They love beer and the process of making it.
The first brew for most was made with a beer kit in their kitchen or garage. Often they were inspired by breweries in Tampa, St. Pete or Dunedin.
As with many in the craft beer community, these local independents are a collaborative bunch. They share tips, brewing friendships and business partnerships along with the pale ales, IPAs and stouts.
There's camaraderie in quenching a common thirst while inventing a brew with an unexpected kick you can’t get anywhere else.
That's the draw of the modern-day public house.
Beer sales in the U.S. have declined over the past decade, but the craft beer industry has a better story.
According to the Brewers Association, a nonprofit trade association for small and independent brewers, more than 6,000 breweries operated across the United States in 2017; Florida had 243, which ranked 10th. U.S brewers produced more than 25 million barrels of beer, supporting more than 135,000 jobs. And while overall beer volume sales were down 1 percent in 2017, craft beer sales grew at a rate of 5 percent by volume, reaching 12.7 percent of the U.S. market.
Presently,nine micro craft breweries are scattered through Pasco and Hernando counties.
As with their beers, each is unique. Here’s a taste of what they have to offer:
1. Cotee River Brewing Company, 5760 Main St, New Port Richey. coteeriverbrewing.com
For Bryan Hackman, the significance of his brews is not just in the taste, but in the ties to local landmarks, the history of downtown New Port Richey and the river that winds through it.
Hackman, who works days for an engineering firm, is about four months in as proprietor of the Cotee River Brewing Company.
He and his wife, Kelly, who owns the White Heron Tea and Gift Shop on Grand Boulevard, decided to open a downtown microbrewery after watching a city council meeting on TV.
“We liked the direction the city was going in — all the progress," said Hackman, who kept getting requests for the Irish Red he made for Christmas brunch seven or eight years ago.
Cotee River Brewing is on Main Street in a newly renovated spot that once housed the city’s first grocer. The decor is typically industrial with an open ceiling, steel and wood, including re-purposed beams used to make tables and the bar top. Crab-traps, fishing poles and wooden fish wall plaques lend a nautical feel. Window seating affords a nice view for people watching.
They don't serve food, but patrons are welcome to order in or bring their own. There's live acoustic music on Saturday and Sunday nights.
Hackman brews evenings, when the brewery is open for business, so "you can smell the brew process when you come here."
Among his signatures are a chocolate malt-flavored Blackwater Stout, Market Fresh Wheat Ale and Enchantment Park Porter (named for the original Sims Park) that “boasts a deep roasted flavor with hints of caramel sweetness.”
Add to that River Bend Irish Red flavored with honey, “that gives it a soft, sweeter finish,” as well as a Historic Brew, a Main Street Pale Ale and a variety of guest taps and ciders.
2. Marker 48 Brewing, 12147 Cortez Blvd, Spring Hill. marker48.com
Tina and Maurice Ryman had been saying the same thing to each other for years: “Any day now, someone is going to get smart and open a brewery in this county.”
They traveled the country every summer in a camper, regularly stopping at breweries and seeing how the industry was exploding across the United States. Still, nobody had opened a brewery in Hernando County. So, finally, they did.
Three years in, Marker 48 Brewing is the county’s longest-running brewery. Tina Ryman said she thinks the brewery has cultivated a following in what used to be a craft-beer desert.
“We knew that we would have a lot of educating in Hernando County,” she said during an interview in the brewery’s subterranean barrel room — an oil-changing pit from the building’s past life as an auto shop. “A lot of people didn’t even know what craft beer was, or they thought Blue Moon was craft.”
Since then, she said, the brewery has evolved along with the clientele. A conservative beer list has given way to more adventurous brews, and Marker 48 has built a dedicated and diverse group of regulars.
“You could be sitting next to a 23-year-old (who) just recently graduated college on one side and a 95-year-old who served in World War II on the other side,” she said.
But the most exciting part, she said, has been deepening the brewery’s community involvement. Live music on weekends spotlights regional artists, and a once-a-month market offers local food, coffee and handmade and vintage goods. Earlier this year, the Rymans and employees spent weeks preparing for a charity haunted house, an every-other-year event.
