For this year's tbt* Ultimate Bar Guide, we tallied up more than 100 reasons we love going to bars in Tampa Bay. Craft beer is everywhere here, and plenty of bars and breweries serve it up right. Here are 17 of our favorite places to grab a cool local brew.
We like our beer barrel-aged: 7venth Sun Brewery
Aging beer in barrels is a technique ripe for experimentation. The reactions that occur when beer spends extended time in used spirit and wine barrels can add flavor due to residual liquids and wood character, mellow heavy beers out via oxidation and even cause beers to become sour if the barrel has been inoculated with beer-souring bacteria and other microflora. Dunedin's 7venth Sun Brewery is one of the more prolific local barrel-agers, to the point where it used to host Barrel-Aged Wednesdays, featuring a different barrel-aged beer on tap each week. These days, the selection of these complex brews is dictated by availability, although there's some form of barrel-aged beer on tap around 40 percent of the time. Previous releases have featured sour blond ales aged in wine barrels, imperial porters aged in rum barrels and, recently, a gin barrel-aged IPA fermented with brettanomyces wild yeast. 1012 Broadway, Dunedin. (727) 733-3013, 7venthsun.com.
We like our beers in cans: The Outpost
"Why cans?" is a question posed on The Outpost's web site. A University of Tampa-area college bar is as unlikely a place as any to preach the good word on beer's optimal packaging vessel, but their explanation is spot on: Cans are more portable than glass, they're unaffected by oxygen and UV light, they're less fragile and more stackable, and, due to their lower weight and reduced packaging, they're better for the environment. If that doesn't make you feel good about the Outpost's draft- and can-only beer list, the selection might. There are nearly 50 beers available by the can, with options ranging far beyond the stuff you used to crumple up at barbecues and beach days. 909 W Kennedy Blvd., Tampa. (813) 425-3647, outposttampa.com.
We like our beer in mason jars: St. Pete Brewing Company
Nothing says down-home drinkin' like a mason jar, which might make the pint glasses at St. Pete Brewing Company the coolest in Tampa Bay. St. Petersburg's newest brewpub sells empty ones for $4.25 apiece, but you might as well get a pint to go along with it. For $7.50, you can get what's called a "drifter," a jar of your favorite tap, sealed up with a lid and masking tape. It's sort of like a mini version of a growler (though sadly, they're not refillable). Great beer, even better souvenir. What's not to love? 544 First Ave. N, St. Petersburg. (727) 692-8809, stpetebrewingcompany.com.
That growler won't fill itself!: Cigar City Brewing
Pretty much everyone's hip to growlers by now. Even though we're stuck with the non-standard 32-ounce and full-gallon sizes for at least another year, there are plentiful options when it comes to fresh beer to go, and nowhere is this more true than at Cigar City Brewing. Every Tuesday, the brewery releases a new, limited release at noon, and a 32-ounce fill is only $8 (no gallons, unfortunately). The beer is rarely revealed in advance, so show up with an empty growler and an adventurous palate. Recent release include White Oak Dragon Fruit IPA, French Oak Black Cherry Porter and Right Side Up Pineapple Cake lager. Forget your growler? An extra $1 gets you a "crowler" — a 32-ounce can, filled on site, that lasts longer than a traditional glass growler. The only downside is that sour beers, like the Lime Session Berliner I picked up the other week, are available in glass only. 3924 W Spruce St., Tampa. (813)348-6363, cigarcitybrewing.com.
We want the real pub experience: Wild Rover Pub and Brewery
What's a pub, anyway? In some places, it means little more than polished wood, Guinness on draft and a paper shamrock tacked to the wall. But in Ireland and the UK, pubs are more known as warm and welcoming social hubs than examples of cheap stylization. Not only does the Wild Rover Pub and Brewery fit this bill, it goes the extra mile by producing beer in house, as local pubs used to do in the old days. These beers include several "real ales" — cask-conditioned beers served in the traditional manner, hand-pumped directly from the cask. Owned by a husband-and-wife team of British expats (their son brews the beer), the Wild Rover certainly feels authentic, and not just because it looks pub-esque. But in case you're wondering, yes, there's also a steel-tipped dart board. 8740 N Mobley Road, Odessa. (813) 475-5995, thewildroverbrewery.com.
We want to experience Oktoberfest without buying plane ticket to Munich: Mr. Dunderbak's
Whether or not you own a pair of lederhosen is your own business, and it's probably best if we keep it that way. But sometimes we want to sit at a picnic bench, hoist a giant mug of beer and shout "Prost!" while chowing down on pretzels and sauerkraut. Who cares if it's only August? Mr. Dunderbak's not only has an authentic German biergarten vibe, it also stocks a dazzling array of German prepared foods, as well as a bottle inventory that puts many local beer shops to shame. And better yet, Dunderbak's has long prided itself on its extensive selection of rare and unusual rotating draft beers. Any given trip to Dunderbak's is bound to yield a big find or two; after all, this is the place that had Westvleteren XII a few solid months before its mega-limited domestic release, as well as Cantillon gueuze on tap during Tampa Bay Beer Week. Those are both Belgian beers, true, but believe us when we tell you that Dunderbak's German beer selection beats anyone else's in the area, and it's the closest you'll get to Munich without getting on a plane. 14929 Bruce B. Downs Blvd., Tampa. (813) 977-4104, dunderbaks.com.
