Category Archives: Interviews

Formal interviews with the people who make the Tampa Bay brewery scene as awesome as it is.

Sour beer pairing suggestions from Rodney at Tangent Brewing

“Funk and sour is the new hops,” or so I’ve heard. Lots of local breweries are working on a funk or sour program, and both Coppertail and Green Bench have foeders of their own for oak-aging their beers. Hype or not, most of the worlds great breweries maintain these programs and some of them for hundreds of years. Tangent Brewing, one of Tampa’s up-and-coming breweries, intends to lead the bay area in the production of sour and Brettanomyces beers. I asked Rodney to write up an introduction to some funky and sour beers in an easily accessible manner – and what better way to do that than with cheese and dessert pairings? Enjoy the pairing suggestions, and if you have a chance, look for Tangent at an upcoming beer fest. They’re pouring at the best of them, including during Tampa Bay Beer Week.

Continue reading

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.”




Tampa Bay Craft Beer Expands East: Lakeland Brewing Company

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.

Mirror Lake, from the Patio of Lakeland Brewing Company

Mirror Lake, from the patio of Lakeland Brewing Company

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.

Under construction: Lakeland Brewing Company

Under construction: Lakeland Brewing Company

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+.

Lakeland Brewing Company head brewer Joe Pierce

Lakeland Brewing Company head brewer Joe Pierce

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.

Kirra, the Lakeland Brewing Company Brew Dog

Kirra, the Lakeland Brewing Company brew dog

Hopcloth Founder Supports Florida Breweries

Most people who travel in craft beer/local beer circles have kept up with the shenanigans happening in this year’s Florida legislative session. For those of you not following along, take my word for it – it has been a stressful, frustrating, and very busy time for brewers and the people who support them throughout the state. Legislators have introduced a number of bills that will affect local breweries this year. Some of those bills are better for the local breweries than others, but no matter what, the landscape in Florida for craft beer will never be the same, and this has lots of people concerned.

Enter Jeff Smith, proprietor of hopcloth, a Tampa-based designer of craft-beer related apparel.

“Not only do these bills threaten to limit local breweries’ ability to sell beer to their customers, it threatens the beer community these breweries helped establish.  The cooperative and collaborative environment that they’ve created has fostered the growth and made many Florida cities craft beer destinations.  While there is great beer available to purchase from outside of Florida, we wouldn’t have the beer community here without these local breweries.” — Jeff Smith

And he’s right to be concerned – a legislative analysis of the first reading of H.B. 1329 confirmed that the bill as introduced would reduce the potential revenue of local breweries as we currently know them. Subsequent changes haven’t been as favorable as local breweries would like, and that continues to concern Smith. Smith wasn’t content to sit idly by while proposed legislation threatened his business, so he did what he does best – he designed a T-shirt to summarize his concern.

Don't Tread on Craft Beer, by @hopcloth

Don’t Tread on Craft Beer, by hopcloth

“Hopcloth shirts have always been conversation starters.  The iconic symbol of Government resistance paired with the beer growler will hopefully continue that.  I think that there are many local craft beer consumers that no nothing about the fight our breweries are going through.”  — Jeff Smith

Smith plans to donate a portion of the proceeds from the sale of these shirts to the Florida Brewer’s Guild, the organization dedicated to the promotion of the Florida brewing industry to the public. Smith hopes that “the shirt will raise more awareness about the issues Florida breweries face.” I think it will – so why not buy a shirt – help the cause – and look good while doing it?

Shirts are available from hopcloth’s etsy store for $18 + shipping and handling. I got mine!


Coppertail Brewing Logo on Wood

Guest Post: Thanksgiving Traditions, Grub, and Brews with Robb from Coppertail

Coppertail Brewing Logo on WoodIn the olden days back in Minnesota, before I was officially “of drinking age,” we used to celebrate the poultry centric holiday with a few glasses of “Franzia Blush”…out of a box. But hey it sure beat Michelob Golden Light out of a can, Blatz, and this other tableside staple referred to in our family as “Morgan Davis” (Mogen David wine.) Try asking for “Morgan Davis” at a liquor store and let the ridicule begin, I know firsthand.

