While staying in Jacksonville, FL, we made our way over to Bold City Brewery on Monday, 2/3/14. This was the first craft brewery in Jacksonville in recent times and, as of now, their beers can be found in Jacksonville, Fernandina, St Augustine, Gainesville, Tampa, St Pete, Sarasota, and some of Lake City. The family who runs Bold City feels extremely privileged to be the first craft brewery in Jacksonville, and since they don’t really do any marketing, they owe much gratitude to the people of Jacksonville who have helped grow their brand.
Our first stop in the sprawling metropolis of Jacksonville, FL was to Intuition Ale Works (IAW), conveniently located just west of downtown in the growing Riverside neighborhood. Our timing was fortuitous, just one day after the release of their popular Underdark, an Imperial Stout aged in oak barrels. The previous day they had hosted a release party at the brewery and were uncharacteristically open for a few hours on Sunday to allow the locals to fill up growlers for the Super Bowl that evening. Intuition Ale Works was established by Founder and Brewer Ben Davis and just celebrated their 3 year anniversary this past November. Ben is a Jacksonville native but spent several years in the Sonoma, CA wine industry before moving home with his family. He then attended the Siebel Institute and spent over two years perfecting recipes in his garage before endeavoring to open the brewery in order to make Jacksonville a better city.
After taking Friday off to catch up on writing and research during the day and visit Epcot at Disney World with our friends at night, we met up with the generous people of Orlando Brewing on Saturday, 2/1/14. The first thing we did was jump onto their free 45-minute public tour with James Elmer as our guide and learned all about their brewing process. Tod Caviness of the Orlando Sentinel joined us on that tour as well, and afterwards interviewed us; you can find that article here.
Our last brewery visit in the month of January was a big one. We were fortunate enough spend an afternoon at Cigar City Brewing, where we met with Vice President Justin Clark and were soon joined by owner and founder Joey Redner. The brewery’s name is a nod to local Ybor City, once the Cigar Capital of the World, although they are quick to point out that the brewery is not actually located in Ybor City. Several years before opening, Joey developed a business plan for a craft brewery and was writing a craft beer column for a local paper but, after losing patience waiting for someone else to utilize the plan he had developed, he decided to take on the challenge himself and founded Cigar City Brewing (CCB).
Immediately after checking out 7venth Sun Brewery on Wednesday, 1/29/14, we made a ridiculously long 2-minute drive all the way around the block to Dunedin Brewery in Dunedin, FL. Open since 1996, Dunedin is Florida’s oldest craft brewery with quite a few tricks up their sleeve. Not only do they brew, they also have food, live entertainment, and hold a ton of events. As soon as we walked in the door we were greeted by brewers Trace Caley and Richard Crance (Rick/ Ricky), along with their service/ sales manager Matt Barnett. Rick and Trace both claim there is no head brewer, but more so work as a brewing collective with the help of Mikey P., Simon Domb, and Lex Carr. Trace has been with the company for about 13-14 years and started homebrewing in 1992 simply because there was a limited amount of beers for him to choose from at that time.
On 1/29/14 we trekked west from where we were staying in Tampa to explore the beautiful ocean-side city of Dunedin, FL. We started off with a stop by 7venth Sun Brewery where we met with brewer Megan O’Boyle who was in the middle of a brew day and beginning the boil. She was kind enough right off the bat to offer to let me get my brewing feet wet by adding the first hop addition, which I gladly accepted. 7venth Sun opened on January 7th 2012 and had just celebrated their two year anniversary a few weeks before our visit. The brewery is the brainchild of Devon Kreps and Justin Stange who both have a range of previous brewing experience. Devon graduated from Oregon State University with a degree in fermentation science before working at Anheuser-Busch then Sweetwater in Atlanta, GA. Justin also brewed at Sweetwater as well as local Tampa brewery Cigar City. The focus at 7venth Sun is on wood sour aged beers but they also brew a range of Belgian styles, IPAs, spirit barrel aged beers, and culinary inspired creations. When I asked Meagan about the motivation for recipes, she replied, “We brew what we like.”
Tuesday, 1/28/14, was a rainy day in Gainesville, FL, but luckily we escaped the gloom by hanging out inside Swamp Head Brewery. As soon as we walked in we were greeted by Brandon Nappy, who is their Tactical Marketing Manager. He told us that the building we were visiting will actually be demolished for an I-75 overpass that is being built for a big development, so they will not be able to renew their lease when it goes up in August. Instead, they are planning to build a new facility nearby, get it ready for a brewery, install an entire brewery, and then have it up and running with recipes dialed in; all of which needs to be completed before they can shut the existing brewery down. The goal is to break ground for the new place in April.
After finishing our morning tour of Grayton Beer Company, we hauled over to Tallahassee to visit Proof Brewing Company (PBC), located just a few blocks from the bustling campus of Florida State University. PBC was a truly unique experience thus far in our travels because their facilities house not only a modern American pub and microbrewery but also a retail bottle shop/liquor store. They were voted RateBeer’s best brewpub in Florida for 2013. Altogether, this location boasts one of, if not the, best selections of craft beer in North Florida. The pub offers a total of 50 craft beers on tap between the two tasting rooms including several of Proof’s own beers. Beers on tap are available for growler fills to go and an additional 200 beers are available in bottle. No wonder FSU won the national championship this year – they must have had one happy student section with Proof just a mile walk from the stadium tailgating. We were fortunate that afternoon to meet with head brewer Larry Agee to discuss the brewery operations and tour the facilities.
While we were back in Fairhope, AL, we ran into Shank and Tyler who are brewers at Grayton Beer Company in Santa Rosa Beach, FL. After speaking with them and enjoying a few beers, we decided to add Grayton to our list and spontaneously ventured over there on Monday, 1/27/14. Shank is the head brewer and has been with Grayton for 3 years, although most of that time Grayton Beer Company was contract brewing through Florida Beer Co, who at the time was in Melbourne, FL southeast of Orlando. Grayton’s new facility boasts an impressive 30,000 sq ft, although two separate 3,000 sq ft areas are being leased out right now, so they are using about 24,000 to house their 30bbl brewhouse, four 90bbl tanks, three 60bbl, and two 30bbl, along with a remarkable bottling line that has a 20 head system and is able to push through about 100 bottles per minute.
We woke up the chilly morning of January 26th and said goodbye to Alabama (for now). At the western edge of the Florida panhandle lies the city of Pensacola where we spent the afternoon relaxing with the good people at Pensacola Bay Brewery. The brewery is located right across the street from the water in the quaint Historic Pensacola Village which is managed by the state’s West Florida Historic Preservation, Inc. When we arrived, we sat at the bar and sampled their eight beer flight, then Mark Robertson, co-owner and head brewer, showed us around the brewery. As the day warmed up, we enjoyed some time writing outside in the sunlight and watching the brewery get increasingly busy. They are not able to sell food but cultivate a tight sense of community by periodically offering free food with the help of brewery friend, Chef Dan Dunn, who was busy whipping up several dozen sliders and a few bags of fresh and grilled oysters with the help of several other locals.