Tampa Bay’s top-notch craft beer scene
By Kevin Tall
Life is good for craft beer drinkers in Tampa Bay, and it's only getting better. Consistently ranked among the top brewing scenes in America, Tampa Bay is quickly becoming a destination for craft beer. A sample of Tampa Bay's unique craft scene makes it plain that it'll be on the beer map to stay. And what better way to enjoy some craft beer than making a day of it? So, I got a group of friends together to take over the Brew Bus to see what’s on tap. Yes, Tampa's beer scene is vibrant enough to support a business that shuttles thirsty beer fans from brewery to brewery—what other place can say that? All aboard, it's time to see what all the brew-haha is about.
Our trip begins with a stop at the tasting room for Tampa Bay’s best-known craft brewer, Cigar City Brewing. Imagine strolling into a walk-in humidor with a surf shop vibe—and awesome beer, too! Behind the hardwood bar, lacquered with brewing notes, an impressive electronic tap list lets the beer-minded faithful know what's available. A few feet away stand the taps that quench the thirst of craft beer enthusiasts from Tampa Bay and well beyond. Cigar City’s numerous awards prove its popularity. CCB's Jai Alai India Pale Ale tells you why: Its piney aroma, grapefruit bitterness and clean finish make it a great brew to help beat the Florida heat. It more than earns its impressive 99 from RateBeer's army of beer drinkers. I happily quaff one during the brewery tour, which comes with a pint glass to keep, as we walk around the impressive brewhouse and bottling and canning operations.
A short drive away sits Angry Chair Brewing. A recent addition to Tampa Bay's craft beer scene, Angry Chair opened in November, 2014. The tap room is a rustic throwback with exposed ventilation, custom steel chairs and a ceiling assembled with much of the 1941 building's original wood. Among the enigmatic mixed-media art hung on the wall, a cameo window offers a glimpse of the 10-barrel brewhouse. Cozy and buzzing, the tasting room offers beers like German Chocolate Cupcake Stout, which hits the nose with a heavy aroma of vanilla. With sweet notes of coconut, toffee and cacao, this milk stout pours black and achieves a complex richness. Do I get the brewery's name? I think I'll focus on a pint of stout instead.
Six Ten Brewing sits near Tampa International Airport, a short way off the beaten path. The brewery is designed with an open concept, with the 10-barrel custom brewhouse in full view of the happy patrons. There's something authentic about seeing exactly where the beer is made and meet the man who makes it. The tasting room is a study in minimalism: a poured slab counter top, lots of beautiful stainless, about 14 guest taps and 10 house offerings on draft. I opt for a porter, keeping with the traditional vibe. I chose well. With a deep, malty nose, Six Ten's Porter is smooth and medium-bodied with hints of dark chocolate and coffee—a straightforward, quality beer from a genuine local brewer.
Just on the edge of Tampa Bay's Ybor City district, Coppertail Brewing has gotten a lot of people talking in a short period of time. The tasting room is expansive and inviting; the bare block walls, high ceilings and sheet metal roofing giving it a stark, industrial vibe. High windows behind the bar offer a glimpse of the impressive 50-barrel Rolec brewhouse with bright tanks for conditioning. That hardware allows for a lot of treatments as fun, temporary companions to the brewery's core beers. Among those core offerings is Coppertail's Unholy American Trippel. Weighing in at 9.0% ABV, it has a crisp, citrus nose, lightly piney with a hoppy twist on the traditional Trappist strong ale. A concept that might seem like beer sacrilege tastes anything but. (You didn't think I was going to say “heavenly,” did you?)
Clearly, the locals have got magic on tap. What a place for a beer lover to take over! For those who want a tasty sip, Tampa Bay's beer scene is worth the trip.