n January 2012, several prominent figures in the local beer scene let an idea begin fermenting. Why not start a celebration of beer in Tampa Bay, seen by many as one of the nation's up-and-coming beer-loving destinations? Tampa Bay Beer Week was soon born and blossomed into nearly 100 events across the bay area.
It was a bigger success than anyone expected. The collaboration between various players — commercial brewers, retailers, distributors, restaurateurs and even home brewers — turned Tampa Bay into a beer oasis in a state once nearly devoid of good craft beer. Attendance at some events, like Cigar City Brewing's Hunahpu's Day, measured in the thousands.
One year and many, many beers later, Tampa Bay Beer Week is back, with an event list that is intimidatingly long — already more than double the number of 2012.
From Saturday through March 10 you'll find tap takeovers, where breweries from around the country fill the taps of local bars with their signature brews, generally with a representative in attendance to answer questions and pass out swag. You'll find full dinners with food and beer pairings. You'll find home-brewing demonstrations, large-scale beer festivals, limited-release beer tastings, awards ceremonies and brewery tours.
There were more than 200 events scheduled by early this week, and more pop up by the day. Even the most discerning beer geek is guaranteed to have trouble deciding which to attend.
For a full list of events, see tampabaybeerweek.com.
Big beer events can be intimidating, and with so many options, it's tough to know where to start. Consider getting your feet wet at the Florida Brewers Guild Beerfest from 2 to 6 p.m. Saturday ($30 in advance) at Ybor City's Centennial Park. It'll feature more than 40 Florida breweries. There's also Bands, Brew & BBQ from noon to 5:30 p.m. Sunday at Busch Gardens, featuring the Goo Goo Dolls, food from local restaurants and unlimited samples of more than 100 beers. Wristbands are $30 on top of park admission.
On March 9, 97X is hosting its Beer in the Park from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. ($25 in advance) at Hyde Park Village, with music, food from local restaurants and more than 80 beers to sample. A portion of ticket sales go to the Joshua House Foundation.
Close out the week at St. Petersburg's Ale & the Witch for the Grand Finale from 4 to 8 p.m. March 10. It offers 32 taps of American craft beer at $4 a pint.
FOR THE LOCALLY MINDED
Think globally but drink locally at Willard's Tap House in Largo — it's pouring 40 taps of nothing but local beer for the "All Local, All 40, All Week" event Saturday through March 10. Bay area Brass Taps will also hold "support local" events nightly, tapping a new Florida brew at 7 p.m. each day Saturday through March 10. You can also indulge in a tour and tasting at Three Palms Brewing from 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday. Ten bucks gets you a glass to keep, a tour, and two pints of the house brew of your choice.
Giving the Color Run and Tough Mudder a run for the money are Beer Dash 5Ks on Tuesday, Wednesday and March 7 at Safety Harbor's Copperheads Taphouse, Tampa's Irish31 and Dunedin House of Beer, respectively. Registration is $10 in advance and includes a T-shirt and two beers — presumably after the run.
Beer and food pairings are a chic way to enjoy both, and many Beer Week events are based on this premise.
The Renaissance Vinoy Resort in downtown St. Pete will host a Florida Beer Company Beer Pairing Brunch at noon Sunday, featuring beer samples, infusions, cocktails and pairings (for info, email [email protected]). Dunedin Smokehouse is throwing a Dunedin Brewery/Cigar City/7venth Sun Beer Dinner at 7 p.m. Wednesday, featuring six courses paired with beers from each of the breweries, along with the release of their three-way collaboration, Subtropical Farmhouse Ale. For ticket info, call (727) 736-2227.
Mr. Dunderbak's in Tampa will hold a Sour Beer Ice Cream Social from 7:30 to 9 p.m. Wednesday ($25), featuring sour beer pairings with ice cream and crepes. At 7 p.m. March 7, the Whole Planet Foundation Beer Dinner at Whole Foods, 1548 N Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa, will feature beers from Cigar City Brewing paired with a four-course dinner prepared by the Whole Foods chefs. Proceeds benefit the Whole Planet Foundation.