Thankfully, I discovered the joy of craft beer (then called microbrew) around the time Nirvana’s “Smells like teen spirit” started blaring out of my maroon Dodge 600’s windows. After the light-bulb went on a six pack or three of Summit Brewing’s finest would be hidden away in the basement refrigerator of my parent’s home. A few brave relatives would even ask for a pull (or a whole bottle), usually after a few glasses of liquid courage poured out of a box. Strangely this event occurred each year around the time John Madden and Pat Summerall dug into the turducken.

Twenty some years and 1500 miles later our Thanksgiving traditions have changed. Being down in Florida with my longtime sweetheart Lisa, and with her sister and family in close proximity, our large family gatherings are now much smaller. Gone are the lefse (which is a tasty Norwegian potato flatbread), and thank goodness- the pickled herring and the odiferous lutefisk are no longer with us. Vino still makes an appearance but it comes in the form of a decent and user friendly red.

Craft beer now dominates our Thanksgiving hooch bounty for a couple of different reasons. We really enjoy it for one and quality suds pair extraordinarily well with food. Also homebrew is poured through more taps than I’m willing to admit and somebody has to pretend like they enjoy it.

According to legend, one of the main reasons those thirsty pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock was because they ran out of ale. So we’re actually celebrating the spirit of the holiday when we crack open another frosty cold one. That excuse is usually recited later in the evening.

Anyway on to the food and beer

Smoked turkey breast is the protein du jour. Two or three boneless breasts grace the table and one is injected with apple juice and at least one is injected with Frank’s Red Hot sauce-the original buffalo wing sauce. Liberally dry-rubbed, they are smoked over apple wood.

Delicate with fruit overtones and moderately smoky, they do best with a brew doesn’t overpower. Belgian (and American) wits and strong ales both pair perfectly, the fruity esters (from the yeast) really compliment the meat. Allagash White, and Florida Brewing Co.’s Key West Sunset Wheat are solid selections as is Delirium Tremens.

Many flavors are contained within the plethora of side dishes. Sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberries, and stuffing all surround the good bird. Food friendly and versatile ambers, reds, pale ales, and brown ales work well. New Belgium’s Fat Tire, Cigar City’s Maduro Brown, and Summit Brewing Co.’s Extra Pale Ale fit the bill.

Rich deserts, usually in the form of Pecan and Pumpkin pie, complete the caloric odyssey and a special brew is required to help wash down all that decadence. Pumpkin beers make wonderful choices, as do winter warmers, chocolate beers, fruit beers, and Wee Heavies. Stouts and porters do the trick too. Tampa Bay Brewing Co.’s Gourds Gone Wild, Pensacola Bay’s Lighthouse Porter, Great Divide’s Claymore Scotch Ale, Rogue’s Chocolate Stout, and of course Cigar City’s Hunahpu Stout do those pies proud. To counteract that tryptophan and stay away for that second NFL game pick up a growler of Dunedin Brewery’s Biere’ de Café.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving and cheers!

Robb Larson

Coppertail is an up and coming Tampa Bay brewery that should be opening in March 2014. You can follow their progress on their brewery blog or here on TBBN! We wrote about them back in May of 2013.


Intuition Ale Works: Let’s Make Florida More Beer Friendly

Just got off the phone with Ben Davis, proprietor of Jacksonville’s Intuition Ale Works. We chatted a bit about what’s fermenting over there (a Simcoe based IPA fermented on Brett – dry and hoppy, yum — ed.) and his latest foray into the beer business: lobbying.

Davis recently hired a Tallahassee lobbyist (at a “competitive” rate – Intuition is footing the bill) to augment the good things that Josh Aubuchon (Holland and Knight) and the Florida Brewer’s Guild are doing. The vision: make Florida a more beer friendly state. “If you look at what’s happening in North Carolina or Colorado or California and compare it to what’s happening in Florida – we’re way behind” says Davis. His mission: make it easier for breweries to start and grow. Making Florida more beer friendly won’t only help beer drinkers in the state, it will help grow our biggest industry: tourism.

