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Cheers! Local Craft Breweries Take Tampa By Storm

Ten years ago, the term “craft beer” was an uncommon phrase.

People weren’t piling into local breweries on the weekends to sample limited batches or order drinks that included names like “saison” and “Berliner.” A brewery didn’t make you think of a place to go hang out at or even bring the kids or dog. Breweries were pretty much known for just brewing beer.

Today that’s all changed.

Beer is undoubtedly one of the most popular drinks in the world. If you were lucky enough to pay a visit to Busch Gardens back when they were owned by Anheuser-Busch, you probably got the chance to sit through Beer School if you were over 21. But since Beer School is no longer there (and how about a moment of silence for the beloved Hospitality House?), here is a basic crash course.

Invented more than 5,000 years ago in Babylonia, beer is a carbonated beverage made from four essential ingredients – grain, water, hops, and yeast. Most people know the basic styles of beer such as lagers, pilsners, ambers, etc., but there are actually over 150 styles of beer, with ABVs (alcohol by volume) ranging anywhere from three to (a rare) 68%.

Otherwise known as microbreweries, craft breweries are smaller, locally owned independent breweries. They use the traditional ingredients found in all beer, except they have the opportunity to experiment with a broader range of flavors and styles, often using locally grown ingredients and creating unique infusions.

The most popular styles of craft beer can vary by state. In Florida, the five most popular styles you’ll most likely see on every beer menu are IPAs (India pale ale), sours, high gravity stouts, light lagers, and Florida weisse, a version of Berliner weisse that’s fermented with local fruit.

Even if you’re not you’re a fan of the hoppy beverage, it should come as no surprise that today craft beers are more popular than ever. It’s become common to see extensive lists of locally brewed beers on menus at restaurant. Further, supermarket shelves are lined with rows of colorful beer cans, fresh from the area, boasting catchy names such as Reef Donkey, Florida Cracker, and Grandpa Jack’s Pil’s. Local craft breweries have taken over Tampa, even landing us the Number Six spot on USA Today’s 2018 list of the 10 Best Beer Scenes in the U.S. Out of the nearly 6,300 craft breweries nationwide, about 300 of them live in Florida, putting the sunshine state in the Number 10 spot for most craft breweries out of all 50 states. Over 1.4 million barrels of craft beer are produced here annually. Tampa not only houses some of the best breweries, but we’re also responsible for the start of the brewing industry in Florida. Vicente Ybor and Edward Manrara started the Florida Brewing Company (originally Ybor City Brewing) in 1896, and became the first brewery in the state. Though they closed their doors in 1961, the six-story brick building that originally housed the company still stands as the tallest building in Ybor today.  

Although local craft breweries have been in business for a while, one brewery gave Tampa a head start on evolving into the successful craft beer community it’s become today. Cigar City Brewing is a name you’ll often hear not only locally, but nationally. In April, USA Today put them on the list of the greatest beer destinations in the U.S. Last year Forbes named them as one of the top 15 craft breweries in the country. Opening their doors in 2007, Cigar City engaged the craft beer community early on. They surpassed some of the challenges that came with running a smaller, independent brewery and took a chance at marketing to the craft beer scene nationwide, instead of just locally. Once their most popular beer, Jai Alai IPA, landed on the Wall Street Journal’s list as the Best IPA in America, it was all uphill from there. The interest in local craft beer began to soar.

Today tasting rooms, as the inside bar of a brewery is often called, have become a common alternative to the mainstream bar scene, drawing in diverse crowds who are looking for a laid-back place to enjoy themselves in a community-like setting, whether it be a Wednesday night or a Saturday afternoon. “It’s about the atmosphere,” said Mike Dyer, founder of the Tampa Bay Ale Trail. “You can be a young, modern family and chill and relax a bit with others.”

Another big draw is that the majorities of local breweries are family-friendly and even allow dogs. Setting up shop in residential areas also gives them the opportunity to become a familiar face and become part of a neighborhood, gaining regular customer loyalty.

One thing all independent breweries have in common is making sure they’re keeping the community engaged. You can enjoy beer, cheese, and chocolate pairings at Six Ten Brewing, participate in weekly team trivia nights at Southern Brewing and Winemaking, join a “Man Book Club” at 81Bay Brewing Co., and let the crew at Brew Bus Brewing shuttle you around in their “brew bus” to visit other local breweries in the area.

Some tasting rooms have TVs so you can watch your favorite teams, and most will include board games to keep visitors of any age entertained. On weekends, live music can be heard from most brewery patios. Many of them also offer tours of their production areas, where they’ll educate you on what goes into making the perfect craft brew. The beer scene has become so popular, that “beercations” are now becoming a nationwide trend in which people plan vacations based solely on the idea of visiting that city’s selection of local breweries. With over 80 craft breweries in the area, it’s not surprising to often see Tampa Bay as one of the top spots for beer lovers to visit.