Tina Ryman said it’s all part of building a communal and low-key atmosphere: “It’s probably my favorite compliment when someone says, ‘This makes me feel like I’m in my best friend’s backyard.’”
3. Tidal Brewing Company, 14311 Spring Hill Dr., Spring Hill. www.tidalbrewingfl.com
The old gas station on Spring Hill Road had been empty for three years when David and Maxine Peitzman looked at it.
David, 30, had been brewing beer for nearly a third of his life. When a partner backed out of a plan to open a brewery, Maxine encouraged David to keep pursuing it. The property looked ideal: What had been a convenience store would house the business, and the defunct car wash was big enough for a brew-house. They bought it that day.
After 18 months of late nights and little sleep — the Peitzmans are both schoolteachers in addition to the brewery work — Tidal Brewing Company opened in May. David Peitzman said he wanted to build a “modern, but cozy” place where people could talk and relax, with nautical murals and reclaimed church pews and good beer.
“You can’t put it in the category of a bar,” he said. “The entire atmosphere is just different.”
He also wanted to expand Hernando County’s craft beer scene, he said. There was a time he and Maxine traveled from Hernando Beach to Trinity’s Escape Brewing Company when they wanted a beer. With the older Marker 48 having primed the county for craft beer, he wants Tidal to help grow the base.
So far, he said, it’s worked. The brewery didn’t see a sharp drop after opening-week excitement, and it’s maintained a steady clientele. He hopes to eventually make brewing beer his main job.
“We are happy just making enough money to exist,” he said.
4. Zephryhills Brewing Company, 38530 Fifth Ave., Zephyrhills. zbcbeer.com
Robert Hilferding’s love affair with brewing came fast and fruitfully. He brewed his first beer with a home-brewing kit — a gift from his son — in January of 2013. Soon, he was making 200 gallons a year, the legal maximum allowed per household.
In 2014, he was named Homebrewer of the Year by the American Homebrewers’ Association. The next year, he and his wife sold their screen-printing business to their eldest son and embarked on a three-and-a-half week boat trip.
Then they came home, did the laundry and said, “Now what?”
“So here we are,” Hilferding, 70, said on a recent afternoon as he sat in Zephyrhills Brewing Company. It opened in fall 2016. Surprised as he was at the city's taste for craft beer, he’s delighted by how much that taste has grown.
With some help from his own light lager, he said, he’s turned domestic macro drinkers into craft beer fanatics. And with a beer list that changes three or four times a week, has built a home for east Pasco’s adventurous beer drinkers.
“And I am surprised now at how much my customers are open to unusual beers,” he said. “I’ll make stuff just to see what happens.” A moment later, a regular customer stopped by his table to rave about a roasted pepper brew.
He’s also proud of the community that’s grown around the brewery — with food trucks five nights a week, trivia and other game nights and events for charity that have raised thousands of dollars.
The brewery is a retirement project. He said he and his wife put all the profit back into the business. He has no interest in distributing unless the state passes a law that allows for self-distribution. The business is running smoothly, which means more room for experimenting with new beers, ever pushing toward weirdness while staying accessible.
“What’s left?” he said. “All the fun stuff.”
5. Craft Life Brewing Company, 2624 Land O' Lakes Blvd., Land O' Lakes. facebook.com/CraftLifeBrewing/
For first timers, it’s a gotta-make-a-u-turn-because-you-drove-by-it, hole-in-the-wall place on U.S. 41.
For locals, it’s a place to down a craft brew, listen to home-grown bands and catch up with the guy who coached you in football in the Police Athletic League all those years ago.
That would be Tim Foley, 50. His brews — 22 or so — are listed on the bar chalk board. They include Just a Pineapple (blonde), Dimpled Calf (cream ale), Collision 41 (ale), Cloudy Dayz (IPA) and Reckless 54 (a kumquat-flavored IPA).
"The kids I coached have kids of their own now. They come in here and say, 'Coach, give me the red,'" he said. "I close my eyes, and they're 7 years-old again."
