The Expanding Reach of Craft Beer: The Florida Gulf Coast Edition…

Posted on Posted in Beer Monster, Cigar City Brewing, Craft Beer, Florida, Saint Somewhere Brewing, Sarasota, Tampa, Yuengling Brewing

My family has vacationed on the Gulf Coast of Florida near Sarasota, off and on for about two decades. While I spent most of that time as a kid here, in recent years I’ve enjoyed not only the weather but also observing the changing face of beer in Florida. When I first started buying beer in Florida a decade ago, craft beer was nearly impossible to find. In the area from Tampa to Sarasota, your options were pretty limited. In Tampa, you could visit the now-defunct Ybor City Brewing Company, a haphazard operation set into a hundred year old cigar factory that was sinking into the ground (or at least looked like it). You could also try the solid beers at the old Tampa Bay Brewing Company location in Ybor City or for take away you could visit the tiny but packed operation at Beers of the World. Beyond that, you could head across the bay to the gulf side and visit Dunedin, which is always a pleasant trip. In Sarasota, you were pretty much limited to the entirely average Sarasota Brewing Company. In terms of buying beer for home, that’s where you learned the true tradition of the Florida beer market. You had a choice of Bud, Bud Light, Natural Light, or, if you were lucky, Amber Bock. After a few years of looking around, I resigned myself to the fact that I’d be drinking a lot of sickly sweet Amber Bock and gin and tonics when I visited.

Fast forward a decade and things have changed considerably. In the last three years especially, a small number of independent wholesalers has helped break Anheuser-Busch’s deathgrip on beer distribution in the state. Well-regarded beers from Europe and American craft brewers started showing up on tap in a handful of bars and then in the grocery and package stores. In terms of take away beer, it’s still a fight down here. The opening of a Whole Foods grocery store in Sarasota has been a big boon for the area and it’s where I inevitably buy fresh Full Sail and other craft brands for prices far less than I can get back in Boston. And what’s up with finding both Allagash and Brooklyn for a few bucks less than in their nearby markets (Brooklyn 1 for $7 is a steal anywhere)?

So now on a trip to Florida, I know I can head to the excellent and “rustic” Cock & Bull Pub in Sarasota for some rarer offerings, track down Saint Somewhere Belgian-style bottles, get much bally-hooed Bell’s special releases for pennies on the dollar at the excellent Waterfront Restaurant on Anna Maria Island, or even find Yuengling sixers for less than Bud costs (take that volume warriors!). I’m also hoping to head up to Tampa later in the week to visit a new beer bar (Oldsmar Taphouse) and to try a few offerings from the recently opened Cigar City Brewing Company. Florida’s Gulf Coast is by no means a craft beer mecca but its rise shows just how deep into “enemy territory” the movement has penetrated. These are some of the things I’ll be considering as I watch the sun set over my glass of Saison Athene (from Saint Somewhere)…

P.S. If you visit the Beer Monster package store in Bradenton, be wary: the owner accosted me when I took out my phone to check the time, saying “You can’t take pictures in here, you can’t send out my prices.” He then proceeded to follow me around his half package store/half Salvation Army used furniture depo for twenty minutes…

The sketchy joints we visit in the name of good beer…I suppose the name should have been a tip-off.

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One thought on “The Expanding Reach of Craft Beer: The Florida Gulf Coast Edition…

  1. I know this is a bit late, I was googling for any new craft beer places in Sarasota since I am headed up there. One place you have missed in Tampa is Mr. Dunderbaks – and no wonder. It’s moved around quite a bit over the years. I remember years ago (in the 1970s!) there used to be one at Sarasota Square Mall, but it changed names to Wunderbar and then went away. Then I found it at Brandon in another mall, then at University Mall. I always thought it was like an oasis that appeared whenever I was Christmas shopping and getting desperate for a huge, dark Eurpoean brew. But now it’s up on Bruce B. Downs Blvd. near I-75. Lots of drafts, crafts and delicious deli food to eat or take.

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