Tampa Bay has become a beer-lover’s destination
Craft beer is booming across America. All over the country, creative brewers are coming up with unique and new beer recipes that have created some memorable suds. Yet perhaps nowhere in the country is as blessed with great breweries as the Tampa Bay area.
Simply put, craft beer is everywhere in the Tampa Bay area, and with National Beer Day just around the corner it’s as good a time as any to celebrate this boom.
Ask around and there will be a wide range of opinions as to why craft beer has become such a big part of Tampa Bay’s DNA. Tourism, transplants who worked as brewers before moving to the area, demand, and people being inspired by the level of competition are all cited as possible reasons, but in reality there is likely not a single answer.
Great beer is such an integral part of living in Tampa Bay that growlers are simply a fixture of most kitchens, always ready for that next trip to the nearest taproom. People can buy maps and guides of the brewers in the area that are remarkably thick.
Because there are so many differing styles of beer, the array of breweries means there is something for fans of every style. Lovers of juicy New England-style IPAs can have a Palm Bender from Big Storm or a Jai Alai from Cigar City, those who like sour beers can always make a trip to Rapp Brewing Company in Pinellas Park, and dark beer fans are always welcome at Pair O’ Dice and Angry Chair.
It seems as though there is at least one brewery per neighborhood. Ybor City features Tampa Bay Brewing Company and Coppertail, while Pinellas Park has the “Beer-muda Triangle” of Rapp, Big Storm, and Pair O’ Dice within a stone’s throw of one another. St. Petersburg is loaded with breweries including Green Bench, Cycle, Pinellas Ale Works, and Three Daughters. Wherever you live in the Tampa Bay area, there is a brewery somewhere near you that is on the cutting edge of some style.
Most professional sports teams that choose an official beer sponsor go with a national brand; one of the titans of the industry such as Budweiser. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Tampa Bay Rowdies, however, chose Big Storm Brewing Company. Big Storm, with breweries in Pasco County and Pinellas County, offers a Lightning 25th anniversary beer and a Rowdies-inspired pilsner. They’ve also offered a creative array of ales, stouts, and IPAs that includes use of atypical ingredients such as rye.
Cigar City Brewing Company in Tampa is a national favorite. Travelers to the area make the unassuming building on Spruce Street an important part of their iteneraries, a must-see stop no different than a Cuban sandwich or a round of golf on one of the area’s famed courses. If you have a beer-drinking friend from out of town coming in to visit, they are likely going to want to go to Cigar City and have one of their famous brews. Depending when one goes, offerings can range from “Florida Weiss” style sour beers brewed with fruit to brown ales designed to taste like chocolate chip pancakes.
It seems that Pair O’ Dice Brewery in Clearwater always has a brand new offering on tap. They’ve rolled out a white stout, which it turns out is not at all an oxymoron. Their Pit Boss, a rare triple IPA, is a crowd-pleaser for the hop-loving crowd. Pair O’ Dice will also not shy away from putting spicy ingredients like jalapenos or even habaneros in their offerings.
Go to any of these breweries and have a conversation with a bartender, and they will recommend other places you can go to get something that may suit you. Often, bartenders in these taprooms will even wear clothing from other breweries in the area. There is certainly competition around here, but it is a uniquely Floridian competition where everybody on some level seems to be rooting for one another. The logic is, no matter how many breweries there are, the demand for great beer will always be there.
This column will not offer a “best” beer, as the range of styles makes everything very subjective. Rather, with so many options, the best advice might be to responsibly sample around until one finds their own personal favorite.
On National Beer Day this Saturday, raise a glass to an area that has raised the bar for hopheads.