Mardi Gras!: Tampa Tap Room
What do you get when you combine great Cajun food with a massive craft-beer selection with quality Belgian imports? The Tampa Tap Room. It may not be the traditional recipe for a Mardi Gras bash, but you won't mind it once you try their andouille sausage, crawfish etouffe, oyster Po'boys or Gumbo YaYa. It's roomy enough for a second-line march, but you'll probably be too busy admiring their magnificent, one-of-a-kind bartop, featuring hundreds of classic beer bottle labels beneath a thick lacquer. Bring your beads, and laissez les bons temps rouler! 13150 N Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa. (813) 961-2337.
We loved craft beer before it was cool: Dunedin Brewery
I spent my 21st birthday at Dunedin Brewery. Without dating myself, let's just say that it was one of maybe two craft breweries in the bay area at the time, although the term then was "microbrewery." I didn't know nearly as much about beer as I know now, but I knew that I liked something with a heck of a lot more character than the stuff I could get at the store, and Dunedin certainly didn't let me down. Some of the drinks I had that night are still in regular rotation — Apricot Peach, Piper's Pale, Redhead Red — along with newer fare, like the coffee-laden Bière de Café brown ale, the fruity Nelson Sauvin IPA and the coconut curry-based Bring the Noise saison collaboration with neighbors 7venth Sun. There are nearly 30 craft breweries in the bay area now, but Dunedin was one of the first. 937 Douglas Avenue, Dunedin 34698. (727)736-0606, dunedinbrewery.com. — Justin Grant
We can brew the beer we drink: Brewers' Tasting Room
Despite being the first brewery to open in St. Pete, Brewers' Tasting Room doesn't get nearly as much recognition as its fellow breweries downtown. That's probably because it's a bit of an odd duck — it doesn't keep a full-time brewmaster on staff, doesn't release beers for distribution and doesn't have any flagship products. Instead, BTR works with homebrewers looking for experience brewing on large-scale charity brews and collaborations with other breweries from all over the country. The house beer selection is always changing, ranging from collaborations with Oskar Blues, Terrapin, Cigar City, St. Somewhere, and Johnathan Wakefield to releases from homebrewers like, well, myself! I've brewed several beers there, including a hop-forward session IPA called Casual Friday and an aloe vera Berliner weisse called Sundaze. My next beer, a sour peach saison, will be on tap there on Sept. 14. BTR offers a rare opportunity for amateur brewers to play pro, and there's nothing else quite like it around. 11270 Fourth St. N, Suite 202, St. Petersburg. (727) 873-3900, brewerstastingroom.com. — Justin Grant
Keep-the-pint nights: Palm Harbor House of Beer
On Aug. 20, the Palm Harbor House of Beer will host Sixpoint Brewery night, celebrating the Brooklyn outfit's Tesla lager. Among the highlights: A glassware giveaway. Keep-the-pint nights are common at craft beer hangouts like. "Some of these people have better pint-glass collections than we do," said Palm Harbor House of Beer managing partner A.J. Bubolz, whose bar, which has 50 beers on tap, has held dozens of keep-the-pint nights over the years. After Sixpoint night, the bar will give away glassware for Asheville, N.C.'s Highland Brewing Co. on Sept. 17. If you need to restock your cabinet, get there early. 34970 U.S. 19, Palm Harbor; (727) 784-2337, palmharborhob.com.
This gose: Rapp Brewing
The slightly salty, tart wheat beer style known as gose (pronounced goes-uh) is all the rage right now. But a couple of years ago, there were virtually no commercial breweries outside of Leipzig producing the stuff. Greg Rapp, a Seminole-based brewer with a German pedigree — his great grandfather ran a German brewery in the early 20th century — has been recreating forgotten styles from eastern Europe at his popular nanobrewery, Rapp Brewing, for two years now, and his gose might just be its flagship product. It's not just a hit in the tasting room, either: Rapp Gose has won several gold medals in competition, and in February, it was named best gose in the world by RateBeer.com. 10930 Endeavor Way, Seminole. (727) 544-1752, rappbrewing.com.
This saison: Green Bench Brewing Co.
When it opened last fall, Green Bench Brewing Co. had an unfortunate reputation: Amazing space, so-so beer. That was a long time ago. This summer, Green Bench won a pair of gold medals at the U.S. Open Beer Championship in Atlanta, including one in the Wood/Barrel-Aged Pale Beer category for its eminently worthy Saison de Banc Vert. This gold and several other medals were enough to place Green Bench in the Open's Top 10, and earn the young brewery a write-up in Paste magazine. Finally, proof that one of St. Pete's coolest hangouts has a product to match. 1133 Baum Ave N, St. Petersburg. (727) 800-9836, greenbenchbrewing.com.
