What’s Brewing in the ‘Burg
At Green Bench Brewing Co., housed in a converted warehouse-turned-microbrewery on Baum Avenue just off Central in downtown St. Petersburg, people are playing with their dogs on the 6,000-square-foot lawn, relaxing in brightly colored Adirondack chairs, and laughing with friends and neighbors – all over pints of fresh beer, many brewed right here in the ‘Burg.
Just over a year ago, this scene would have been impossible. But if you live in or around St. Petersburg, you’ve likely noticed a crop of microbreweries – complete with tasting rooms – popping up around the area over the past several months.
Thanks to years of effort from the owners at Green Bench and other dedicated members of the community, zoning ordinances have recently been changed to allow microbreweries within the city. Craft-brewing is finally making its entrance, to the pleasure of a host of eager consumers.
But to find who’s happiest of all about this recent influx of frothy beverages, look no further than the owners of five of these new breweries – in addition to Green Bench, 3 Daughters Brewing, Brewers’ Tasting Room, Cycle Brewing and St. Pete Brew.
A BREWING COMMUNITY
While in a sense each brewery is another’s competitor, a striking feature of the brewing community is the focus on collaboration and encouragement of other craft brewers – from the novice who’s just getting started to professionals opening up their own brew houses.
The general consensus is that the stronger the local brewing community is, the more it will be supported by residents. As Nathan Stonecipher, co-owner of Green Bench, explains it, he’s grateful to be part of an “industry where people support each other rather than cut each other down.”
True to form, Nathan and others from Green Bench helped Mike Harting and his crew at 3 Daughters get started on the right foot, from aiding with plans for piping in their 18,000-squarefoot warehouse to actually assisting with a few of their first production brews on their 30-barrel (or nearly 1,000-gallon) system. 3 Daughters’ head brewer, Ty Weaver, also was able to intern at Tampa’s Cigar City to get hands-on experience brewing on such a large scale.
Rick Wolfe, the owner of Brewers’ Tasting Room – which led St. Pete’s wave of microbreweries, opening on north 4th Street in the spring of 2013 and whose motto is “Community of Brewers” – says the biggest surprise he’s had since opening has been the welcome he’s received from bigger, more established brewers. Collaborators have included Doug Dozark from Cycle Brewing – Rick describes him as “one of the best brewers around” – as well as guest brewers from big names in the craft brewery world such as Terrapin, New Belgium and Cigar City.
While the basic ingredients of beer such as grains and hops generally don’t grow too well in Florida’s climate, the brewers are coming up with creative ways to incorporate local ingredients and flavors as signature elements in certain beers.
For example, Doug from Cycle uses coffee beans from Mazzaro’s Italian Market in his Cream and Sugar Please, a sweet porter packed with flavors of coffee and chocolate. At St. Pete Brew, owner Tom Williams says that Florida oranges and strawberries will play a central role in some of their fruitier offerings. Another unique Florida flavor is included in the Star Fruit Saison recently brewed at Brewers’ Tasting Room – Rick says he can’t divulge how many pounds of the fruit (also called carambola) were used in the process, but that it was a lot.
And the new crop of breweries in the city also has proved to be a boon to the local art community.
Throughout the new tasting rooms, you’ll find locally crafted pieces filled with the spirit of St. Petersburg. Green Bench’s bar is built out of classic hexagonal sidewalk blocks and topped with custom concrete made by Epic Artisan in the Warehouse Arts District, while the sign outside 3 Daughters is a three-part installation constructed by Mark Aeling of MGA Sculpture Studio, which eventually will include a running tap (sorry, this one’s water only).
At Cycle, Doug has partnered with nearby St. Pete galleries and artists to offer patrons the opportunity to consider buying a painting while enjoying a pint. Work by six local artists is featured and displayed for sale inside Cycle, including one alcove dedicated to pieces by Nikki Devereux, one of Cycle’s own bartenders.
And if you’re trying to locate St. Pete Brew, just keep an eye out for the custom mural by local graffiti artist Derek Donnelly. Depicting banyan trees and Tony Jannus’ famous 1914 flight across the bay, it’s hard to miss this new St. Pete landmark.
ON TAP FOR THE FUTURE
Several of the breweries are looking to expand (whether in terms of locations, their distribution network, or both), while others intend to stay focused on a smaller crowd. Doug from Cycle comments, “I’ll grow [the business] if I feel like it, but I probably won’t feel like it … we’ll always be the scrappy little brewery, but I think we’ll always have the best beer.”
The idea of St. Pete becoming a craft-beer destination for tourists was popular among the brewers, who are actively working with lawmakers to continue amending local and state laws to be more craft-brew friendly.
In the meantime, everyone seems content – at least for now – just to be up and running. Mike from 3 Daughters describes the experience: “In my work life, this is the most fun I’ve ever had.
“If we brew, we’ll be happy."
WHERE’S THE BREW?
3 Daughters Brewing
222 22nd St. S.
Brewers’ Tasting Room
11270 4th St. N. #202
534 Central Ave.
Search “Cycle Brewing” on Facebook
Green Bench Brewing Co.
1133 Baum Ave. N.
St. Pete Brew
544 1st Ave. N.
Avid Brew Company
1745 1st Ave. S.
Beer and Winemaker’s Pantry
2531 Central Ave.
DO YOU BREW TOO?
At Avid Brew Company, in addition to selling brewing supplies such as grains, yeast, hops and home-brewing kits, owner Jeff Keller teaches brewing classes roughly once a week to educate new brewers on the basics.
Jeff says that he sees the growth of local microbreweries as encouraging for his business as a brewing supplier because the opportunity to try locally crafted product “gets people excited about beers – different flavors, what they can do, what they can make.”
Indeed, at 3 Daughters, owner Mike Harting – a supporter of home-brewing – has incorporated an onsite lab into the brewery where Master Chemist Jim Leonard, an adjunct professor at the University of South Florida, allows home-brewers and other local breweries to bring in their beer to have it tested for yeast counts (which determine alcohol content) and to help determine color and consistency.
At Brewers’ Tasting Room, the business model is actually built around the concept of supporting emerging local brewers. Rick Wolfe and his wife, Michelle, had been homebrewing for 15 years before they decided to broaden their reach by opening a new style of brewpub, which he says exists “purely to benefit aspiring brewers and to feature their beers.”
For home-brewers looking to “go pro,” BTR offers a one-barrel professional brewing system on site. In the tasting room, up to 10 beers brewed on the premises are offered for sale on a self-serve tap wall, giving brewers the opportunity to find out if their beer could be commercially successful. Customers pay by the ounce: Since you don’t have to commit to a full pint, there’s less risk involved in trying a new brewer’s craft. Describing the process, Rick says, “The public decides to pull the handle – that proves it’s a viable beer.”