On Tap: Tampa Bay Brews Its Own For Beer Lovers

With no shortage of pubs and bars in the Tampa Bay region, it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that small and micro-breweries also call the area "home."

Breweries such as Cigar City Brewing, Saint Somewhere Brewing Company and Tampa Bay Brewing Company are known for taking the time to perfect the trade, offering up their unique brews to beer enthusiasts eager to taste something new.

Cigar City Brewing

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that Cigar City Brewing's Joey Redner loves beer. Aside from founding and running the company, Redner has established himself as somewhat of a beer connoisseur -- not only has he sold beer, made beer and written about beer, he even donned the title of "bar owner" at one point.

With a longstanding dream of making his own beer his own way, the Tampa native was set on opening up a brewery and couldn't have imagined starting it anywhere other than the Tampa Bay region. So, three years ago, Redner did just that.

Beginning work in April 2008, Redner, along with the company's head brewer, Wayne Wambles, started Cigar City Brewing from scratch, putting about $850,000 into the brewery; those funds covered everything from label development to bottling to equipment.

Nearly a year later, March 2009, Redner and Wambles sold their first batch of beer.

"It was pretty much just me, Wayne and a dedicated stable of volunteers for a long time," says Redner, who now works with about 30 employees. "We didn't do any advertising -- it was all word of mouth in the beginning, which mostly consisted of fellow beer geeks telling everyone who would listen to them that they should check us out."

Believing the world is full of ideas for great beer, Redner comes up with his brews through his love of classic style or upon discovering a unique, interesting ingredient. A current Cigar City brew that plays into this is their Hunahpu's Imperial Stout -- a big Mayan Chocolate Stout aged on both Pasilla and Ancho chiles, as well as cinnamon and vanilla. Another popular brew is their Jai Alai India Pale Ale, a 7.5 percent alcohol by volume hoppy, fruity beer.

"Beer making is an old civilization and pretty much everything has been done before, but we're focusing on an approach that most larger commercial breweries see as unprofitable," says Redner, who brews his beer at its most basic level: extracting sugars from grains before using yeast to ferment the sugars."We brew types of beer that we know 95 percent of the beer drinking public will hate."

Despite this, Redner and the rest of the gang at Cigar City, 3924 W. Spruce St. in the Drew Park neighborhood of West Tampa, are content with their customer-base; they hope that tastes change as word spreads and that dedicated 5 percent will eventually become 10 percent and so on.

But that's not Redner's only goal when it comes to Cigar City and their beer.

"I really want Cigar City to become what the fans want it to be, which right now seems to be a brewery that does a little bit of everything while still keeping year-round stuff like Jai Alai and Maudro," Redner says. "Eventually, I'd like for us to be thought of as 'The Florida Brewery' and I want to inspire people to open up their own breweries for all of the right reasons."

Saint Somewhere Brewing Company

On a much smaller scale and about 30 miles northwest of Tampa, Saint Somewhere Brewing Company Owner Bob Sylvester started out as a home brewer, practicing for about 10 years before deciding to open his own brewery in 2006 in Tarpon Springs.

"Basically, I was finally able to talk my wife, Anne, into going into the brewing business with me," says Sylvester whose favorite part about Saint Somewhere, 1441 Savannah Ave., is simply owning his own business -- no set hours and the freedom to brew whatever he pleases.

It took the Sylvesters about a year and a half to find funding and a proper location, as well as get the licenses and permits necessary for brewing,  before beginning production on their signature beer: Saison, a Belgium farmhouse ale. Sylvester delved into savings, maxed out credit cards and cashed in both his 401K and stocks, "scraping the bottom of the barrel," he says. But, according to Sylvester, he didn't go into much debt other than rent and materials.

"I don't really have employees to pay either. Excluding myself, there's one employee," says Sylvester of Anne who does all of Saint Somewhere's bookkeeping. "When it's time to bottle, however, I have a pool of close to 150 volunteers which I can draw from who are subscribed to my bottling e-mail list."

