It begins…

Florida’s legislative session doesn’t begin for another few months, but the noise is starting. From those I’ve spoken with over the summer, the discussions have been ongoing and what we’re seeing here is the result of those meetings. It’s interesting to see that the people talking this time are the MillerCoors distributors rather than the ABInBev distributors.

Here’s TBO’s take. Here’s another take from the Orlando Sentinel.

I think it’s a bit disingenuous to claim that the beer industry is “united” over this. Winning 64 ounce growlers is not the big issue any longer – people have moved on. Now its about keeping tasting rooms. Growing self-distribution. Including beer-drinkers in the discussion.

The next group to join the fight: retailers. Why? Check this quote: “What we don’t want to see is a return to the bad old days when totally unrestricted breweries sold to the public and even delivered to the home.”

Here’s the video from the BIF:

Big-a** brew day for Big-a** brew fest

Brewers from around Tampa Bay collaborate on beer for the Bad Ass Brew Fest

Recently Southern Brewing & Winemaking (Southern) hosted a collaboration brew day in honor of the Bad A** Beerfest put on by Tampa Bay Brewing Company.

Tampa Bay Brewing Company (TBBC) teamed up with Southern, Cigar City Brewpub, Barley Mow, Coppertail, Green Bench, and Big Storm to brew six recipes that will be released at the Bad A** Beerfest on June 28th. All six brews will be on tap together under one tent at the festival.

The actual brewing took place at Southern on Friday, June 6th. Craft beer fans wee invited to come hang out in the Southern biergarten and watch the brewing process. Southern was chosen as the brewday location due to the brewery’s unique small batch set-up that allows for six batches to be brewed at the same time.

The six collaborations brewed for the festival include:

TBBC and Cigar City Brewpub: Weizenbock
TBBC and Barley Mow: Big IPA
TBBC and Coppertail: Saison
TBBC and Green Bench: Belgian Dubbel
TBBC and Big Storm: Smoked Scotch Ale

For the final brew, TBBC, CCB Brewpub, Barley Mow, Coppertail, Greenbench, Big Storm, and Southern all independently chose some malt and hops and threw them together for a unique and surprising amalgam brew.

Southern was involved with all of brews that day, so one keg of each of the beers brewed for the festival will also be available on tap in the Southern taproom later this month.

About Bad A** Beerfest
Tampa Bay Brewing Company (TBBC) of Ybor City will hold the first annual Bad A** Beerfest on June 28, 2014, on the site of their new brewery and restaurant in the Westchase area of Tampa, FL at 13937 Monroe’s Business Park. The craft beer festival is a celebration of the groundbreaking of the TBBC Westchase location and will showcase at least 20 local breweries, TBBC food, live music, and other entertainment. Proceeds of the event will benefit the Wounded Warriors of Tampa and South Florida.

About Southern Brewing & Winemaking
Located in Seminole Heights, Southern Brewing & Winemaking is a small, local craft brewery that makes and serves beers, ciders, meads, and sodas on site. The taproom has 24 taps and is located inside the conjoined homebrewing and winemaking supply shop.

Southern Brewing & Winemaking brings in weekly food trucks and musicians, offers monthly classes on home brewing, and hosts events throughout the year in their newly redesigned biergarten.

Post-legislative session wrap-up: an interview with Pepin Distributing’s J.P. Pepin

It has been nearly a month now since the close of the contentious 2014 Florida legislative session. I felt like it would take about this long for things to simmer down. By the looks of things, we’re getting back to normal. Cigar City made good on their promise to deliver 2014 Hunahpu to those who weren’t able to get it during Hunahpu’s day. Beer fests happened in Venice and Bradenton of all places, and yes, they happened simultaneously. Heck, even the monthly “Occupy Saint Somewhere” went off without anyone in the fermenters. No beerpocalypse in Tampa Bay, at least not today.