Foley, who recently ditched a 30-year tech services career, now partners with long-time friend, Trinna VanNostrand. She inherited the bar from her parents in 2007, who ran when it was called Sam's Place. His wife, Anita, tends bar.
It was a "biker dive bar,” before VanNostrand decided to take it back and spotlight Foley's home brews.
“We’re trying to get beyond the reputation,” she said, adding that it took a lot of elbow grease to cover over the black and orange decor.
Even with the spruce-up, it's not what you'd expect a brewery would look like, Foley said. More like your standard bar, with a small brew room in the back. A newer upgrade is the fenced beer garden featuring a large outdoor stage.
They're niche leans to live music, VanNostrand said, "but it's really all about the beer."
Other offerings include trivia contests, bar bingo, karaoke and potluck nights.There are food trucks on occasion, and patrons are welcome to order in.
Foley plans to open another location in Hudson in 2019 with a bigger space for brewing
“Craft beer’s been growing, he said. "It's ever-growing. And we’re pushing north."
6. In the Loop Brewing, 3338 Land O' Lakes Blvd, Land O' Lakes, (813) 997-9189. intheloopbrewingcompany.com
Those who want a view with their brew might want to head to In the Loop Brewing Company. It's in a renovated 1903 Spanish-style property and former boutique on U.S. 41 in Land O' Lakes.
The highlight, a 6,500-square-foot, mostly shaded beer garden overlooking Lake Padget.
"It's the perfect place to come and relax," said Dan Klingman, who was taking in the afternoon while sipping on a blonde pale ale. "I do enjoy craft beer, and they measure up well."
In the Loop is a dream still making it's way to fruition for Joe Traina, Peter Abreut and Mark Pizzurro. They started brewing beers in Abreut's garage six years ago and opened the craft brewery in November of 2016.
"We were brewing whatever the federal limit was," Traina said. "We were giving so much away that we decided to throw our lots together and offer something unique."
Along with the beer garden,the brewery features an indoor tasting room, a tap bar that opens to the garden and a stand-alone brewing facility. Construction continues on new restrooms and refurbishing a stairway leading to a second floor special-events space.
All three partners work day jobs, with about 10 to 12 employees on staff.
On tap are 13 house brews and seven to 10 guest brews. Among the house brews: 20-Mile Level Road, named for a local stage coach trail; a West Coast IPA named 25-15-9; and Lutz Junction Kolch, a fundraiser brew made for a charitable event.
Patrons can bring their own food, though there are food trucks on occasion. There's also a chest filled with board games and corn hole set in the beer garden. Dogs are welcome, as well.
7. Big Storm Brewing Company, 2330 Success Dr., Odessa. bigstormbrewery.com
Mike Bishop is an outlier in more ways than one. He was the first to open a micro craft brewery in Pasco County, in an industrial park off State Road 54.
"I started here seven years ago when it was just cows," Bishop said. "It was basically a bar in a garage. There was no air conditioning, but people loved it. They loved the experience of drinking in the brewery."
Unlike those who started brewing batches in their home, Bishop learned the craft by volunteering at Dunedin Brewery and inspired by tours of the Yuengling Brewery in Tampa.
"I liked that they tied manufacturing to a consumer product that brought people together," said Bishop, who started out sweeping floors and cleaning the decks, before making his way to the brew deck."People would come in, order a beer, put down the phone and talk."
Bishop expanded his vision, creating a test brew and bringing in partners and a brew staff early on.
Within a couple years, local distributors picked up the brand, which has expanded from Florida to Texas. Bishop moved Odessa brewery to a larger air-conditioned facility in the same industrial park and opened two facilities — a manufacturing plant, tap room (with food) and walk-up coffee and creamery in Clearwater, and new tap room in Cape Coral.
Big Storm brews roughly 10,000 barrels a year, with specialty tap beers brewed at the Odessa location. Brewers have racked up a slew of award winners, including an Oktoberfest Märzen Lager, named Best in Show for 2016 in Pepin Distributors' Best Florida Beer Contest.\
Other core selections include Wavemaker amber ale, Arcus Southern Pale Ale, Bay Beer Light Lager, Palm Bender Gulf Coast IPA and Tropic Pleasure Pale Ale.