You're a curious, thirsty tourist: Mad Pub
John's Pass, with its panoply of beach-bum gear and fudge and custard shops, seems like the last place you'd find a great craft-beer bar. But don't sleep on Mad Pub, whose stacked taps include dozens of beers — including locals like Cigar City, Florida Avenue, Big Storm, Pair O'Dice and 3 Daughters — and more in bottles and cans. There's also a fusion tower offering a new, flavor-packed selection each day, such as Sierra Nevada Pale Ale infused with fresh orange and pineapple. And in case you were wondering: Yes, they do sell T-shirts. 12933 Village Blvd., Madeira Beach. facebook.com/madbeachpub.
We can own a piece of the landscape: Tampa Bay Brewing Co.
Brian Fenstermacher joined the Tampa Bay Brewing Co. Mug Club 13 years ago and has never regretted the investment. "I'm here at least once a week," said the owner of Southern Brewing and Winemaking. Mug clubbers pay $100 to join and $35 annually to renew their membership. The fees get you a mug you can decorate any way you want, a T-shirt, a 32-ounce growler filled with the house beer of your choice, two Mug Club pint glasses to take home, a discounted price of $4 per half-liter, special pricing on guest taps, 10 percent off food Sunday through Thursday and a celebratory beer. Your decorated half-liter mug will be hung on the wall, next to your numbered chip, and can be pulled down by the bartender each time you come in. There are only 500 spots in the mug club, but managers say they aren't at capacity yet this year. "I got the glass mug because it's a little larger and I love to see the beer as I'm drinking it," Fenstermacher said. His libation of choice: Old Elephant Foot IPA. "I never considered not being a part of it. It's just a good program." 1600 E Ninth Ave., Ybor City. Ybor City. (813) 247-1422, tampabaybrewingcompany.com.
We just want to relax: Southern Brewing and Winemaking
The beer garden at Southern Brewing and Winemaking is something to behold, especially considering its location amidst a slew of non-descript buildings on Nebraksa Avenue. It can only truly be appreciated Thursday through Saturday, when the tasting room keeps its doors open until 11 p.m. The half-paved, half-gravel area offers plenty of space, beautiful plants and even a stone fire pit to sit around for those three weeks a year when it seems useful. For social drinkers, there a few cornhole boards in the garden, and for those with the munchies, food trucks set up shop in the parking lot on weekends to offer vittles. It's the perfect venue for a relaxing get-together, and it gives you a chance to make your friends try out a local beer instead of giving your hard-earned monies to craft brewers from out-of-state. Southern Brewing and Winemaking, 4500 N Nebraska Ave., Tampa, southernbrewingwinemaking.com.
There's always something going on: 3 Daughters Brewing
The 'Burg's most happening taproom isn't one of those close-to-the-action breweries like Green Bench, Cycle or St. Petersburg Brewing. It's 3 Daughters Brewing, a brewpub in the city's burgeoning Warehouse Arts District. Part bar, part rec room and part party playhouse, 3 Daughters offers a decathlon's worth of bar games, from the standard (oversized Jenga and Connect 4) to the very nice (chess, Ping-Pong, tabletop shuffleboard) to the jaw-dropping (putt putt! basketball!). Sometimes you'll find a concert; on the first weekend of each month, you'll find curious antique hunters meandering over from the monthly Brocante Vintage Market next door. And of course, you'll find beer — not just local favorites like their Bleach Blonde Ale and Summer Storm Stout, but taproom exclusives like Cherry Cream Ale and a barrel-aged 4 Redemption Belgian quadrupel. One thing's for sure — you won't be bored when you get there. 222 22nd St. S, St. Petersburg. (727) 495-6002, 3dbrewing.com.
We can't resist a challenge: The Brass Tap
Sign up for the Brass Tap's Brew Crew, and get ready to reap the rewards. Drink 50 different beers and you get a $10 gift card and a T-shirt. The gift card value goes up if you try 100 beers ($25), 200 ($50) and 300 ($200). And what if you get up to 2,000? At least one drinker at the Brass Tap in Brandon has reached that rarefied territory. But reaching each level of Brew Crew membership is only part of the appeal. "I've seen customers who are light-beer drinkers only — they'll come in and drink their Carlsbergs or Cigar City Hotter Than Helles — then they join the Brew Crew, and within two months, they're trying imperial stouts, porters and sour beers," said Jessica Buchta, marketing manager for the chain of beer bars, which is headquartered in Tampa. For their most devoted customers, the Brass Tap comes up with new perks, like polo and brewer shirts or tickets to a beer festival. At Lowry Park Zoo's recent WaZoo, the Brass Tap let Brew Crew members participate in a raffle whose prizes included a bottle of the highly sought-after Westvleteren 12. "It almost turns into a little brotherhood of all the Brew Crew members," Buchta said. "The love printing out the list (of beers they've tried) and showing off the list. One of our regulars actually brought his list to WaZoo and had it around his neck." The Brass Tap has locations across Tampa Bay; see brasstapbeerbar.com.