In June, the Tampa Bay Brewing Company celebrated its 20th anniversary. That's a big achievement, especially considering that 90 percent of the bay area's breweries have only been around for about 10 percent of those years. To celebrate, Tampa Bay Brewing Company opened a second location in Tampa's upscale Westchase community.
TBBC and I go back for more than a decade. When I started visiting, the brewery was a few blocks away from its flagship Ybor location, in the space now occupied by Cigar City Cider & Mead. I spent plenty of evenings on the balcony overlooking 15th Street, working through a generous sampler platter that featured all of the brewery's beers, including a house-brewed root beer.
The move to a more visible — and much more spacious — Centro Ybor location really drove TBBC's popularity, to the point that a second brewhouse eventually became a necessity.
Of course, it didn't hurt that TBBC's beer has remained consistently killer throughout the years. Long-standing Florida breweries are often criticized for having "boring" beers, and indeed, the current tap list at both TBBC locations looks startlingly similar to the one I remember from the old 15th Street days. There's True Blonde, Red Eye, Old Elephant Foot, Jack the Quaffer, Moose Killer and Iron Rat — although the latter used to be a dry Irish stout rather than an imperial stout (or did I imagine that?).
There's always something new to round out the core selection, like the just-tapped Guava Guts or the Full Moon Madness tropical porter, which was brewed to commemorate the brewery's 20th anniversary and corresponding Westchase opening. There's also Gourds Gone Wild, which is consistently one of the best pumpkin beers on the market, period. That one's also available in imperial form, if you're in a hurry.
And of course, there's Reef Donkey, which has muscled out Old Elephant Foot IPA as the brewery's de facto flagship beer. This pale ale, rumored to be a retooling of the brewery's classic One Night Stand, made big waves when it medaled in last year's Great American Beer Festival. How big of a deal is that? Reef Donkey beat 142 beers in the third most-saturated style category at the festival, taking home bronze. Yes, it's that good, and you should absolutely try it for yourself if you don't believe me.
So how about these new digs? TBBC's Westchase location is a bit scaled down from the Ybor original, which makes sense when considering the difference in atmosphere between a business park on the edge of an affluent, deed-restricted community and the wild party vibe of Ybor City.
Like the Ybor location, this one has a large outdoor patio with its own dedicated bar. The brewhouse is visible to the side, next door to the brewery's "unCorporate Headquarters." The business park location gives the outdoor patio a more secluded, private feel than its middle-of-the-action Ybor counterpart. Lounge-style sofas around a fire pit are a nice touch, complementing the laid-back Westchase vibe.
The interior is pretty slick. The bartop and bottle shelves are made from bisected cross-sections of a tree, lacquered and laid end-to-end, creating a mirror image. There's a partially exposed kitchen, including a wood-fired pizza oven. The booths populating the dining area are low-profile and streamlined, each featuring a little orange lamp at the table.
It's a good-looking place, sure, but to me, it's all about the refreshments. More than half the beer taps are house brews, including various seasonals and one-offs, while the rest are occupied by beers from other bay area breweries. There are 10 wines on tap, which is a neat touch. The liquor selection is not tremendously extensive, but you'll find some interesting options, like cask-strength whiskeys from Old Forester (1897 Bottled-in-Bond) and Tullamore Dew (Phoenix), as well as Florida spirits such as Key West Duval Street and Old St. Pete rums.
Do it as I used to, and order the sampler platter. There's not a bad beer on the list, and it'll serve as a comprehensive introduction to one of Florida's oldest and most respected breweries. The new Westchase location is a worthy addition, and one that's worth a visit from even longtime Ybor patrons. Here's to another 20 years!
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