But memories of the angst and bitter words traded between members of the general public, the craft breweries, the distributors, and certain legislators in both the House and the Senate will not fade quickly. There are plans for at least two new organizations to represent individuals and craft breweries, and at least one PAC. Perhaps one of the most vilified companies from this entire episode was Tampa’s Pepin Distributing. It seemed to me that aside from the legislators that were sponsoring the bills, no one entity was the object of as much sheer rage and enmity as was Pepin. I wanted to get to the bottom of what Pepin’s position is in this situation, so I reached out to J.P. Pepin, the guy in charge of Pepin’s craft beer business and spent some time with him over lunch at the Holy Hog recently.

Now mind you, a lot of people will look at this story and won’t be able to see past the name before they begin trembling with rage – but hear me out – I think this is a story of good old ‘Merican politics and business, and I wonder if the tables were turned would you not act differently?

“This whole thing is a case of misinformation,” says Pepin, “we were meeting with Representative Young 18 months ago. My brother Tom and I were in a room with a few local brewers and Representative Young and we were trying to hash out something that would protect these breweries.” And that’s the Pepin position.  The way the session ended – you would think that was their goal all along. Remember the article in the Tampa Bay Business Journal with Pepin and Cigar City’s Joey Redner sharing a beer? Many of you who have followed along at home may be wondering – why didn’t I hear about this? Well, that’s the misinformation that Pepin is talking about.

To understand this a bit better, it’s important to understand Pepin a bit better.

Pepin Distributing is a large company. Its revenue in recent years was nearly $70 million. Pepin distributes beer, water, wine, energy drinks, and even chocolate milk throughout the Tampa Bay area. Craft beer accounts for no more than 2-3% of that business, and that includes brands like Goose Island, Sweetwater, Greenflash, and Saint Arnold. After taking out those nationally known craft beers, the balance comes from local breweries like Tampa Bay Brewing Company, Big Storm, 3 Daughters, Florida Avenue Brewing, and ESB. Upcoming brewery Coppertail has also signed with Pepin for distribution in the Tampa Bay area. J.P. Pepin is responsible for that fraction of the Pepin line of business, and it’s something he holds dear.

This is why J.P. thinks that this whole mess is just about misinformation. People don’t quite understand the way “the bill” – also known as SB1714 – ended up, or why it even was an issue in the first place. No matter what the general public may understand or not understand, it seems that the root cause of the issue may be one of misinformation and tension within the state of Florida itself. “The craft beer breweries and popularity has exploded, under the radar, in the last three years, and literally taken Tallahassee by surprise.” says Pepin.

Why should there be any change to the existing situation? I couldn’t get an answer to this question, but I suspect that some of Rep. Kelli Stargel’s comments on the floor of the Senate during the legislative session could be followed to their natural conclusion: “… rather than have them [Florida brewers] face them [challenges] in the courts … what I’m doing is putting into law the certainty that they need to be able to operate and build a business model and grow.” Stargel foreshadows legal challenges to the operation of breweries in Florida. Where did this threat of legal challenges come from? It’s impossible to say with any certainty, but Pepin thinks “perhaps the lack of communication between the members of the three-tier system and the explosion of the first tier (the breweries) needs to be addressed.”  The meeting with Young could have been the proactive strike J.P. took to protect his growing craft beer division. “The bill as it was introduced was nothing like what was discussed in that meeting,” says Pepin, “the intent was to clarify what is a brewpub, a brewery, a brewery with liquor sales, or a brewery with wine and liquor sales, and what each can do under that license.” When asked who wrote the final bill, Pepin adds “I don’t know.”

The discussion I had with Pepin continued for at least another half hour, in which we discussed the beer business in Florida, the lack of transparency in the process, and the uproar from craft beer enthusiasts in the state. We also discussed J.P.’s vision for craft beer in Florida. “Within 10 years I expect craft beer to be 10-15% of the state beer business” says Pepin. “Our job as a distributor is to market and promote beers, regardless of where those beers come from. We want to focus on keeping our brands relevant in the marketplace. I’ve picked up four kegs from [Tampa brewery] ESB in the back of my car. My job is to help them grow.” In his eyes, the main thing that will hold back craft breweries in the state of Florida is quality. New local breweries have to compete with national brands and established local breweries for tap and shelf space, and if a local brewery puts out a sub-par product, they will have a hard time seeing their market-share grow. “Brands are only as good as their liquid,” Pepin says, ” no matter what we do, how much time we spend on brand building, it all comes down to the consumer enjoying the liquid.”

