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Tampa Bay beer and breweries history told in documentary

“Tampa Beer: Crafting the Bay” is available on iTunes, Amazon Prime and other streaming outlets.
Draft beer poured at 3 Daughters Brewing in St. Petersburg. The brewery is among those featured in the documentary “Tampa Beer: Crafting the Bay,” which tells the story of the local craft beer industry.
Draft beer poured at 3 Daughters Brewing in St. Petersburg. The brewery is among those featured in the documentary “Tampa Beer: Crafting the Bay,” which tells the story of the local craft beer industry. [ Times (2019) ]
Published Oct. 24|Updated Oct. 24

ST. PETERSBURG ― Like many, James Blankenfeld relocated to Florida in part for its beaches and weather.

Days after moving to St. Petersburg in 2015, he fell in love with another of Tampa Bay’s offerings.

“I couldn’t believe what a great local craft beer industry there was here,” said Blankenfeld, 35. “There were so many options.”

Over the next few years, he visited local breweries, learned how each beer was made and educated himself on the history of the industry.

Then, in 2020, while sipping a beer at Darwin Brewing Company in Bradenton, the filmmaker had an idea.

“I realized this is a story that others would want to know,” Blankenfeld said. “Our craft beer industry is special.”

He shot a documentary.

Now, “Tampa Beer: Crafting the Bay” is available on iTunes, Amazon Prime and other streaming outlets.

The documentary tells the full story of local craft beer, from the first brewery to the growth of the modern industry.

Blankenfeld interviews historians, tours breweries and profiles the personalities behind the beers.

“There are around 100 breweries combined on both sides of the bay,” said Tyler Martinolich, the Hillsborough County film commissioner. “We are an area known for its unique local beers. Craft beer tourism is real. People will travel to experience a community’s beer.”

That’s why Visit Tampa Bay and Martinolich’s Film Tampa Bay each kicked in $10,000 toward the documentary’s budget.

“It is not a film incentive,” Martinolich said. “It was a sponsorship to market our area’s craft beer to the world. We’ve been looking for ways to market it. We’ve tried to come up with a series or a reality show focusing on our amazing breweries. He did it right.”

The documentary’s slow-motion footage of beaches and cities showcases the area. But what stands out, Martinolich said, is the slow-motion footage of beers being poured and the brewing process.

“You can taste the beer as you watch,” he said. “He successfully tells not only the history of brewing in the area and highlights today’s breweries, but makes it look interesting, beautiful and sexy.”

The sponsorship, Blankenfeld said, was of course negotiated over a beer.

“We met at the old Brew Bus building, which is now Angry Chair Brewing,” he said. “It felt so fitting to discuss a local craft beer documentary while enjoying a local craft beer.”

James Blankenfeld made the documentary “Tampa Beer: Crafting the Bay," which tells the story of the local craft beer industry.
James Blankenfeld made the documentary “Tampa Beer: Crafting the Bay," which tells the story of the local craft beer industry. [ Courtesy of Shauna and Jordon Photography ]
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Blankenfeld’s love of craft beer dates to his days as a Brooklyn-based filmmaker.

“My friends and I used to love to go to the Brooklyn Brewery,” he said. “It was one subway stop away and what they had was so much different than Bud Light, Miller Lite, Coors Light, all the stuff that they sell in stores.”

But it was also the only brewery nearby.

“I didn’t think cities had craft beer options,” Blankenfeld said. “I figured each had their one. But it was different back then. Craft beer wasn’t as popular as it is now. People looked at you weird when you mentioned drinking a craft beer. Now, every city has options.”

Tampa Bay was ahead of its time, he said.

A few days after moving to the area, Blankenfeld and his wife went out for lunch in St. Petersburg. He asked if the restaurant had a craft beer.

“They read off a long list of options,” he said. “That’s when I realized that craft beer was a real thing here. And then it just kept growing.”

Breweries featured in the documentary include Cigar City Brewing, 3 Daughters Brewing, Green Bench Brewing Company, 7venth Sun Brewery and Coppertail Brewing Co.

But his favorite to visit was the The Florida Brewing Company, where beer has not been made in decades. Today, the 126-year-old 50,000-square-foot Ybor City brewery building is home to the Swope, Rodante law firm.

Managing partner Dale Swope restored the building when he purchased it in 1999, learned the history of the brewery that began making beer in the 1890s and taught Blankenfeld everything that he knows.

“The fact that you can still come to Tampa and see its first brewery is amazing,” Blankenfeld said. “It shows that craft beer isn’t new to this area. It is a part of our history.”

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