We’ll see what happens after this first issue – I’m calling it “GrowlerGate” – is addressed. Davis has big plans for the Florida beer scene, and he’s definitely pushing to make it happen. Three cheers for Ben Davis!

For more detailed coverage on Ben’s foray, check out Peter Schorsch’s excellent post on St. Peters’ Blog:

Budding Brewer Builds Brilliant Brewstands

Have you met MacGyver? You know, the dashing ’80’s hero who could pick a lock using a chewing gum wrapper and a bottle of Windex? Yeah, well I bet MacGyver was a home brewer. See that’s one characteristic that all home brewers share – aside from all of us being dashing and debonair and having incredible theme song – that is we generally have a maker’s mentality. In home brewing, that translates to the ability to make mash tuns out of igloo coolers and the creative use of gravity to move large volumes of hot sticky water around without burning anyone or making their wives ban all home brewing activities on the kitchen stove. Don’t ask.

Joshua Garman

Most home brewers are content with their own Rube Goldberg-esque contraptions. See, the brewing process is not complex – but it does involve heavy, hot, sticky, and wet stuff. Any tools or equipment to reduce the labors involved in heating, cooling, lifting, pouring, and generally dealing with the heavy, hot, sticky, and wet stuff are welcome additions to any brewer’s repertoire. Enter our hero, MacGyver, and tinkerer cum laude: Joshua Garman.

Joshua makes brewstands. A brewstand is probably the pièce de résistance for the home-brewer. It’s kind of like the foundation of the brewing process. Heating water for your mash? It starts on the brewstand. Moving water into the mash-tun? Yep, the pump is attached to the brewstand. Keeping your mash temp at 158 for 60 minutes? Yep, the brewstand holds the gas pipes, valves, and controllers that keep the cold beer in your hand and your hand off the gas valve. Have a back problem and can’t lift that 100 pound kettle? Yep, there’s a pump for that. And for that, Josh is a God. He’s applying his gifts: engineering know-how, skill with tools, and in-depth knowledge of the brewing process. The results speak for themselves. Fewer back aches. More beer.

An extruded aluminum brewstand.

Joshua Garman, proprietor of Levitate Brewing Systems customized this extruded aluminum brew stand for a customer.

Josh has been home brewing now for a few years and this is the natural extension of his craft. He’s no longer content just making beer – now he wants to make the tools that help others make beer. Josh is so confident in his ability he started a company – Levitate Brewing Systems – to bring his crafts to market. His first customers are local homebrew club members, but he’s expanding. Josh is working with local home brew store Southern Brewing and Winemaking to put a demo stand in their store. Look for it there soon.

Right now the systems are custom developed to meet your individual tastes. Like aluminum rather than stainless steel? No problem. Want electrically controlled gas valves? Check. Josh brings multiple talents to bear, not just welding. He even designs easy to use automatic control systems that, and I’ll be honest, made me feel like I was sitting in front of the control panel of a launch pad. I love gadget porn.

Levitate Brewing Systems brew stand controller.

Levitate Brewing Systems brew stand controller.

Josh is rightfully proud of his work – it’s brew-ti-ful. But the results speak for themselves. I got a chance to taste a delicious Marzen he brewed on his personal stand – mmmmmm good.

HLT, MT, and BK

For more information about Levitate Brewing Systems, contact them directly through their website:, or drop by Southern Brewing and Winemaking soon to see one for yourself.

Bay Area Barley’s Angels

Bay Area Barley's AngelsIt’s very rare that I would ever advocate for any group that only includes a single race, creed, or gender, but I will make a singular exception for Lisa Schneider Colburn’s Bay Area Barley’s Angels. Why? Because they’re trying to grow Tampa Bay’s beer scene by bringing in people who don’t like beer: women.