 

 

 

Rock Brothers Brewing connects musicians to their perfect beer

Kevin Lilly and a Rock Brothers 30bbl FermenterSo there’s this concept – synergy – which is regularly joked about because of its overuse in business conversations. It’s a real thing though – it’s basically two things that when combined create an effect, feeling, or outcome that is better than consuming them both separately. A great example is music and beer. I can drink beer and be pretty happy. I can listen to music and be pretty happy. But when I listen to music while drinking beer, my happiness level skyrockets. See, that’s synergy. That’s what Rock Brothers is about – it’s about synergy, making things, helping people, and doing something real.

Rock Brothers Brewing officially began in 2013, but founder Kevin Lilly was kicking around the idea for a long time before then, dating back to 2006. Kevin’s interest in music goes back a long way – he has been a full time musician, a coffee shop owner (think open mics and indie bands), and is currently a concert producer. Kevin’s also an entrepreneur – not afraid to try out ideas, find ways to make them work, and bring new and exciting things to market. “One thing is certain, there is a large disconnect between the typical person in the business world and artists in the music industry, they don’t speak the same language and it is difficult at times for those two elements to work well together. I’m like a connector for two odd puzzle pieces,” says Lilly, “who bridges the communication gap between the artists and the accountants.” The idea behind Rock Brothers is simple: hand craft beers that are the liquid representation of the artists and their essence. This is the way in which Lilly acts like a connector – bringing together musicians and artists on the music-side with brewers and artists on the beer-side. To make this idea a reality, Lilly needed someone on the beer side of the business.

The beer-side of Rock Brothers Brewing is a product of a deep collaboration between Lilly and Rock Brothers kegs awaiting their fillTampa’s Cigar City Brewing – actually Joey Redner, whom Lilly approached with the idea in early 2012. Redner was smitten with the idea of a brewery focused on music – most of Cigar City’s employees are musicians in some way, shape, or form. He recognized that there’s a lot of love between craft brewers and musicians. The two made for fast friends and quickly found themselves discussing their favorite styles – both beer and music.

Redner quickly saw how he and head brewer Wayne Wambles could contribute their brewing experience to the venture: their passion for beer is a perfect match for Lilly’s passion for music. Lilly was the puzzle piece that connected the two worlds. For Redner and Wambles the commitment was simple: contract a portion of Cigar City’s brewing capacity to Lilly and occasionally meet with Lilly and the bands and artists to develop great beers. Lilly’s commitment was to bring great artists and bands to the table and ensure a minimum capacity of beer each month moved through the brewing process.

Lilly passionately leads the music-side of the Rock Brothers Brewing team. His concept is simple: each artist has a soul, an essence, or a vibe – and that this concept can be represented by a specific beer uniquely tailored to that essence. Rock Brothers is very particular about the artists they approach – there is a specific vetting process. Every partner in the mix must fully understand the concept they’re getting involved with and understand this is not a “one-and-done” gig. Beers will go “on-tour” and there are charities involved with every brand. The partnership is not just about making money for the artist with additional revenue from the beer – it’s about doing good in the community and doing right by the fans. “Its about interpreting the artist” says Lilly. And Lilly is not alone in this interpretation. Once the artist passes the vetting process, the work on designing the perfect beer begins.

