April 2014

Craft brew business is booming in the Sunshine State

by Lisa Simundson

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You see them everywhere now–microbreweries promoting "artisanal" flavors and signs in traditional bars advertising the new line of craft beers.

But what are they, exactly? For the uninitiated, some brief definitions. According to the Boulder, Colo.-based Brewers Association, a microbrewery produces less than 15,000 barrels of beer per year with 75 percent or more sold off-site, either directly or indirectly to the consumer. A brewpub, on the other hand, is a restaurant-brewery making its own beer on-site, primarily for sale in the restaurant or bar.

Either way, the idea of craft beer and microbrewing has caught on in a big way in the Sunshine State, with craft distilleries following suit.

"The craft movement is huge in the United States," says JoAnn Elardo, owner of Wicked Dolphin Artisan Rum Distillery in Cape Coral. "You don't really bring a six-pack of Budweiser to a friend's house anymore. You bring a local craft beer. People are just more involved in what they're eating and drinking."

Joey Redner, founder of Cigar City Brewing in Tampa, agrees.

"It's part of the greater food trend that has become more local, experimental and just generally adventurous," he says. "I think craft beer in Florida has followed the general trend across the country of people looking to more flavorful, locally produced, varied and unique beer flavors."

And how. Craft breweries and brewpubs have become so popular in St. Petersburg/Clearwater, the CVB promotes them as the Craft Beer Trail, which goes from the area's oldest brewery, Dunedin, down to one of its youngest, 7venth Sun. Others include Rapp Brewing Company and Barley Mow Brewing Company.

"When it comes to our booming craft beer scene, we have an authentic story to tell," says David Downing, deputy director of Visit St. Peterburg/Clearwater. "In fact, it's so in-demand here that St. Pete changed zoning ordinances to allow breweries downtown."

One of these downtown breweries, Cycle Brewing, developed a distinctive style they call Florida Weisse, which is fermented with fresh Florida fruit.

"These breweries aren't just generic beer halls, they're locally owned businesses with an organic connection to the area, which is why we're so keen on promoting them," Downing says.

The craft movement has also hit some Florida wineries, including Keel & Curley in Plant City, producers of blueberry and fruit-fusion wines and now brewing about 1,500 gallons a month of craft beer. Already offering 45-minute winery tours and tastings, Keel & Curley now include the brewery as well.

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