In just a few short years, Florida—with Tampa Bay as the epicenter—has seen explosive growth and expansion in brewing, accompanied by exciting new restaurants, cultural events and a populace that is increasingly demanding local quality.
Tampa Bay is generally considered the collective of Hillsborough County (which includes Tampa) and Pinellas County (St. Petersburg and Clearwater), as well as Manatee, Sarasota and Pasco counties. Just in this geographical area there are more than 40 breweries and brewpubs operating or in planning. No longer known as “God’s Waiting Room,” (because of its heavy retiree population) the Bay Area is home to entrepreneurs, students, families and—of course—some of the most beautiful beaches in the country.
There is no way to visit and truly appreciate every brewery in the Tampa Bay area in a single weekend. One of the features of the region is the bay, of course, but that also presents the challenge of bridges and distances between breweries, bars and restaurants. It is always advisable to plan your visit ahead and make sure the breweries will be open on the dates and times you plan on visiting. You also might consider visiting at the beginning of March, when Tampa Bay Beer Week is held, featuring the best beers from the area.
Your first stop should be Rapp Brewing (10930 Endeavour Way, Seminole) in Pinellas County. It’s not really near anything else, but that’s OK. You simply cannot pass up the award-winning beers that earned owner/head brewer Greg Rapp a solid reputation. Rapp’s signature beer is the tart gose that is perfectly balanced by a hint of the salt indicative of the style.
Tucked away in northern Pinellas County, Dunedin is home to Florida’s oldest microbrewery Dunedin Brewery (937 Douglas Ave., Dunedin). Family owned and operated since 1996 by the Bryant clan, this cornerstone of Florida breweries is also home to some great live music. On any given Friday night, talented musicians will be found playing funk, soul, jazz or outright rock ’n’ roll. Be sure to quench your thirst with one of its signature beers, like the apricot peach ale or the local honey strong ale, brewed with Florida orange blossom honey. Right around the corner is one of Florida’s newest and most exciting breweries, 7venth Sun (1012 Broadway, Dunedin; 7venthsun.com). Often touted as one of the state’s best, this tiny storefront brewery and tasting room offers something for every palate. From the Midnight Moonlight Berliner to the kick-your-teeth-in Brett Saison Extreme, you can’t go wrong with any of the choices on the board.
Downtown Dunedin has plenty of restaurants to choose from, but make a point to stop by the Dunedin Smokehouse (471 Main St., Dunedin) and enjoy its pit-perfect barbecue with one of several local beers on draft.
In the morning, begin your journey toward southern Pinellas County. Head to downtown St. Petersburg and enjoy the Saturday Morning Market (230 1st St. SE, St. Petersburg). Farm-fresh produce, local artists, musicians and specialty shops all display their wares and offer some of the local flavor. Then it’s just a few minutes away to your first beer of the day at Green Bench Brewing (1133 Baum Ave. North, St. Petersburg). If it is available, the Surrealist IPA is a must-try. This kettle-soured IPA (yes, you read that right) has everything you love about both styles coming together in a way you never thought possible. Dali himself would be impressed! While reveling in your beer, you can also play a round or two of cornhole or giant Jenga on the patio and lawn area outside. Feeling hungry? Run across the street and pick up a mouth-watering Cuban sandwich from Bodega (1120 Central Ave., St. Petersburg) with a side of rice and beans and some sweet plantains. Bring the food back to the brewery to enjoy with a Saison de Banc Vert, a traditional farmhouse ale fermented in an oak foeder.
Moving back into downtown, the next stop is St. Pete Brewing Co. (544 1st Ave. N., St. Petersburg). Be sure to get a taste of the Goliath Grouper Imperial Stout. It is big, roasty and bold. For a lighter offering, try the Evacuation Route ESB, a traditional English ale with great maltiness and considerably lower ABV. Later, head around the corner to Cycle Brewing (534 Central Ave., St. Petersburg), one of the brewpubs profiled on page 48.
For dinner, your options in downtown St. Pete are abundant. There is something for everyone, from pizza to sushi and everything in-between. Z-Grille (104 2nd St. S., St.St. Petersburg) offers some of St. Pete’s best dishes, and an impressive cocktail, wine and beer selection. Afterward, you are walking distance to The Ale & the Witch (111 2nd Ave. NE, St. Petersburg), the standard by which all beer bars in Tampa Bay are measured. With live music every night, no cover charge, a beer-savvy staff and 32 beers on tap, you simply can’t find a better way to wrap up your evening.
You were wise to book a later flight home, because there is still a lot to do! First is lunch across the bridge at the Tampa Bay Brewing Co. (1600 E. 8th Ave, Tampa). One of the oldest breweries in the state and without question one of the biggest drivers of the industry here, this family-run business offers not only award-winning beer, but some incredible food as well. Many of the dishes are prepared with house beers, and every item on the menu has a suggested pairing with one of the beers brewed only yards away.
Finally, wrap up your trip at the epicenter of Florida beer: Cigar City Brewing (3924 W. Spruce St., Tampa). Though it opened only about five years ago, there is no overstating the importance of this brewery and its impact on beer growth in the state. The flagship beers, Jai Alai IPA and Maduro Brown Ale, are highly regarded by most beer drinkers and are found in many Tampa Bay bars and restaurants nowadays. But a visit to the tasting room is a must, where on any given afternoon you will find special batches from head brewer Wayne Wambles and his brewing team. From the Stiftung Berliner Weisse to the hugely popular Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout, your choices will always be difficult, but never wrong.
This story appears in the January 2015 issue of All About Beer Magazine. Click here to subscribe.