Designing beers for Rock Brothers is all about synergy and serendipity. The process of designing a beer begins with Lilly working with the artist to understand their beer experience. Designing beers with people not already in the craft beer industry is simplified by the wide variety of commercially available craft styles and an unprecedented availability of ingredients. The problem that Lilly faces is that many people have not tried the various styles, and are more familiar with common mass-market beers like Corona, Heineken, and Bud or Miller Coors Zeus from Cigar City pours a pint of Rock Brothers beerproducts. When Rock Brothers approaches an artist about a collaboration beer, in many cases the first suggestions come from the artist’s experience with these mass-market beers. Lilly’s passion for beer comes in here – in that he understands the “beer learning curve” and is able to help guide the artist through craft styles similar to mass-market varieties, working with the artist to call out specific flavors, textures, and aromas. Lilly brings in Redner and Wambles as needed to help guide the discussions from conceptual (“My grandfather used to take his coffee ‘nare sugar’”) to a final design for a beer that can be produced at the scale needed to make it economically feasible. Consider Rock Brothers “Nare Sugar Brown,” the beer for Jacksonville-based, now internationally acclaimed artist JJ Grey and Mofro. “Nare Sugar Brown” is a brown ale influenced by JJ Grey and Mofro’s song “Nare Sugar,” referring to coffee ordered without sugar. The process to come up with the recipe was “like writing a song” said Lilly. The artist talked about feelings, senses, and emotional chemistry, while Lilly, Redner, and Wambles translated that into the biochemistry necessary to make a beer both would be satisfied with.

“Nare Sugar Brown” wasn’t the first beer Rock Brothers produced – that honor goes to Bradenton-based Have Gun will Travel‘s “High Road Ale”, a hoppy pale ale clocking in at 5.5% ABV. It won’t be the last beer either – Lilly has a big trick up his sleeve that he hopes to reveal soon after Rock Brother’s first anniversary this past April 28. He’s not saying much, but he will reveal that the beer is being brewed in partnership with Palmetto Brewing Company out of South Carolina and will be a sessionable American Blonde Ale.

Rock Brothers beers are generally available on draught and in packages throughout the state of Florida. Look for their distinctive “microphone” tap handle at your local watering hole. For information on the release of their newest beer please visit www.rockbrothersbrewing.com. Also – join them for their first anniversary party this June 13th at Saint Pete’s “The Ale and the Witch”.

Rock Brothers Logo

Southern Brewing Releases New Orange Honey Pale at Summer Art Market

Summer Art Market Beer Glass
Southern is at it again. They’re brewing a new beer to be released at the Summer Art Market. The Summer Art Pale Ale, inspired by summer, features a light grain bill paired with Centennial hops, orange peel, and local Orange Blossom Honey.

The brew is intended to capture the essence of summer, while also being a sessionable pale ale that is perfect for sipping in the Southern biergarten.

“We wanted to brew something for the event that reminds beer lovers of Florida summers with every sip,” stated Marketing Manger Cindy Lyons. “The orange blossom honey pairs perfectly with the oranges for a sunny day beer that is light and refreshing.”

The brewery will also be releasing a new Hibiscus Mead for the event, made with local hibiscus and Orange Blossom Honey from a nearby apiary. The mead is gluten-free.

The beer and mead will make their debut on Sunday, May 25th at the Summer Art Market, and will be available on special for guests that purchase event glassware. The commemorative glassware will be available for $5 per glass, and will get attendees $3.50 fills all day on select beers.

About the Summer Art Market

The Summer Art Market will showcase 30 local artists that will have their work available for purchase. Artwork featured at the show includes paintings, jewelry, metal sculptures, baked goods, apparel, home décor, beauty products, photography, dry gardens and more.
Local musicians Fil Pate and 10th Concession will be playing in the biergarten during the event, and local vendors will have a wide variety of food available at the market.
The event is family and pet friendly and free to attend; sponsored by Creative Loafing Tampa.
For more information on the Summer Art Pale, Hibiscus Mead, or on the Summer Art Market, please contact Cindy at 813-238-7800 or reach out to Southern on Facebook or Twitter.

Coppertail Brewing photo gallery

What happened to my beloved Hopped on the High Seas?