You see, there is a false perception out there that beer is a man’s drink. Lots of women are just plain turned off by it. And why shouldn’t they be: most of what they’re exposed to is either what their dad drank (probably Old Milwaukee) or what their college boyfriend drank (probably Natural Light Ice). Neither of these are really characteristic of the beers that are now available through the “craft beer movement.” And that is something that Lisa’s looking to amend: she wants to enhance, broaden, and otherwise ameliorate the beverage situation among Tampa Bay’s beverage-oppressed fairer sex. You see, this is an educational group.

The rules are few and simple:

  1. It’s about the people, and those people must be female.
  2. There will be food (and beer!) at every event.
  3. There’s a minor charge for each event – these ladies pay their own way.

Applying these rules, Barley’s Angels will explore new styles; learn about how beer is produced, marketed, and sold; and grow their own personal networks. Men are welcome to present and/or serve (only if they’re shirtless and look like Ryan Gosling), but they can’t join or attend meetings. Sorry guys, you’ll have to find your own club.

Logistics: meeting prices will vary and will be announced on the group’s Facebook page ( Membership is not required, but if you join you get a cool tasting notebook, pen, and a discount on meeting fees. Meetings will likely be monthly and hosted by local breweries, homebrew supply shops, pubs, and the like.

Bay Area Barley's Angels Tasting Journal and Pens

Each member will get a cool tasting journal and pen.

The group’s first meeting will be Tuesday September 17th at Southern Brewing. RSVP on their Facebook page:!/events/546481575430838/. The group will take the mystery out of Oktoberfest Beers (yum!).

So – guys – are you looking for a way to get your lady into craft beer in a safe, fun, and not-guided-by-you way? She’d probably love this – send her off and meet me at Stein and Vine for a pint.

Ladies – looking for something new and fun to do? Try it out!

Good luck Lisa!


Gary Kost: Beer Rater Extraordinaire

Image ruthlessly borrowed from CCB's Facebook Page

Gary enjoying his 500th rated beer from CCB.

I know a few people. I’ll just say it: I’m kind of a big deal. But I’m really nothing compared to Gary Kost, a man to whom I’ve given the official TBBN monicker “Beer Rater Extraordinaire.” But it’s not like I even know much about him: I just know that he’s consumed enough Cigar City beer to have rated more than 500 distinct beers from that one brewery alone. Armed with this little tidbit and my official TBBN press credentials, I sought an interview with the elusive yet kind and gentle Mr. Kost.

What follows is a mildly edited transcript of a conversation we had over email.

John (me): so, I got your email address from CCB after I learned that you rated your 500th beer from their brewery. I get it, you like beer. Let me buy you one, then you can tell me your life story and the intricate details of each beer you’ve ever consumed.

Gary (beer rater, extraordinare): uhm, I don’t know you from Adam, so lets do this over email.

John: OK, here goes: Tell me about yourself. Where do you work? What do you do?

Gary: I work as an Art Director at an advertising agency in Tampa. I’m also Executive Director for Tampa Bay Beer Week. (n.b. TBBW is kind of a big deal in these parts. . Check out their upcoming event “Halfway There: A Rare Beer Festival” — ed.) I moved here from NJ in 2004 and met up with the local beer tasting group (out of sheer boredom and lack of friends) organized through Great group of guys. A lot have moved away, had kids, lost interest etc … so the “Old Guard” isn’t really around anymore, but the group, combo of old and new, still meets once a week to share beer that they picked up or traded for. Might be THE most generous group of beer geeks on the planet. I dove into the ADDICTIVE trading scene, but the idea of packing up boxes made that short lived. These days I find myself meeting up with friends at the local spots and drinking a nice Florida Weisse or a pale ale.

John: Nice. I have to say, the beer community in Tampa is really warm and welcoming. A great group of people. OK – next question: When did you start reviewing CCB beers? Which was your first one?