Special events include trivia nights, brewers bingo and an annual Octoberfest celebration. Customers can bring food or order in, and plans are in the works to open a kitchen in 2019.
For patrons like Zack Koczanski, who typically drinks scotch, the beer is pretty good, but it's all about the atmosphere.
"When you go to a brewery like this, there's a connection with the people that are sitting around the bar," he said, as he sipped on a pint on a recent afternoon, alongside his son, Matt. "You start up a conversation and just enjoy the people."
8. Escape Brewing Company, 9945 Trinity Blvd #108, Trinity. escapebrewingcompany.com
It was frugality that got longtime friends Matt Thompson and John McGregor into the beer-making hobby when they were college roommates at Florida State.
"Well, I wouldn't call it beer," McGregor said. "But there was alcohol in it."
The two kept at it after graduation, brewing beer in one or the other's garage even after they joined the corporate world, and McGregor, 44, married Thompson's sister.
Then one day, "probably after too many beers," Thompson, 43, said, the two decided to quit their sales jobs. In September of 2014, they opened a brewery a few miles from where they grew up.
Escape Brewery is sandwiched between a jeweler and a brick-oven pizzeria, in a storefront mini-mall in Trinity. The 1,200-square-foot space features a taproom and brew space with a three-barrel brew system.
The first year, they brewed 200 barrels. This year, they figure it will be 1,200 to 1,300 with the help of a small brew crew, including Thompson's dad, Sam, a retired general contractor who helped with the brewery build out.
Their innovative recipes often are inspired by a night out for dinner, McGregor said. "We might try a desert that we like and think, 'How can we get that into our beer?"
On tap on any given day are 14 house beers and about 10 guest taps. Their flagship, The Other West Coast, earned gold for IPA in the 2016 and 2018 Best Florida Beer Contests sponsored by Pepin Distributors. Other house brews include Rejuvenation Pale Ale, Chocolate Milky Love Stout is that one beer? and Goofy Footed Wheat Stout, a silver-award winner in the 2018 Great American Beer Festival.
Escape offers live music on Saturdays. They don't serve food, but encourage patrons to order in. They sponsor charity events, including a Corn Hole Tournament on Dec. 9 to benefit Toys for Tots. They also host annual festivals celebrating the release of the Imperial IPA, Seeds of Hope, and a "more ominous anniversary, celebrating the release of Seeds of Doubt Imperial stout."
9. Infusion Brewing Company, 7813 Mitchell Blvd., Suite 103, Trinity. facebook.com/InfusionBrewingCo
What started out as a hobby for James Bishop turned into family affair, then a business partnership when his brother-in-law, Andy Kernaghan, got into the mix.
"At family parties I'd break out the brew. I served a cream ale, one time, and that kind of got Andy in," said Bishop.
The two did their share of brewery hopping in the Tampa Bay area and thought about starting their own.
"Most (of the breweries) were high-end," Bishop said. "Then the concept of the nano-brewery came in. We figured we could do that because we wouldn't need investors."
They pooled their money and their sweat, and in January of 2017, opened Infusion Brewing in a storefront in Trinity.
It's a low-budget operation, Bishop said: "We built the bar and the tables out of pallets and 2-by-4s. The bar top was made from leftover tile from my house."
And the flights, for sampling different brews, are made out of plastic piping.
Infusion is off the beaten path, but Paul Roberts, who is in the process of opening a new a brewery called Liquid Garage, found it right away.
"I was their first customer. That's my dollar bill hanging on the wall," he said while enjoying a drink on a recent Saturday.
Among their signature brews are: a Double Jalapeno IPA; a peanut butter porter called, Skiffy Jippy; and a mango wheat ale called, Man, Go Try This One! There's also a variety of guest taps and ciders along with free popcorn.
Infusion hosts a monthly Bottle Share and Jeep Peep for Jeep owners. There's an annual .0005k held on New Year's Day, complete with race bibs.
"It's a 16.2 foot race, from one pole to another," said Kernaghan. "But you have to stop halfway and drink a beer in between."