Hopped on the High Seas

… turns out it is no more. I got a chance to speak with Wayne Wambles tonight about the fate of the brand, only to learn that due to some unforeseen circumstances they had to discontinue the project. That leaves this guy personally very saddened – I looked forward to the experimental hop blends!

All is not lost however – Wambles reports that they’re looking for other production facilities in the Caribbean that can provide at least 200BBL batch production capacity. So the series may be resurrected at some point in the future, just not right now. There’s also talk of bring it to life at the Brew Hub in Lakeland, but that would detract from the whole “high seas” approach.

And about that approach – how did “Hopped on the High Seas” come to be? Whose idea was it? Quoth Wambles the great:

I guess it wasn’t really any of ours individually. We were all on the same page due to what would be best for the beer. The IPA story fell in our lap in the process. There was no capable packaging line down there and no large cooler space so we felt that it would be best to ship the beer with yeast(to reduce oxygen levels) and since the 1200 mile transit was going to take 6-7 days(the same amount of time as our dry hopping contact), it just made sense. It was less of a gimmick and more a necessity.

Beautiful stuff.

 

Tampa Distributors support American Craft Beer Week

Two of Tampa Bay’s biggest beer distributors are hosting beer fests in conjunction with the Brewers’ Association American Craft Beer Week:

Both events are sure to be a good time and will include craft beers from local breweries as well as from around the country.

Update on Stargel last minute strike-all amendment to SB1714

I had a chance to speak with David Doble of Tampa Bay Brewing Company this morning about the recent changes to SB1714. The story is intriguing and definitely brings to light the lengths to which some members of the local brewing community are going to find a positive resolution to this situation.

David Doble of Tampa Bay Brewing Company and Mike Bishop of Big Storm Brewing, both distributed by Pepin, recently met with J. Paul Pepin (Craft Manager for Pepin) to bring to light that their businesses were going to be negatively impacted (including possible boycotts) because of their relationship to Pepin. The talks proceeded positively and resulted in a follow-up meeting between Pepin Distributing, the FBWA (led by Mitch Rubin) and FBG leadership. Over the next few days, FBWA and FBG hammered out the terms of an agreement that both parties could agree with. “Then things went sour” reports Doble. “Negotiations were cut off and the guild advised us to kill the bill.”

Fast forward to this weekend, when negotiations came back to Doble, Bishop, and Pepin directly. Apparently the two groups (FBWA and FBG) couldn’t come to an agreement, so Pepin tried to work with its breweries to get the FBG to come back to the table. In last minute negotiations, the discussions proved fruitful and an agreement seemed imminent, only to be upset by last minute changes from Sen. Stargel. The final amendment was not the same as the terms the parties had previously agreed upon.

Ultimately, the FBG and FBWA are not yet able to come to an agreement, and it seems that Sen. Stargel’s changes are the going to move forward in the absence of an agreement.

EDIT 9:25AM 4/28/14: I left a voicemail for J. Paul Pepin and sent a Facebook Message to Joey Redner to get their feedback as well. I’ll update this post when I get some more information.

EDIT: 9:27AM 4/28/14: Received feedback from Josh Aubuchon at Florida Brewers Guild on the Stargel Strike-All amendment: “Unfortunately, the amendment contains provisions that would harm the economic growth of the craft beer industry in Florida and places limitations on brewery operations that are not currently in Florida law. It would be difficult for us to support any language that places additional burdens on small businesses that are experiencing such rapid growth in Florida.”

Randy Reaver (Three Palms) and Mick Cohn (Beer Box)

East Tampa brewer Three Palms eyes expansion plans

Three Palms Brewing is expanding.

By the end of this summer, Three Palms will grow from its current 3 barrel 1,000 square foot combined brewery/tasting room to a 15 barrel 3,000 square foot family and pet-friendly tasting room and brewery. Along with the physical expansion, they’re expanding their opening time to seven days a week.

But that’s not all: Randy goes on to tell Tampa Bay Brew News that he’s in the initial stages of canning his immensely popular “Going the Distance” IPA. Stay tuned for more details about the expansion and canning plans!

Congratulations Randy!