central Avenue's Grand Central District with more than 350 vendors, multiple stages, live music, art and food. 9 a.m., Grand Central District, 2429 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. Free. (727) 342-0084.

    Kristen Whalen poses for a photo before the start of the St. Pete Pride Parade in St. Petersburg last year. It's that time of year again, so check with us for your planning purposes. [LUIS SANTANA  |   Times (2016)]
  5. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for June 24

    Events

    St. Pete Pride Block Party and Night Parade: St. Pete Pride's popular parade moves to downtown St. Petersburg's scenic waterfront. The block party brings DJs, food and drinks starting at 2 p.m. The parade steps off at Fifth Ave NE and Bayshore at 7 p.m. with fireworks at 9:45 p.m. 2 p.m., North Straub Park, Fifth …

    Thousands line the streets of Central Ave. during the St. Pete Pride Parade in St. Petersburg.  [Saturday, June 25, 2016] [Photo Luis Santana | Times]