Top 10 craft beer breweries in Florida
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — We weren’t always so spoiled.
When I moved to St. Petersburg about 22 years ago, Florida was a beer desert. Never mind craft beer — the state’s restrictive bottle size laws meant many of my favorite imports weren’t available. Heck, I got a funny look once when I asked for a Pilsner Urquell. (I can only imagine the look I’d have gotten if I’d asked for a Weihenstephaner.)
My how things have changed. I make no apologies for being a cheerleader for the Tampa/St. Petersburg scene; as a beer destination, we’re maybe a notch or two below the likes of San Diego, Denver and Portland.
Cigar City’s Hunahpu’s Day is one of the premier craft beer festivals in the country, and two years ago our growing reputation lured the Shelton Brothers Festival to St. Pete, bringing us world-class beers from the hallowed likes of 3 Fonteinen, Cantillon and Hill Farmstead. (For the record, this year’s festival is Oct. 28-29 in Louisville. Tickets are still available.)
This is my territory, and I’m a provincial bastard, so this list is heavy on breweries from the Tampa Bay area, which is a reasonable drive for Ole Miss fans coming to Orlando for the opener against FSU.
I’m keeping it in (relative) SEC territory, which regrettably means passing on the rapidly improving Miami-area scene. (A tip of the cap to Funky Buddha of course, and Barrel of Monks, J. Wakefield, M.I.A. and Wynwood, among others.) To reiterate: If there’s something you think I’ve missed, either I haven’t sampled their beers enough or I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about. Your call.
Here are the 10 breweries you don’t want to miss.
1. Cycle Brewing
Where: 534 Central Ave., St. Petersburg
It’s hard to know where to start with these folks. The core lineup is superb, the limited releases are world class; not for nothing are six Cycle beers ranked among the world’s top 50 imperial stouts at ratebeer.com.
Cycle Brewing – Saint Petersburg, Florida pic.twitter.com/JzF6knDayc
— TappedInMenus (@TappedInMenus) August 10, 2016
Founder Doug Dozark is famously persnickety — when he couldn’t get the specific bourbon barrels he’d been using to age his RareR Dos, he simply retired the beer. Bring cash. It’s all they accept. And the location is perfect, within walking distance to several outstanding restaurants in downtown St. Pete.
2. Cigar City Brewing
Where: 3924 W Spruce St., Tampa
CCB deserves respect for helping kick the region’s craft beer revolution into high gear. They deserve even more respect for the beer.
— Cigar City Brewing (@CigarCityBeer) August 22, 2016
They certainly have made a lot of styles, and I’d be lying if I said every one was a home run. But Jai Alai remains one of my go-to IPAs and Marshal Zhukov one of my favorite Russian imperial stouts, and virtually all of their coffee treatments are memorable.
It’s a mere 5 minutes from Raymond James Stadium, site of the Outback Bowl and, this season, the national championship game. Our editor hosted Vols fans at CCB last year.
South Carolina fans, take note: CCB worked Palmetto Brewing Company on a special release for Darius Rucker. Hootie’s Homegrown Ale will be in stores soon. Hootie and the Blowfish will celebrate the release with an event Sept. 16 in Tampa.
3. Angry Chair Brewing
Where: 6401 N Florida Ave., Tampa
One of a number of area breweries that are part of the Cigar City family tree, and I think they have a real shot at surpassing their master. Their sweet stouts, which in some hands can get cloying, are models of the style — big-bodied and loaded with flavor but balanced and drinkable. They’re in one of the hippest neighborhoods in Tampa, too, though whatever you do, please, please don’t park on Fern.
— Justin Bevens (@clutchjudd) August 14, 2016
4. Aardwolf Brewing
Where: 1461 Hendricks Ave., Jacksonville
Their distribution appears to be limited — I’ve never seen them on tap in the Tampa Bay area — and I rarely get to Jacksonville. But you owe it to yourself to stop in, especially if you’re in town for Georgia-Florida on Oct. 29.
They’re killing it in the imperial stout game, including the big, spicy El Mariachi and, especially, the silky smooth White Russian.
— Jordan Wiggins (@TheGoofyJordan) August 16, 2016
5. Proof Brewing
Where: 644 McDonnell Drive, Tallahassee
Yeah, I know, this is right in the heart of enemy territory. So try to find their beer at a nearby bar if you’re loathe to travel into Seminole country. Their Eightfive-O is just what I want in a pale ale — crisp, clean, bursting with citrus and tropical fruit — and their Mango Wit is possibly even nicer, in a style that all too frequently makes me gag.
6. 7venth Sun Brewery
Where: 1012 Broadway, Dunedin
I once saw them described as “your favorite brewer’s favorite brewery,” a nice description of a place that is constantly experimenting. They do especially well by sours and saisons; I’m also partial to Time Bomb, an enormously refreshing session IPA. My one quibble — their tiny, cramped taproom — will soon be fixed when they open a much larger Tampa location.
Score with cheerleaders – strawberry orange lemon Berliner at noon! pic.twitter.com/kZYgk0Ox7v
— 7venth Sun Brewing (@7venthSunBeer) August 18, 2016
7. Six Ten Brewing
Where: 7052 Benjamin Road, Tampa
A relative newcomer, they stand out for their family- (and dog-)friendly atmosphere and consistently fresh, tasty beers. Their base Berliner weisse, CBGB, is dandy as is, but the treatments truly stand out, with just the right balance of sweet and tart.
— Six Ten Brewing (@SixTenBrewing) July 16, 2016
8. Intuition Ale Works
Where: 720 King St., Jacksonville
This was the first Florida brewery to can its beers, and their fine, piney I-10 IPA and easy-drinking King Street Stout are easily findable. The one I seek out is the Underdark, and not just because of my past as a Dungeons & Dragons obsessive — it’s their special release bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout, and it’s a doozy, bursting with oak, bourbon and chocolate flavors. Add this spot to your Cocktail Party weekend go-to list.
9. Rapp Brewing Co.
Where: 10930 Endeavor Way Suite C, Seminole
Their gose put them on the map, and it’s top-notch, but they’re here mainly because I want to mainline their chocolate peanut butter stout. (And I know people who prefer their chocolate hazelnut porter.) This is how you do a sweet stout — big and chewy, plenty of sweetness yet never letting you forget that it’s a beer. We’ve planned many, many SDS stories at this spot.
— bertoman33 (@bertoman33) October 15, 2014
10. Swamp Head Brewery
Where: 3650 SW 42nd Ave., Gainesville
I swear I’m not pandering; this is a damned fine brewery. Go-to: Saison Du Swamp, a zesty, lightly sweet saison that is ideal summer drinking. Gators fans know all about their Football Fridays, but visitors might not. Here’s a primer. There’s not a better way to start your football weekend.
Football Fridays, cans headed #OuttaTheSwamp and more in this month's Brewsletter!
— Swamp Head Brewery (@SwampHead) August 19, 2016
Who did we miss? Let us know in the comments section and be sure to follow us on Twitter @BeerGuySDS.