Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Bars & Spirits

Tampa Bay the new hotbed of craft beer

What's orange and quenching, sometimes fruity and sour, and oh-so-Florida? If you guessed orange juice, you haven't been paying attention.

It appears beer is Florida's new liquid gold.

In the past 18 months, craft beer has exploded in the Tampa Bay area. According to the Beer Institute, an industry research group, there are 2,751 breweries operating in the United States, more than at any other time in American history. By far the biggest craft beer scene in Florida is here in the Tampa Bay area, with more than a dozen breweries and brew pubs having opened shop and another half dozen in the planning stages.

There are plenty of growth signs. Local darling Cigar City Brewing has expanded to include a kiosk at Tampa International Airport. A brew pub is soon to open in a former T.G.I. Friday's restaurant in Hillsborough's Northdale, while in Ybor City longtimer Tampa Bay Brewing Co. continues to turn out its famous Old Elephant Foot IPA. And in Largo, 2011 newcomer Barley Mow Brewing ­Co. is a nano-sized endeavor with 14 beers on tap, including their own black IPA called the Unkindness.

The second annual Tampa Bay Beer Week gets under way on Saturday, with "beer tourists" and locals expected to flock to more than 200 events at bars, restaurants, brewpubs, microbreweries and nanobreweries from Ybor City to Dunedin.

Cyrus Hire, executive sushi chef at Cheeca Lodge in Islamorada, is coming to Tampa for the festival, and while he has some specific events he hopes to attend, he's primarily drawn by the reputation of the area's concentration of craft brewers.

"I know it's been a really thriving area, with Dunedin Brewery and Saint Somewhere. I like stouts, and that's something Cigar City Brewing does extremely well. I'm definitely going to Cigar City's Hunahpu's Day release party. Part of the draw is it will have five of the world's best breweries there, and each of them will be offering something special. If you're a beer lover, it's kind of an epic thing."

Hunahpu's? Huh? Yes, fans of Cigar City's coveted and very limited imperial stout will line up before light on Saturday for a chance to buy bottles at $20 each. The entire batch will likely be sold within hours.

Slow start

The state is not lacking in beer lovers. Florida has emerged as the country's third-largest beer market, behind California and Texas, which has meant breweries and distributors from all over scramble to have their products represented in the growing number of craft beer bars such as World of Beer, or beer-savvy retail outlets such as Total Wine.

But it hasn't been smooth sailing. As recently as 2009 Florida was among the states with the fewest number of breweries per capita, with one per 470,000 people. The bulk of beer drunk in Florida was big production stuff, familiar brews from Anheuser-Busch and others.

According to Gerard Walen, who blogs about beer at RoadTripsforBeer.com and BeerInFlorida.com, archaic bottling laws stymied craft brewery growth in the state.

"Florida is part of a countrywide explosion in craft beer, but it took a little longer here," he said.

A law passed in 1966 limited bottle sizes to 8, 12, 16 and 32 ounces. But as the craft brewing scene evolved, starting in the 1970s and picking up speed in the 1980s and 1990s, craft brewers packaged in 22-ounce bombers or the typical 750 ml wine-bottle size, which were forbidden by Florida law, he explained. When the law was amended in 2001, the craft beer scene began to heat up.

Still, things didn't start boiling until this happened: Cigar City Brewing, the award-winning Ybor City brewery founded by Joey Redner.

"(Cigar City) put Florida on the map," says Matt Abdoney, who manages the beer portfolio for Florida distributor J.J. Taylor. "Joey knew that if you created bold, distinctive flavors, and kept them in rotation, you'd be able to drive the business back in to keep experimenting. If I had to sum up what Cigar City is, it's authentically local, boldly passionate and in your face."

Abdoney thinks the state's breakthrough came in 2009 when popular beer site RateBeer.com named Florida one of the best beer states in the country. More recently it rated Cigar City's Hunahpu's imperial stout one of the top five beers in the world. More recently, it deemed Rapp Brewing Co. in Seminole the best new brewer in the state.

Unique Florida style

A homebrewer for 10 years, Greg Rapp has more than 20 housemade beers on tap at any given time in his small tasting room. He reports that he regularly gets patrons who've read about his beers online and traveled from out of state to sample it.

"What we focus on is brewing a variety of beers," he says, but he describes some specialties that other Tampa Bay craft brewers are pursuing as well.

There are two trends, Rapp said. One is the sour beers and the other is lower-alcohol session beers. People are tired of the heavy, high-alcohol beers and they want something a little easier to drink in the Florida heat.

Joe Tucker, executive director of RateBeer.com, which started in 2000 in California, agrees.

"Florida has created its own beer style. Why craft beer had a hard time in Florida and Texas in the early days was because it's hot there. Craft beer was being popularized in places that were a little cooler, where there was no problem drinking a 7 percent alcohol beer. Very few of the beers getting a lot of attention were lower in alcohol. Florida brewers have put together something called a Florida weisse (a wheat beer), which is a Berliner weisse usually brewed with tropical fruit flavors."