With the growth in the number of local breweries, craft beer enthusiast Mike Dyer had the idea to start the Tampa Bay Ale Trail. Mike spent 15 years working for National Geographic, living in several different prevalent craft beer towns. Understanding the challenges that an independent brewery can face, such as making a name for themself, he wanted a way to help breweries drive more traffic to their locations. He thus began the Tampa Bay Ale Trail in 2017.

Partakers can purchase a “passport” that’s good for one year. It lists all participating breweries. With each visit, your passport gets stamped and you’ll earn incentives such as a free pint of beer or merchandise. The idea is for locals and visitors to explore Tampa’s beer scene and to incentivize repeat business. Starting with 47 breweries, the number jumped to 69 this year. “I thought it would be a cool program for people to be able to visit new places,” Mike said, “and it allows them to support local businesses.”

A main concern that brewery owners tend to hear is that people are afraid to try something new – whether they’re used to drinking macro brewed beer (such as Miller Lite, Budweiser, etc.) or do not liking beer at all. The great part about local craft breweries is the variety of options they offer. A great way to find out what your taste buds prefer is to attend a local beer festival. Every year, typically in early March, the city celebrates Tampa Bay Beer Week. One of the highlights is the Florida Brewers Guild Fest. Open to the public, the event gives guests the chance to sample more than 200 craft beers from over 60 Florida breweries. “Trying craft beers allows people to step out of their comfort zones,” stated Dyer.

An advantage that independent breweries have over macro breweries is that they can push the limits, playing around with various styles and flavors, while catering to the local crowd. Most of all, independent craft brewers brew for a reason – because they really love the art of crafting different beers and are passionate about what they do. “I’m just most proud when consumers recognize our brand as producing true quality world class beers,” said Dave Doble, Westchase resident and owner of Tampa Bay Brewing Company. “That’s a true reward for effort.”

Whether you’re a beer enthusiast or simply just want a relaxed place to spend a weekend afternoon, checking out craft breweries in the area is a great way to support your city and the local businesses that thrive here. And with the way things are going, it doesn’t look like the beer scene here will be slowing down any time soon. As Dave put it, “We’re in the glory days of beer,” he said. “Live Florida. Brew Florida.”

By Brie Gorecki

Restaurant Summaries 2018

WOW thanks the following restaurants for helping to bring you WOW’s Dining Special.

The Grind
(813) 749-7533
Offering handcrafted coffees and teas including organic options. An inviting and unique interior design with a full kitchen for all day breakfast, wraps, sandwiches, salads and desserts.

Tampa Bay Brewing Company
(813) 247-1422
TBBC is Westchase's premier craft brewery and restaurant, offering award winning beer, a creative Florida inspired menu, and a fun, friendly atmosphere.

Marina's Pizza & Pasta
(813) 854-1616
Marinas offers the perfect mix of authentic Italian pizza, pasta, salad, and subs and is working to continually strengthen our ties with the Westchase community.

Grain & Berry Cafe
(813) 818-2929
With fresh fruit bowls, banana splits, parfaits, smoothies, and coffee just to name a few! All of them being a grab and go option – we're your Westchase spot for healthy super-foods!

Southern Bay Bakery
(813) 328-8010
A small batch bakery focusing on bringing you freshly baked pastries, desserts and cakes for the whole family to enjoy for any occasion!

Atlas Gourmet Pizza
(813) 792-0050
Atlas Gourmet Pizza is fresh, fast and gourmet. We sell by the slice or the pie, offering traditional and specialty toppings. Handcrafted salads also available.

The Fountainhead Wine & Beer Bar
(813) 920-4556
The Fountainhead is a casually upscale neighborhood bar where locals and friends can relax over a great glass of wine or craft beer.

(813) 864-6760
Award-winning hand-breaded chicken tenders, made-to-order sandwiches, bowls and salads crafted fresh in store every day, along with homemade sauces and dressings and hand-spun milkshakes.

SoFresh – Westchase
(813) 328-8877
Serving up delicious made-to-order salads, wraps, and bowls from our seasonal kitchen. Always cooked-to-order, always fresh! Healthy just got delicious.

Seafood Exchange Grill & Bar
(813) 501-1005
The hottest new restaurant in Westchase, serving only the freshest seafood and ingredients. Will be featuring the NFL ticket this football season.

(813) 510-4321
Absolutely cravable, daringly zesty, made-to-order chicken fingers, wings, Zalads and more. This is gonna be good!

The restaurant listings represent paid advertisements in conjunction with WOW’s Dining Special. Paid advertising is not an endorsement by WOW, Inc.


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