Craft Brew Boom on Florida’s Suncoast

By Gloria Martin

Thirsty snowbirds can enjoy a bounty of suds, sun and sand at over 40 breweries along the Tampa Bay Craft Beer Trail, known as “The Gulp Coast,” stretching from Tarpon Springs through Dunedin, where you’ll find Florida’s oldest – Dunedin Brewery – to St. Pete, where, like the constant waves rolling in, craft breweries keep landing on the beach too.

At Mastry’s, the first in St. Pete, founder Matthew Dahm transformed an old gas station into a hip hang out: “We’re working with other businesses, artists, celebrities to bring community interaction.”

Brewer Micheil McElvey says: “We’re doing more session able, pub style ales, that fit the Beach culture but also pushing the envelope working with syrups, traditional German brewing style, some sour styles, the Berliners.  For our Biere De Garde Spring Cleaning we cleaned out our walk in, threw in odds and ends – a bit of noble hops, some leftover “pils” malt. You don’t see many Biere De Gardes right now and we’re thrilled with its more malt forward style. Garding is lagering, we let it sit for a month for a smooth, clean character with a soft fruity ester.

Our Daisy Double IPA has lots of traditional west coast hops but it’s not hoppy on the nose, smooth but bitter enough for the hop heads.

For Jenna’s Morning Coffee we have a great base porter recipe and our friends at Evil Twin Coffee roast single origin beans for each batch.”  I can vouch that this brew makes a great breakfast!

Mastry’s (Matthew and Micheil at the bar)

Matthew beams: “We have a lot of “great” breweries and a lot of great people running them. It’s collaborative.  We tell you why to drink everyone else’s beer!”

Mad Beach

Just up the road, at Mad Beach, brewer Alex Garcia (with partner Matthew Powers) has created a divine Berliner Weisse, beautiful red colour, made with passion fruit and sour cherry, tart, sour, light, 3% apv.  As Alex notes:  “It’s hot here. People want a refreshing light beer.”

Wait, did I see peanut butter on the beer list?  Alex laughs: “Generally we sell light beers best, but The Chocolate Covered Elvis, peanut butter, chocolate, banana, is one of our highest sellers ever! We use hefeweizen yeast for a banana character and full body, dark malt. It’s light and actually has a lot of protein in it- a good “work out” beer.” Ha ha.  Delicious!

St Pete Brewery

Tom Williams helped launch over 100 microbreweries with his finance company before opening his own: St. Pete Brewery.

“This area is blowing up with craft breweries. We all brew differently. Everyone has their niche, so it works out really well.”

Brewer Jon McCracken, a real “Dead Head,” who saw his first Grateful Dead concert in 1990, created The Grateful Stout – dry with hints of chocolate and coffee.

“This being Florida, St Pete Orange Wheat is our number one – a play on Belgian Witbier except with American yeast, light wheat flavour and hints of orange. Close behind: Milo’s IPA, named after my dog when I first started brewing. He loved drinking beer! It’s a very West Coast, bitter, piney IPA, 7% alcohol, 85 IBUs.”

Cycle Brewery

The hip, bike themed Cycle Brewery on St.Petersberg’s youthful Central Avenue, is known for Imperial Stouts, juicy, citrusy IPAs and barrel aged brews and was awarded 6 medals including “Best Brewer in Florida” at California’s RateBeer Best competition.

Their barrel aged Hazelnut Imperial Stout, voted one of the best beers in the world, is rich and flavourful.

3 Daughters

One of the biggest craft breweries in the state of Florida, looking to top 16,000 barrels this year, 3 Daughters has a spacious brew room featuring a massive stage and games throughout.

COO John Erik Savitsky partnered with Mike Harding and his wife Lee. Harding, an uber successful restaurant owner for 20 years, deferred retirement to launch a brewery “because I have ‘3 daughters’ to put through college!”

John Savitisky

Savitsky says, “Our flagship is Beach Blonde Ale, also Bimini Twist IPA and Rod Bender Red Ale– what Florida would do for blonde ale – hint of citrus, more malty than hoppy, crisp, refreshing. Coffee Blonde Ale is also a big seller. It’s uniquely light when most coffee beers are dark.”

I also liked the Spicy IPA, aged in tequila barrels with jalapenos – a real flavour kick.

Along the ale trail, local businesses have “hopped” on board, serving craft brews everywhere including at the Beachcomber Bar and Grill at St. Pete’s elegant and iconic landmark, The Don Cesar Hotel, known as “The Pink Palace.”

And for good reason.  As John Savitsky says, “There’s a new generation of beer drinkers, 21-26 years of age, who have never tasted a Bud, only craft beer.”