For the casual foodie, check out Firkins & Food Trucks from 7 p.m. to midnight March 8 at Largo's Barley Mow Brewing ($35). Food served from local food trucks can be washed down with a variety of rare and one-off releases from local breweries, served straight from the cask. Proceeds go to Dunedin Doggie Rescue.
The Refinery, home to James Beard Award finalist Greg Baker, will host several events next week, including Punch and Pie from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, featuring fruit-flavored beers and Moo-Hoo Chocolate Milk Stout Pie; and a Cigar City Brewery Menu Pairing from 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, matching five beers with the restaurant's weekly menu. For details, call (813) 237-2000.
You're a diehard, sometimes it might seem like you've tried everything. Fortunately, Beer Week offers rare, premium and complex beers that will put your palate to the test.
Check out Leukens Liquors Cellar Release in Dunedin from 5 to 7 p.m. Monday, when bottles of very limited and extremely rare beers will be available for purchase. Think the 2011 and 2012 releases of Cigar City's Marshal Zhukov's Imperial Stout, Dogfish Head 120-minute IPA, Bell's Hopslam and Sam Adams Utopia (only three bottles of which will be available). Cigar City brewmaster Wayne Wambles will answer questions.
Rapp Brewing's very rare (and very strong) OMG will be available in limited quantities at the brewery during Cigars and OMG (6 to 10 p.m. Monday; cigar not included). Cycle Brewing will also be serving some sought-after heavy hitters at Peg's Cantina during its Barrel-Aged Beer Tapping at noon March 8. If you like the barrel-aged stuff, make sure to stop by the Independent in Tampa for the Barrel-Aged Beer and Cigar Pairing (5 to 9 p.m. March 8; $20). Admission includes a cigar from Vincent & Tampa Cigar Co. and samples of three "unique barrel-aged beers," including Harviestoun Ola Dubh Special 12 Reserve — on draft!
The week's biggest event, on March 9, is Hunahpu's Day at Cigar City Brewing in Tampa. Lines to snag a bottle of the brewery's famed Hunahpu's Imperial Stout will start at 7:30 a.m. Gates open at 7:50 a.m., with beer from Cigar City and other local breweries pouring at 9 a.m. This all-day event will feature music, food, and lots and lots of serious beer. Admission is free. Bottles of Hunaphu's will be $20, but you need a wristband to purchase one. Supply is limited. For details, go to cigarcitybrewing.com.
GET YOUR HANDS-ON
One of the best ways to enjoy beer is to brew it yourself. Sampling the wares of other home brewers doesn't hurt either. For a little bit of both, head to Booth's Brewing in Tampa for the Beer Rally from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, featuring home brewing classes, demonstrations and samples from local home brewers. Meet up with one of Florida's largest home brew clubs Tuesday at Mr. Dunderbak's during the Tampa Bay BEERS meeting from 7:30 to 11 p.m. A master brewer will be the guest speaker.
Meanwhile, leftover bottles of hundreds of home brews submitted to the Best Florida Beer Championship will be waiting for the Best Florida Beer Championship Leftover Party at Tampa's Southern Brewing (7 to 11 p.m. March 8; $10). It's a great way to sample some of the stuff being brewed in kitchens, garages and back yards across Florida.
Pale ales, lagers and stouts are great, but if you want to explore the outer limits of craft brewing, enter the Flight Club challenge Saturday at St. Pete's Crum's Bar and Grill. For $50, you get music, appetizers and samples of all 65 beers on tap. The first three people to finish win a prize, though it's unclear if they'll also provide a bathtub to pass out in.
For bold and exotic flavors, stop by St. Pete's Empouria for its Archaic Ale Night at 6 p.m. Tuesday, when a representative from beer importer B. United will be on hand to talk shop and serve samples of six rare and aged beers that have been cellaring upward of nine years, including Birra del Borgo's Caos wild ale.
Pucker up for the Sour Festival at Palm Harbor's Lagerhaus at 6 p.m. Tuesday. It'll feature sours brewed by Lagerhaus as well as Rapp Brewing, with the brewmasters from both in attendance. Finish it all up at Ybor City's New World Brewery during the Second Annual Very Glorious Sour Beer Breakfast at noon March 9 ($35). It features breakfast, snacks and a variety of sour beers to sample.
Times correspondent Justin Grant can be reached at [email protected]