A warm day spent in central Florida is indescribably better with a cold and delicious beer in hand. It is that much better if that refreshing beer is created from a unique and local microbrewery. People residing in the city of Lakeland have not been afforded the luxury of enjoying the flavors and atmosphere provided by their own local brewery and taproom – that is, until now. Thanks to Lakeland Brewing Company, a new craft beer culture will be sweeping the ever-growing town and putting it on the map as a must-visit for those looking for the next best brew. The greatest part is that Lakeland Brewing Company and its attached taproom and restaurant, Old School Annex, will offer more than just your typical run of the mill brewery experience.
Located in the historic district of downtown, Lakeland Brewing Company is in the very heart of the city. Only a short walking distance from the shops and bustle of downtown Lakeland, it is tucked away just enough to give its patrons a relaxed feeling of seclusion. As you approach the brewery, the first thing you will notice is its impeccable position directly overlooking the reflective waters of Lake Mirror. This charming and picturesque lake is easily recognizable as a major Lakeland landmark. Lake Mirror is a common inspiration for many local artists, and the surrounding gardens are a popular backdrop for photographers. From LBC’s patio you’ll have a front row view of the many festivities that take place annually around the lake, such as the Lakeland Swan Derby; Pics on the Promenade; and the Lake Mirror Classic, an auto show that attracts more than 35,000 spectators to see its more than 600 classic autos on display.
If you look closely at Lakeland Brewing Company’s logo, you will see the silhouette of a resplendent swan radiating in the background. Strong and graceful, these birds decorate the shores of nearby Lake Morton and are certainly not as delicate as they appear. Swans are a Lakeland icon—even used in the City of Lakeland’s logo—so it was only appropriate for Lakeland Brewing Company to adopt this strong bird’s profile as a part of their logo. LBC’s swan sports rough and tough “tattoo-ish” appearance, fitting the swan’s seldom-seen feisty nature.
As co-owner Francis Janes led John and I into their spacious building, we couldn’t help but be shocked by its enormous interior. Twelve thousand square feet! The ideal space to house the brewery’s 15 barrel brewhouse and 30 barrel fermenting tanks. Although the construction is not quite complete, the energy in the place is exciting and alive with possibility. The building, almost a hundred years old, is a literal slice of Lakeland history. Built in 1920s, it served as the site for Polly Prim’s laundry service, later became Coyne Laundry, and was eventually converted into a massive skate park that entertained local skateboarders.
Francis, born and raised in Gainesville, is a special events planner who recently moved to Lakeland from Los Angeles where he had lived for the last twenty years. He started looking to expand the craft beer business out in California and was searching for the right opportunity to come along. That opportunity presented itself during a family visit in the later part of 2012 when a simple car ride to pick up his skateboard-crazy nephew led him to his dream location and a building that just happened to be for sale. The rest, as they say, is history. Literally. Lakeland Brewing Company will go down in the books as being Lakeland’s first microbrewery. There is no doubt the establishment will contribute to the city’s upward growth and help the downtown district continue to flourish.
The brewery’s taproom and restaurant has been dubbed quite an interesting name – “Old School Annex.” When asked about the meaning, Francis was quick to mention it was homage to Old School Compound (the skate park that formerly occupied the building and significant turning point in his quest to start a brewery) then allowed his head brewer, Joe Pierce, to elaborate. “Old” salutes the historic building’s rich and somewhat unusual past; and “School” refers to the exciting fact they plan on being big into educating about beer and spreading the flavor of great brews to locals and visitors alike. In the traditional form of a school, there will also be a few replicas of old-fashioned school desks placed around the taproom, but don’t you worry! The only form of learning you will experience in this schoolroom is guaranteed to be delicious and satisfying.
The kitchen will offer a mouth watering array of small dishes that will not only complement your brew, but are the perfect size for sharing (or you can certainly enjoy it all to yourself, of course!). There will be a lot of dishes that you wouldn’t normally expect to see on the typical bar menu, and if you do happen to see a familiar dish, expect a surprising and delectable twist. The menu is not yet finalized, but they plan on incorporating different international flavors into the food, which will fluctuate to match the season. With a grin, Francis says “We don’t want to do anything anyone else has done before. You could say the world is our palate.” They will also offer choice wines for those who prefer a not-so-beery beverage for their session.
Francis and his business partners (his sister, Serena Faruq, and her husband, Usman) have put together quite the brewing team! Head Brewer, Joe Pierce, spent the last seven years at the Milwaukee Brewing Company in Wisconsin, brewing, running the bottling line and collaborating on the creation of recipes. He and his wife got sick of the winters up north and decided to come down south, where their outdoorsy spirits could thrive. Now, Lakeland will get to benefit from Joe’s talents and ideas for creating top notch craft beer. Rob Harriage, Assistant brewer, learned his craft at Cigar City Brewery in Tampa, doing everything from brewing to packaging to cellaring. This is definitely a brew team that deserves an A+.
Local beer lovers can expect an offering of delicious staple brews that will include a pair of pale ales (one west coast, one east coast), a variety of IPAs to please both the novice drinker and hop heads alike, a special Florida wheat beer scented with tangerine and honey, a dry stout, and a number of other brews that, for now, remain a closely guarded secret. While Francis favors the bitter hoppiness of IPA’s, Joe is partial to some more unusual but just as delectable styles, including barrel aged ales, intense sours and Belgian lagers. Lakeland Brewing Company will team with Bernie Little distributors for local distribution which includes not only Lakeland but also outlying areas such as Winter Haven, Sebring and Fort Meade. They hope to move into canning within two to three years.
Once open, the brewery will offer patrons two exceptional atmospheres in which to enjoy their brews; the aforementioned Old School Annex taproom interior along with their serene front patio overlooking Lake Mirror. Soon after opening, they hope to put the finishing touches on their beer garden; a more secluded area out back that sits in the shadow of the building’s old water tank and tower; another feature that enhances the historical sentiment. Future live entertainment is planned, possibly to perform on what they have affectionately dubbed the “Silo Stage” – the deck adjacent to their loading dock which houses their brand new 50,000 pound silo. Amtrak and CSX freight trains running just behind the brewery add to the nostalgic ambiance, and beer garden patrons can observe the brewery’s unofficial mascots—an osprey family—which have made their home high atop an old electric pole next to the nearby tracks.
There is still some work to be done just yet, but Lakeland Brewing Company is expecting to open their doors to the public sometime in late Spring. This is definitely a must to put on your bucket list. With scenic and relaxing environments in which to enjoy one of their top of the line brews and culinary creations, Lakeland Brewing Company is certainly worth the extra drive for those out in the Tampa Bay Area – or anywhere, for that matter! Just make sure that when you head out to the downtown Lakeland area that your taste buds are prepared for some delicious food and brew schooling at Lakeland Brewing Company and Old School Annex.