Spirit of 'coopetition'

Green Flash Brewing Co. in San Diego recently collaborated with Cigar City on Candela, a rye barleywine aged on cedar wood. Founder Mike Hinkley thinks Cigar City's spirit of innovation has had ripples in the Florida craft beer community and beyond.

"I was at Tampa Beer Week last year and got to know a number of brewers. (Florida) is still a little young, but there are some innovative brewers. With Cigar City as a lead, Florida is in good shape. They're proving you can make craft beers that are exciting and innovative, and you can do those in lighter styles or heavier style," he says, describing a growing number of styles nationally.

Despite the recent furor, craft beer still accounts for less than 5 percent of beer sold in Florida, says Abdoney.

"If we keep up the pace that we're at it's going to be spectacular. But it's not cutthroat — the brewers are living by the mantra that a rising tide raises all ships.

Says RateBeer's Tucker, "It's all pulled together with a lot of passion and not a lot of money, where 'coopetition' is a huge part of the culture. The Florida scene was created by beer geeks who've done a whole lot right."

Laura Reiley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter.

     
   
Comments
Taste test: pot stickers

Taste test: pot stickers

Whenever I order meals at a Chinese or Japanese restaurant I always look for pot stickers on the menu. The tasty Asian dumplings are filled with pork or chicken and veggies and cooked with a perfect balance of steaming and frying. The reason I order ...
Published: 01/16/18
From the food editor: Recipe for warm, cozy Pita Ribollita soup

From the food editor: Recipe for warm, cozy Pita Ribollita soup

When I first made this soup, Florida was in the grips of a cold weather snap, the likes of which rarely happens in this part of the state. We’re talking a whole week of lows in the 30s. The 30s! It was everything I ever wanted and more — the rare win...
Published: 01/16/18
Restaurant review: Byblos Cafe has busted out of its mold with a broader Mediterranean menu, and that’s good

Restaurant review: Byblos Cafe has busted out of its mold with a broader Mediterranean menu, and that’s good

TAMPASeldom have I paid such close attention to a restaurant closure, remodeling and reopening. Byblos Cafe began a major renovation last year, keeping the restaurant open as long as possible during the summer with some nifty temporary walls to shiel...
Published: 01/16/18
Restaurant review: Ichicoro Ane brings ramen, Japanese small plates and a whole lot of fun to St. Petersburg

Restaurant review: Ichicoro Ane brings ramen, Japanese small plates and a whole lot of fun to St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURGWhen Station House restaurant opened on Christmas Eve 2014 it was a totally reinvented space, Steve Gianfilippo’s vision for the basement level of a 104-year-old, five-story, 30,000-square-foot building he’d bought for $3 million. For y...
Published: 01/12/18
Updated: 01/13/18
Top Chef’s Fabio Viviani will open a restaurant in downtown Tampa

Top Chef’s Fabio Viviani will open a restaurant in downtown Tampa

The Tampa Bay restaurant scene has hit a certain kind of critical mass. For several years, rumors have swirled that the nation’s celebrity chefs were considering this part of the Florida peninsula as "the next big thing," a place to colonize and set ...
Published: 01/12/18
Local craft beer of the week:  Bean Porter, Pinellas Ale Works

Local craft beer of the week: Bean Porter, Pinellas Ale Works

When St. Petersburg’s Pinellas Ale Works held its grand opening in May 2016, it featured a baltic porter treated with vanilla and coffee that proved to be a crowd favorite. The response was so positive that the brewery made another batch of Bean Port...
Published: 01/11/18
Diet Coke gets millennial makeover, launches four new flavors

Diet Coke gets millennial makeover, launches four new flavors

Diet Coke, birthed in 1982, is getting a millennial makeover, the Coca-Cola Company announced on Wednesday. While the classic Diet Coke and its recipe will remain untouched, the beverage company is releasing new sleek packaging and a line of specialt...
Published: 01/10/18
The future of food includes insect cuisine, edible packaging, sea vegetables and more

The future of food includes insect cuisine, edible packaging, sea vegetables and more

Insect cuisine. Edible packaging. High-tech rooftop gardens. The future of food is around the corner. With a current world population of 7.2 billion, the United Nations is projecting an increase of 1 billion people over the next 12 years, and 9.6 bi...
Published: 01/10/18
Will you be drinking mushroom coffee in 2018? Here are some predicted food trends

Will you be drinking mushroom coffee in 2018? Here are some predicted food trends

By Drew JacksonBleeding veggie burgers, edible flowers and tree-based sparkling waters could be the most popular foods of the year.Whole Foods, the organics pioneer and Jeff Bezos-backed supermarket, peered into its crystal milk jug and unveiled what...
Published: 01/10/18
La Segunda Bakery to open new South Tampa location — with seats

La Segunda Bakery to open new South Tampa location — with seats

A Tampa Bay giant has stirred and is on the move. La Segunda Central Bakery, a family-owned Ybor City institution for nearly 103 years (they celebrate that birthday Jan. 15) and the largest producer of Cuban bread in the world, will open a second loc...
Published: 01/09/18