Advertisement
  1. Bars & Breweries

Tampa Bay area beer festivals — cheers, Hunahpu's Day — keep growing

Cajun Cafe on the Bayou’s 10th annual craft beer festival, held in October, had an intimate atmosphere that’s often lost at larger events.
Published Nov. 11, 2015

Quality beer festivals are nothing new in the Tampa Bay area. For years, we've sipped an endless variety of brews in parks, museums and overflowing brewery parking lots. Hunahpu's Day at Cigar City is one of the most popular beer festivals in the country, and the fall and spring beer festivals at Pinellas Park's Cajun Café on the Bayou are widely considered to be among the beer fests in the Southeast.

And 2015 might just be the year that propelled Tampa Bay into the big leagues.

Let's talk about The Festival. Which? Simply, boldly: The Festival — an annual get together thrown by Shelton Brothers, the Massachusetts-based distributor responsible for bringing some of Europe's best beers to the States, as well as distributing a wide range of high-end domestic brews. It changes locations every year. Last year it was held in Los Angeles; last month, St. Petersburg. It's a big deal.

The whys and hows of Shelton Brothers picking St. Pete for this year's festival are varied, but a little prodding from Tarpon Springs' Saint Somewhere Brewing and St. Petersburg's Green Bench Brewing certainly didn't hurt. Green Bench is a new Shelton Brothers client, while Saint Somewhere has had a relationship with the bros for years. However it happened, landing the Shelton Brothers Festival is a significant achievement: a moment of growth for our local beer community.

The Festival was a big success, filling the Coliseum with packed crowds for three separate sessions, making it one of the biggest beer festivals in the area to date. However, a new event — this weekend's Big Tampa Beerfest — aims to be even bigger, holding two sessions in 100,000 square feet of the Tampa Convention Center.

While the beer list at the Big Tampa Beerfest isn't filled with the rarities and special releases that dominated the Shelton Brothers Festival, it does feature a tremendous variety of selections from breweries across the country, including more than a few locals and other Florida breweries. There will be more than 250 beers, with proceeds benefitting Animal Rescue Partners.

I'm curious to see attendance figures for the first year of what will hopefully be a major annual beer festival. In terms of scale, it's new territory; the only thing I can compare it with would be the Great American Beer Festival sessions held in the Colorado Convention Center. This one can't possibly be anywhere near the size of that one, but it could be a great deal bigger than the festivals we're used to. If it's a success, it would prove that Tampa Bay is a serious player in the greater U.S. beer scene.

Between these events was the Cajun Café Fall Festival, which has been held annually at the Pinellas Park restaurant for the past nine years. Owner Paul Unwin started out by trying to emulate the small-scale festivals that he enjoyed in his native England, but it wasn't until the fourth year that attendance really picked up.

Since then, the Cajun Café festivals have become a staple in the local beer scene, with a capped attendance figure guaranteeing low or no wait times for beer, small crowds, and an intimate atmosphere that's often lost at larger events. Its popularity is such that the fall festival spawned a spring festival, which then spawned a sour and wild ale festival in the summer, as well as a cider and mead festival.

Festivals play a big role in developing a local beer culture, and we've demonstrated there's a big market for high-profile beer events here. If this year's pace keeps up, beer drinkers around the country will soon talk about Tampa Bay in the same breath as Portland, San Diego, Asheville or Denver. And why not — we've certainly got the festival credentials.

jg@saintbeat.com @WordsWithJG.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Oct. 10• Arts & Entertainment
    Wedge Cut American Wheat Ale, Cigar City Brewing Justin Grant  | tbt*
    The Tampa brewery scores again with the limited-release Wedge Cut. | Craft beer of the week
  2. 7th + Grove is split into two discrete spaces. The corner space is a bright and upbeat restaurant. Next door is the club. Courtesy of Ashley Canay and Ashley Meyer
    With Southern cuisine, strong cocktails and DJ-led events, the club and restaurant lives up to its motto: “Eat. Vibe. Flourish.” | Bar review
  3. Ask About Me Amber Ale, Green Bench Brewing Co. Justin Grant
    Ask Me About Amber Ale has the malt-forward flavor of a reliable classic. | Local craft beer of the week
  4. Kierstyn Breaux pours some old fashioneds she helped craft as part of the PBR Whiskey launch event in Tampa on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019. Daniel Figueroa IV
    From crafting cocktails with the spirit to designing the label, Tampa locals have been involved in launching the legendary brewery’s first spirit.
  5. Craft rum distillery, 82 West Distilling, opened a few months ago in Seminole Heights and recently celebrated its grand opening with neighbor Wine Bar Cafe on Saturday (Oct. 27). Special to the Times | 82 West Distilling MONIQUE WELCH  |  Courtesy of 82 West Distilling
    Tasting laws limit drinkers to two “samples,” but the Seminole Heights’ venue uses its rums to punch up craft cocktails. | Bar review
  6. Zongo IPA Tampa Bay Brewing Company
    The hazy New England-style IPA is on tap at the brewery’s tasting rooms in Ybor City and Westchase. | Craft beer of the week
  7. Sep. 15• Bars & Breweries
    Noble Crust may turn heads as an acclaimed pizza restaurant, but it also holds water as a celebrated brunch destination with a range of midday cocktails and drink buckets. Photo by Noble Crust
    Some favorite spots to catch a buzz with bacon.
  8. Kozuba and B Square vodkas. B Square is a brand produced by Kozuba and Sons. xxxxx
    Kozuba and Sons, Florida Cane and St. Petersburg Distillery make the list.
  9. Sour Beers Tampa Bay Times
    Sour beers can be found all over, and have sparked new trends enthusing brewers and connoisseurs alike.
  10. Devon Kreps, owner of 7venth Sun, pictured in August in Dunedin. ALLIE GOULDING  |  Tampa Bay Times
    These three women are part of a growing industry in Tampa Bay.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement