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Brew with a view: Craft beer fuels Tampa tourism

TAMPA — Before he became an impresario of the local craft beer scene, before he founded Cigar City Brewing, Joey Redner made sure that wherever he traveled he knew where all the microbreweries were.

"You want to experience things you can't have back home," he said. "That's the fun of it."

Beer tourism is an old concept that has come roaring back in recent years. In fact, craft beer has become a thing, especially in the bay area.

Beer is also part of Tampa's latest tourism strategy.

Visit Tampa Bay, Hillsborough County's tourism marketing arm, will launch a summer marketing campaign in June aimed at attracting craft beer drinkers to the center of Florida brewing culture.

The "Baycrafted" campaign will soon launch with digital and print advertising, spots on traditional radio and Pandora Internet radio, a website (baycrafted.com) and a late summer tour that will send Tampa's top brewers around the state to ply enthusiasts with the city's liquid assets.

Unlike other Florida tourist spots, the Tampa-Hillsborough region doesn't have beautiful beaches. So the area's strategy is to leverage what it does have: a cultural heritage, urban nightlife, attractions like Busch Gardens and the Florida Aquarium and now its craft beer movement.

Last year Tampa was ranked the No. 2 "Best Beer Town" in America by USA Today's unscientific online poll. Grand Rapids, Mich., was No. 1.

Patrick Harrison, the vice president of marketing and communication for Visit Tampa Bay, said the craft beer community is eager to sample new brews and will travel to do so.

All Tampa has to do is get the word out.

"You just have to them it's here," he said. "You tell them you've got great breweries and that USA Today rates us as the No. 2 beer city after Grand Rapids — and who wants to go to Grand Rapids, Michigan?"

Well, actually, craft beer enthusiasts would do that, said Redner, the CEO of Cigar City Brewing of Tampa.

That's because craft beer is a local phenomenon. Fans have to visit those cities to sample native beers. They document their experiences on social media, even posting photos of each beer they taste on Instagram.

"If you're coming from upstate New York, you might have a nice selection of craft beers there," Redner said. "But you can't get Cigar City Brewing up there. You can't get 7venth Sun Brewery (Dunedin). You can't get Green Bench Brewing Co. (St. Petersburg) or Tampa Bay Brewing Company (Ybor City).

"This gives them the chance to see what's down here and then take some back to share with friends back home."

They won't have to go far this summer: Visit Tampa Bay's research shows that its primary source of summer visitors is in-state residents who can drive in from Orlando and Miami. Tampa markets to both tourists and locals.

The research also shows that craft beer fans fall under the coveted millennial demographic that demands authentic experiences when they travel.

"We found that they tend to be more male," Harrison said. "The beard ratios increase substantially with the craft beer crowd. It's more of that hipstery, young millenial type. Late 20s, early 30s.

"They want to hang out and experience things as a group and travel together. They love to be ambassadors. They'll sit there and talk about craft beer and talk about how many they've tried and try as many as they can."

Craft beer is also a great way to introduce them to everything else Tampa has to offer, Harrison said, like the restaurant revolution that has grown alongside the burgeoning beer scene.

"Then when they're here they'll discover Fodder & Shine and Rooster & the Till and then Ulele and our native food scene," he said, naming some of Tampa's newest and most celebrated restaurants.

That point — that tourists place a high value on new food experiences — was also made last week by Erik Wolf, executive director of the World Food Travel Association, in an address to the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce.

''The trick,'' Wolf said, is ''making each one a memory, not a meal.''

For Tampa, slogans like "When it rains, we pour," and "Brew with a view" and "craft culture" won't attract families. So the beer tourism effort is the adult/millennial complement to the family-friendly marketing campaign called "Built for Summer."

Those are the latest variations of the "Unlock Tampa Bay" brand that Visit Tampa Bay rolled out in 2013, designed to encourage visitors to "unlock" the area's urban assets and experiences.

It was Tampa's first-ever tourism brand. But all brands change, Harrison said, and this year the goal was to broaden the region's appeal to families while also focusing on the specific interests of craft beer drinkers.

"The brand is going to be in a continual evolution," he said.

Contact Jamal Thalji at thalji@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3404. Follow @jthalji.

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