Gary: Cigar City Humidor Series Imperial Stout on 3/29/09! I’m glad you asked this. I had no idea what my first one was. In fact I still have an original bottle of this. They were filling 750s like growlers and crowning them on the spot in the old warehouse tasting room. I gave it a 4.5/5. Still love this beer.

John: From your profile on, I can see you’re a big fan of imperial stouts; we’re lucky to have a world class stout-factory here in our back yards. 🙂 OK, third question: Which is your favorite CCB beer, and why?

Gary: The One Percentor!!!!! Kidding. CCB let me brew a beer with Ben Romano (former CCB pilot brewer, now Angry Chair head brewer) on the pilot system when I hit 300 rates. We brewed a super low gravity (1% ABV) Florida Weisse aged on peaches and mango. It was served at the Berliner Bash at PEGs. My TRUE favorite CCB beer is Invasion. I love IPAs and Pale Ales. Invasion is so drinkable. My days of Imperial Stout and massive Barley Wines are over, but I still like to taste them.

John: Yeah, I like those heavy beers too, but they ultimately catch up with you. So when you’re not drinking Invasion, who’s beer are you drinking? Which one?

Gary: 7venth Sun. They make some killer IPAs and solid Belgians. My favorite beer from them is a no-brainer … Intergalactic Pale Ale. I LOVE Galaxy hops and Intergalactic is all Galaxy. Big fan of FYA and Mangrove as well. 7venth Sun is not afraid of hops and it shows.

John: Thoughts on a craft-beer bubble? Does Tampa have one?

Gary: It’s WAY too soon to call anything around here a bubble. We have less than 20 breweries in this area. San Diego will have near 100 by years end. Portland has around 70 give or take. With our number of breweries and breweries in planning, we are far from a “bubble.” Let’s forget the bubble and call it a “boom.” Craft beer was nearly non-existent around here a few years ago. Now we have all these great local breweries, beer bars, brewpubs and bottle shops. Breweries outside of Tampa see our growth. There’s a reason our out of state distribution has grown. Founders, New Belgium, Green Flash, Sweetwater … they are here because the Bay Area is savvy enough and can sustain them.

John: Wow, that’s the enthusiasm man. Bottle that stuff up and you could sell it (pun intended.) And seriously though, that’s the vibe right now. Tasting rooms are opening up everywhere, breweries are popping out of the woodwork, and great things are happening locally. That being said, what’s next for the Tampa Bay Craft Beer scene?

Gary: I’m not sure. More breweries for sure. It’s becoming a destination. Tampa Bay Beer Week is growing. Hunahpu’s Day is getting bigger and bigger. The beer is getting better and better. I’m excited to say the least.

John: Thanks Gary, I enjoyed that.

Gary: Cheers man. This was fun!

Do you do something extraordinary with beer in the local beer scene? Drop me a line: Let’s talk.

Saint Somewhere Bottle Labels

Saint Somewhere Brewing Company

There’s sort of a path that beer drinkers take over time. It’s almost like a maturity curve: along the horizontal axis you find a pretty predictable path of beer types and styles. The vertical axis is beer drinking maturity.The curve has a gentle upward slope, then eventually sort of peaks and just … stops. People find the style that suits them and that’s pretty much it. Beer is personal like that.

Bob Sylvester, Patron Saint of Farmhouse Ales

Bob Sylvester, Patron Saint of Farmhouse Ales

At the left side of this hypothetical curve are your traditional American pilsners and lager beers: think Budweiser, Coors, and Miller. As you move right along the graph you find ales of all kinds, starting with brown, then red, then pale; then imperials. After ales come typically stouts and porters. Most people get off here, because the next stop is sometimes considered the “funky town” of beer. This is the path that most people in the world take when exploring the varieties of beers out there. It’s a well-worn path, too. Almost everyone I know has taken it at some point in time or is currently on it at some point along the path.

