A Busy Month, Twitter, and Craft Beer in Florida…

So March has by far been the busiest month for original content that this website has seen, especially since transitioning to a blog/wordpress format a little over two years ago. Part of this has been due to a little downtime on my part and another part, I have to admit, has been related to an increase in traffic driven by tie-ins with Twitter and Facebook. For those in the know and care, my Twitter page is available for updates, both to this page and also occasionally unique to Twitter itself. Tomorrow I’m going to head up to Tampa to visit a few places and to try the new Cigar City lineup at the Oldsmar Taphouse and while there, despite my criticisms in the past, I’m going to try and use Twitter to post some updates. Who knows, I may even try to include some photos. So feel free to sign up for the Twitter alerts (I still hate saying tweets/tweeks/twits) or just follow this on your RSS feed or occasional drop-in.

UPDATE: Yeah, while attending the Cigar City event I couldn’t bring myself to stop interesting conversations or ignore my dad, pull out my phone, and type away on Twitter. I think that confirms the range of Twitter that I’m comfortable with…

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

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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