On bottling day, about 10 volunteers come out to produce several bottles of any one of Saint Somewhere's three brews: Saison Athene, Pays du Soleil and Lectio Divina. Taking the volunteers approximately three hours to get a sufficient amount bottled, the Sylvesters then offer up lunch before letting each volunteer go home with some of what they produced that day.

"Just like bottling, everything we do is very old school -- open fermentation, direct fire kettle, solely Belgian ingredients and whole hops," Sylvester says. "We try to brew in a way in which beer was brewed a hundred years ago, you know, nothing automated."

Currently, Saint Somewhere's brews are offered in about 45 states, brewing about 250 barrels a year. Sylvester's goal is to produce about 1,000 barrels per year, which according to him, is nothing by microbrewery standards and can easily be done by a good size brew pub.

"But a thousand barrels will more than keep me happy, busy and pay the bills," Sylvester says. "I love what I do and would recommend it to anybody that's thinking about going into the brewing business. It sounds ridiculous, but becoming a brewer is kind of a calling -- it's who you are, not what you do."

Tampa Bay Brewing Company

Although it might seem like most breweries have a pretty common back story (man loves beer, man turns love for beer into profit), Vicki Doble, owner of Tampa Bay Brewing Company, decided to take a different approach. Her brewery would be nothing without those closest to her -- her family.

Growing up in the brew business in England, Doble is no stranger to beer. It didn't come as a surprise when her sons John, Mark, Michael and David shared that same love.

"Having four sons and raising them in Europe, they learned to drink early in life [because it's legal over there]," says Doble, who opened the doors to Tampa Bay Brewing Company in 1997. "They came to the states to attend USF and when they came back to visit, they said, 'Mom, we're not allowed to drink over there!' and I said, " 'You better start brewing your own then.' "

The Doble boys didn't hesitate and gave home brewing a try. But it was Doble's eldest son, John, who suggested she open up a brew pub with him in Tampa. The idea blossomed and Doble took out a Small Business Administration loan, signing Tampa Bay Brewing's lease nearly 15 years ago.

Upon opening the doors for the first time, it was just Doble and John running the company; Doble ran the front and back ends of the house while John brewed. In 2003, however, tragedy struck the Doble family when John died in an accident.

Doble's youngest son, David, quit his job as an airline pilot to help with the business and the brewery grew from there.

"It's been really tough, but with the craft beer industry becoming so popular these last two years or so, we've seen a lot of success," Doble says. "It's just been fantastic and I love coming to work everyday. I love the customers and the whole atmosphere about it -- just talking to people about making beer and making beer at home. The whole industry is just so exciting."

Currently, Tampa Bay Brewing, 1600 E. 8th Ave. in the Ybor City neighborhood of Tampa, has eight in-house brews on tap while offering two seasonals throughout the year. Wanting to appeal to as many craft beer drinkers as possible, the Dobles offer everything from low-alcohol malty beer to high-alcohol hoppy beer and everything in between.

But more recently, Doble began taking a different approach, focusing on one thing most breweries seem to overlook: Food.

"I think our food is as good as our beer, which a lot of times doesn't happen with good brew pubs," says Doble, who credits the success of their food to traveling. "With many places, their whole focus is just beer, beer, beer, but I like the food side of it. All of our food has our beer in it and everything is made in house. I think we've become an extremely good restaurant as well as a brewery."

Despite Doble's confidence in Tampa Bay Brewing, she has a couple expectations for the future: Open a second brewery when the right opportunity comes along or open a microbrewery.

"Running the brewery has just been such a great experience and I love working with my children," Doble says. "Sometimes it can be extremely difficult working with family, but at the same time, it's one of the most rewarding things I've ever done."

Alexis Quinn Chamberlain, a Florida native and freelance writer, can often be found trying out new vegan recipes, biking around town and daydreaming with her boyfriend and Chihuahua at Lettuce Lark Park. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

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