One of Tampa Bay’s biggest craft breweries is expanding its reach south of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
Big Storm Brewing, based in Clearwater, has purchased Darwin Brewing, an award-winning brewery and taproom in Bradenton.
Big Storm co-owner L.J. Govoni said the company hopes to expand the Darwin brand throughout Florida while keeping it “hyper-local,” but also to bring the brewery’s focus back to its culinary roots. Darwin started out as part of Darwin’s on 4th, a popular Peruvian restaurant that closed in 2015, and Big Storm is looking for Manatee County locations to establish a new restaurant and taproom.
“To have and control and grow something that was born in that community is always so impactful and positive,” Govoni said. “We’re taking the time to look for a facility that fits what we think is the vision for Darwin, which is what they originally did: Chef-inspired beers that match greatly with paired food.”
Discussions between Big Storm and Darwin date back years, Govoni said, but the “stress and pressure” of the pandemic pushed Darwin’s owners to reach out about closing a deal. Govoni declined to say how much Big Storm paid.
Big Storm has purchased smaller breweries before, including Fat Point Brewing and Cape Coral Brewing in 2017. The company will keep the Darwin brand alive, Govoni said, brewing its core beers and keeping it on tap at its Clearwater brewery. Darwin’s statewide availability may expand as Big Storm absorbs Darwin’s distribution network into its own.
“If we can plug in and get a product out there under that brand, whoever the distributor is, we’ll definitely do that,” Govoni said. “There’s no point buying a brand and not growing them.”
The purchase is Big Storm’s latest big move in the Tampa Bay craft beverage industry. In 2022, the brewery plans to open an 11,000-square-foot taproom and restaurant in the former Hamburger Mary’s location in Ybor City. When it opens, likely next spring, it will be Big Storm’s fifth taproom in the state.
Big Storm is also in the midst of a major expansion of its Clearwater distillery, which produces vodka, rum and malt whiskey.
“Assuming we can sell the product, it sets us up to be one of the larger craft distilleries at minimum in the Southeast, if not the East Coast,” Govoni said.
Govoni said it could be a year or more before Darwin finds a new “forever home” in the Bradenton area. But in the meantime, with Big Storm’s larger production capacity, he believes Darwin fans should still be able to find it on tap at local bars.
“Right now, I just want to make sure we have enough beer to keep and grow those tap handles in Bradenton and Sarasota,” he said.