It all started in 1896, when a group of cigar factory owners decided that their legions of workers needed a local source for thirst-quenching beer—some bosses, right? They opened the Florida Brewing Company in Ybor City, one of Tampa Bay’s most famous neighborhoods.
Well, liquor and the law aren’t always the best of friends—we’ve all heard of drunk tanks, right? Prohibition and other regulations made craft beer a difficult concept until recently. And today, Tampa Bay is legitimately raising the bar.
A century after, and a couple blocks from where Florida Brewing Company started, the Tampa Bay Brewing Company opened its taps in an old horse stable and heralded the dawn of Tampa Bay’s craft-brewing renaissance.
Tampa Bay Brewing’s operations are overflowing like a generously poured pint. The brewery has moved and expanded a couple times—no matter the location, Tampa Bay Brewing’s always honoring the classics while keeping it fresh. Sip on the hoppy Old Elephant Foot IPA or the boozy Moose Killer Barleywine Style Ale, longtime local loves. Or, embrace the innovation with some new favorites, such as Reef Donkey American Pale Ale and Full Moon Madness Subtropical Porter, a full-bodied dark brew with a hint of tropical flavors.
German Chocolate Cupcake Stout
Inspired by the tasty brews produced at Tampa Bay Brewing and other craft breweries across the country, Cigar City Brewing (CCB) came onto the scene and immediately hit the mark with brews that pushed beverage flavor boundaries. Jai Alai IPA, its most popular beer to this day, blends various hops to create a marriage of citrus and pine that shocked many of the region’s beer drinkers at first gulp.
Cigar City Brewing pays homage to its Tampa Bay roots by incorporating local history into the names of many of its beers: Jai Alai is named after the helmet-required ball game that was once played down the road, Maduro Brown Ale gives a nod to Tampa Bay’s historic cigar industry and Invasion Pale Ale was inspired by Tampa Bay’s annual, pirate-themed Gasparilla celebrations.
CCB has also expanded several times: their brewpub in Terminal C of Tampa International Airport is the only on-site airport brewery in the United States. Funnily enough, Cigar City Cider and Mead—a CCB expansion—opened in the same former horse stable, in Ybor City, where Tampa Bay Brewing Company started.
As CCB drew attention to the Tampa Bay craft beer scene, the city’s craft brew renaissance accelerated. Soon, breweries began popping up like bubbles from the bottom of a goblet.
Operating in a former factory on the edge of Ybor City, Coppertail Brewing Co.—named after a mythical sea monster that was hatched in the imagination of the brewery founder’s daughter—produces mouthwatering brews. Pop into the two-story tasting room and pop open a Free Dive IPA or a Night Swim Porter. If you’re lucky enough to be in the building when the seasonal Capt’n Jack’s Stone Crab Stout is available, demand a drink! It’s brewed with freshly harvested stone crab claws, which infuse the beer with just a hint of a briny taste. Brew day for Capt’n Jack’s has become an event, and the stone crab claws are the evening’s main course for patrons and staff.
In hipster-friendly Seminole Heights, Angry Chair Brewing attracts fans to its tasting room with imaginatively crafted concoctions combined with a culinary twist, such as the Raspberry Berliner, German Chocolate Cupcake Stout and Strawberry Mojito Kolsch. All are, in a word, delicious. See for yourself—small pours for a couple bucks means you can sample a refrigerator of brews on a mini-fridge budget.
Six Ten Brewing crafts its beer in the Town-N-Country neighborhood, west of downtown. Sip on such brews as the Magpie Rye Pale Ale or one of the assortments of its palate-pleasing CBGB Berliner Weisse series, brewed with various fruits like cranberry, blackberry or star fruit. These slightly tart, low-alcohol wheat beers provide a refreshing thirst quencher on a sunny Florida summer day.
Four Stacks Brewing Company lies south of downtown, in the suburban community of Apollo Beach. The brewery pays homage to that town’s most visible landmark in both its name and its logo—the four smokestacks of the local electric utility’s Big Bend Power Station. Because Four Stacks is considered a “nanobrewery,” with a relatively tiny 1.5-barrel brewing system, the crew experiments frequently with various styles. We recommend sipping around—if you fall in love with a specialty brew only to return and find your craft draft has departed, it might break your heart. For loyal beer lovers, standards such as IPAs and English ales are usually available.
Ulele Spring Brewery—perched at the northern end of downtown’s Tampa Riverwalk in the historic and restored Tampa Water Works building—shares space with the Ulele restaurant, which utilizes local ingredients in its menu. Ulele Spring Brewery is a bit different in that many of its craft beers are lagers, which require a more rigorous and technical brewing process than ales. Savor each sip—every libation was a labor of love. It’s easy out in the beer garden, which offers a relaxing dining and drinking experience, along with a scenic view of the Hillsborough River.
Inspired, and thirty? Hop on the Tampa Bay Brew Bus, which provides tours of and transportation between many of Tampa Bay’s craft breweries. But it’s more than just a ride. The Brew Bus serves its own branded beer on tours. While the wheels go round, cheering with cups of Rollin Dirty Irish-style Red Ale, You’re My Boy, Blue! Blueberry Wheat Ale (funny name, but it won a silver medal at the 2015 Great American Beer Festival—a big deal) and other original brews produced in nearby Lakeland are abound.
With more than 40 small breweries making beer in the greater Tampa Bay area, the region’s craft brew renaissance shows no sign of slowing down. It’s a great time for the beer-loving traveler to visit and quench their thirst. The camaraderie and mutual support that helps define the craft brewing community ensures each and every visitor will be welcomed with open arms—and full pints!