Saint Somewhere is unique among craft breweries in that it falls outside of the realm of where most people stop on their beer journey: it’s waaay off to the right in the sours/farmhouse/wild and funky section, which is just down the street and a little bit past the house with the busted windows, so to speak.If Saint Somewhere was a neighborhood, it would be that one you’ve heard about where the guy with the handlebar mustache who rides the fixie lives.

Bob Sylvester sets up the tap handles in the tasting room.

Bob Sylvester sets up the tap handles in the tasting room.

Bob Sylvester, proprietor of Saint Somewhere and grand-master of funky beers is one of those no BS guys that just oozes craftsmanship. He’s approachable, affable, and a fantastic steward of brewing culture in Tampa  Bay. And he’s a genius.

Bob started brewing more than 10 years ago and opened up Saint Somewhere about 6 years ago. 2 years ago this became his full-time job. For about the last 8 years, he’s been honing his Belgian ale craft. Now, don’t get confused when I refer to what Bob does as “ales”. That’s kind of like calling a horse-drawn carriage a car just because it has four wheels. What Bob does with beer is something that not a lot of people appreciate – remember, he’s off over the right end of the beer-drinker maturity curve.

See what makes Bob different, and in my opinion a genius, is that he uses wild yeasts in the fermentation phase of his brewing process. For those of you so inclined, we’re talking about (at a minimum) Brettanomyces (aka Brett). This is actually not as scary as it sounds. You’re not going to grow a third eye or transmute to a frog if you drink this beer. You may however begin to wonder why you stopped trying new beer after that guy in college introduced you to Newcastle.

Brett (the yeast, not a person) has a tendency to make beers sour, because it produces in addition to alcohol a lot of acetic acid, which you may remember from your high school chemistry class is the main component of vinegar. So in controlled amounts, adding a little Brett may make your beer a little sour.

Saint Somewhere Bottle Labels

Saint Somewhere Bottle Labels

Now, Bob wouldn’t be a genius if he just added this yeast to his fermenter. No, he’s a genius because he gets the concept of the original farmhouse ale, AND because he’s taken steps to achieve that concept. Irreversible steps. Steps that normal folks wouldn’t consider doing. Stuff like spraying down his brewery with Brett. Yep, his entire brewery.

The concept of farmhouse ales is simple, and like all great things, borne of necessity. Apparently in the times before refrigeration and the wide availability of clean potable drinking water, large land owners would sate their farm worker’s thirst with beer. Now think about this for a moment: you have a bunch of thirsty workers who need quick hydration. You could get them some real beer, but that would be too expensive and the workers would be too drunk to return to productive work. What these land owners developed was a simple way to cheaply sate their workers while making sure that they could continue to work. I believe the entire state of Oklahoma was founded on this principle (see 3.2 beer for more information.)

Fast forward a few years – maybe a few hundred – and you find guys like Bob. Guys trying to replicate that style that happened in so many cases by accident. But Bob’s not trying just to replicate the style exactly, he’s replicating it with a local twist. Which is true to the style, if you think about it.

One of Saint Somewhere’s most unique features is the flavor that comes from its location. See not only is the brewhouse covered in Brett, it’s also in a strip warehouse with a big open rolling door no less than walking distance to the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico, with all of the airborne goodness that comes from the seabreeze. And that’s another reason Bob’s a genius – he’s following the style by making it as local as possible. At this point, no one else can make a beer that tastes like Bob’s beer. It’s the essence of farmhouse ales.

Bob’s going to be leading a beer cruise in Belgium this year. He’s taking 20-something of the biggest farmhouse beer lovers in the country along for the ride. In my opinion one of the coolest things about this trip is the fact that you get to have dinner in the Rodenbach fermenting room – where the foeders (Dutch for “big fermenting barrel”) slowly add that characteristic flavor to Rodenbach’s Grand Cru sour ale.

Go meet Bob. Move your beer maturity curve over a little bit to the right, at least for one tasting. You never know – you may just become a fan of sours.

Saint Somewhere is located at 1441 Savannah Ave  Tarpon Springs, FL 34689. Check out their website or Facebook page for more information.