We didn’t give ourselves a whole lot of time, but with two of Florida’s more prestigious craft beer events taking place on back to back days we were motivated to move. It was all going down in the Ybor City section of Tampa. Saturday was the Florida Brewer’s Beerfest and a couple blocks down was the Florida’s Brewer’s Ball on Sunday. After a rather lengthy tour of Florida’s craft beer scene this seemed like the perfect way to cap off our time in the Sunshine State.
The problem was we were still in Miami as of Wednesday and we needed to cover about 275 miles which is faster than we normally travel. However, with some strategic stops in Boca Raton (Funky Buddha Lounge and Brewery) and Tequesta (Tequesta Brewing Co) we were managed to pull into town on Friday night. So what do you do when you arrive early for a beerfest? You go to brewery.
In our previous trip through Tampa we took a tour of Cigar City Brewing but felt a little uneasy about trying to park there overnight. After meeting Cigar City’s Joey Redner at Savor he assured us we were welcome to stay overnight anytime and even pointed out they have plug-ins if needed. So we decided to take advantage this time around, not a bad way to start the weekend.
We met up with our buddy Trace who as the head brewer at Dunedin Brewery was attending the Florida Brewer’s reception at CCB. The brewery always has a lot of taps in their tasting room and had even expanded since the last time we had visited. Maria stepped out of her comfort zone a bit and tried the Ghost Stories braggot (beer that uses least 50% honey for the fermentable sugars). “I have never had anything like this” she exclaimed after the first sip. The complex flavor was hard to pin down but she enjoyed sipping on it while I drank a the Cubano Esspresso Brown Ale that was loaded with tons of espresso flavor.
Brewer’s from all over Florida were hanging out in the tasting room and sharing beers that they had been working on. It was pretty cool to see the community of Florida brewer’s geeking out over hop varietals and shared yeasts strains. It was a testament to the passion and family atmosphere between the breweries in the state. We ended up closing down the tasting room before we retired to the parking lot to rest up for Saturday’s event.
We got up early the next morning and scoped out a place to park the RV near the two fests. As luck would have it we found a bus parking area a couple blocks from each venue not to mention Tampa Bay Brewing Company. This would be our home base for the next two days. The Florida Brewers Beerfest started at 1pm, but when we headed over to the park a line had already wrapped around on side of Centennial Park as a lot of people were excited to start drinking.
This fest was a little different for us in that we had visited most of the breweries pouring (about three fourths) and had met the owners or brewers at many of them. Combine this with the fact that we had another fest tomorrow we ending up spending more time visiting with friends and talking to the new breweries than we did trying to sample every beer. Besides the park was packed and definitely brought out a lot of amateurs looking to drink high gravity beers and get wasted. The lines were long and personal space was a premium.
Of the the beers we tried a lot of our favorites came from those we knew such as Barley Mow Brewing, Dunedin Brewery, Cigar City Brewing, Saint Somewhere Brewing, and 7venth Sun Brewing. It was great to see all our new beer friends in one place and even cooler that we were able to see them awarded the medals they had won earlier in the month at The Best Florida Beer Championships. You could see the gratification on their faces as they wore their medals around their necks.
With one fest down and one to go we wrapped up the day by enjoying some sushi and drinking more at the New World Brewery which isn’t actually a brewery anymore but a damn good beer bar. While our brewery friends were in the mood for “strong drink” we decided to rest up for what was sure to be another long of imbibing.
Waking up in a rough state Maria and I needed nourishment and joined the visiting brewers for the complimentary continental breakfast at the hotel. Then it was off to the Cuban Club and start it all over again except with a twist. The Brewer’s Ball is a slightly more intimate event that features all the gold medal beers from the day before. This is the cream of the Florida craft beer crop.
Most of the brewer’s were there once again but this time they weren’t slinging suds. They were able to relax and enjoy the ball as all the beer was self serve. Like kids in a candy store we bounced from tap to tap sampling the goods. A couple stand outs were Dunedin Brewery’s The Bard Scotch Ale, 7venth Sun’s Midnight Moonlight, and Cigar City’s legendary Hunahpus Imperial Stout. The weather was a bit chilly but the beers and conversation kept us warm and the live music kept the atmosphere lively.
After the overall medal’s were awarded we headed out bit early to beat the rush at Tampa Bay Brewing Co which has great food. With our bellies now full of brew and grub it was time to chug water and head home. We have always enjoyed Florida and ever since our first trip to Tampa have had a fond place in our heart for the beer scene which is local, collaborative, and has a family attitude. Touring the state as whole made this only more apparent. By the time we left Florida we had visited 28 breweries and made countless friends. With so many great people in the Sunshine State’s craft beer scene this was the perfect way to say goodbye… until next time.
Here are some more pics from the weekend: