Category Archives: The More You Know

Factoids about the Tampa Bay beer scene.

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.

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 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!

Looking for a Way to Get Involved at Beer Week?

I heard from one of the volunteer coordinators for Tampa Bay Beer Week that she’s looking for some additional volunteers to help out at upcoming TBBW events. If you’re looking for a way to go to some events “on the cheap” or just want to meet some awesome beer people, check out these volunteer events. Contact Carol Dekkers directly to volunteer.

Saturday March 1, 2014 – Tampa – Florida Brewers Guild Beerfest 2014

Florida Brewers Guild would like a few more volunteers to assist with miscellaneous tasks (emptying dump buckets, ice delivery, etc.) for the SATURDAY FBG event which runs from 2pm – 5pm in downtown Tampa. (I wrote about this event earlier this month. — john)

In exchange for you working 1.5 hours (either 2-3:30 pm or 3:30 -5pm) you get free entrance to the event.  If interested please let me know which shift you can work.  At least 10 more volunteers are needed.

Friday March 7, 2014 – St Petersburg – Event at Green Bench Brewing

Volunteers are needed to sell T-Shirts and TBBW passports for Tampa Bay Beer Week at their table at Green Bench Brewing’s Friday night March 7 event. Times are yet to be determined but it will be in the evening. At least 6 more volunteers are needed.


It’s Magic: Meet J.J. Taylor and its Incredible Technicolor Beer Packer

Lots of people in the world are content to have a beer in their hand.

Some people are more adventurous and go about brewing their own beer, but that’s a story for another time. Far fewer people are interested in the magic that happens in the middle. That “middle tier” in the historical three-tier system is called distribution. You should be interested in distribution because it’s the magic that happens there that connects the brewer’s dreams of “my awesome beer in every hand” to your dreams of “my favorite beer in my hand”. Without distributors, breweries would have to distribute their own beer to retailers (including bars, bottle shops, and restaurants) and beer drinkers would be much less likely to get the beer they really want when they want it.

Before we get started on J.J. Taylor – here’s a quick primer on the three tier system and its incarnation. After prohibition, the federal government suggested to the states that they create a “three tier system” of brewers, distributors, and retailers. They left the design and implementation up to the states – which explains why some states have state-owned retail stores and others have private ventures. In the state of Florida we have a system with little state involvement – but with a legally mandated three tiers. There’s lots more to the system than this – you can check out Fermentarium’s excellent write up if you’re so inclined. If you’re really interested, you can check out the actual Florida laws. Remember, that even in the absence of a three-tier system as required by law, the market would likely settle on a solution like this because it is relatively efficient.

What Does J.J. Taylor do?

J.J. Taylor serves the traditional beer-distributor role in the beer market here in Florida: they get the beer from the breweries around the world and make sure that it gets to the bars, restaurants, and bottle shops (the retailers) from where you purchase it. In a simple sense, they are the “middle-man.” But – don’t think of them as the kind of middle-man that just takes a chunk of money and adds no value – by far – J.J. Taylor in this guy’s opinion adds a significant amount of value to the market place in terms of the enormous variety of beer they offer to beer drinkers. Beers from breweries big and small around the world pass through J.J. Taylor’s massive temperature controlled warehouse each day. If retailers were left to their own devices, they would need to contract and secure delivery through breweries directly to get the beer that you want. In Tampa alone, that would mean literally dozens of possible brewery contracts for each restaurant, and literally hundreds of accounts for each brewery to deal with and manage.

So what exactly does J.J. Taylor do, and what is this “incredible Technicolor beer packer”?

I was fortunate enough to spend the afternoon with Matt A. – the guy responsible for interfacing the craft brewers and the retailers they supply. In that time with Matt, I learned about how a distributor operates. He also showed me the machinery that perfectly aligns cases of beer into neat stacks and wraps them for delivery – the incredible Technicolor beer packer” as I’ve decided to call it. I’m going to show you all about it in this post.

Before we get started, there are a few main actors you need to know about:

  • The sales representatives at J.J. Taylor – these are the people that service the accounts and make sure that they get the beer and the supporting marketing that they need from the brewery; we’ll call them “reps”.
  • The brewery reps – the people from the brewery who work with J.J. Taylor to make sure that they have the beer that the market demands and that they have any promotional materials needed to support the sales and marketing of the beer; well call them “brewers”.
  • The people working in the J.J. Taylor warehouse – these are the people that pick, pack, and ship out orders to the retailers; we’ll call them “miracle workers”.
  • The retailers buying the beer from J.J. Taylor – we’ll call these folks “retailers”.

Now that you know who’s involved, let’s talk about the main pieces of work: generating demand for beer,  getting the beer from the brewers to the retailers, and getting kegs and returns back to breweries.

Generating Demand for Beer

J.J. Taylor has a sign shop and a tap-handle room. Why do they have these rooms? Well, they act as a central clearing house for these kinds of things on behalf of the brewers. When a retailer needs a tap handle for a new beer, who do they call? They call the reps, of course! When a retailer is offering a promotion and they need a sign, who do they call? They call the reps! When a brewer has a flood of beer available from a new recipe or style offering and they want to make sure that everyone knows about it, who do they call? The reps! I think you can see the pattern here. Reps serve as as “fixers” for brewers and retailers, making sure that they have what they need to get their respective needs met. The reps are not the only channels by which retailers and brewers communicate – of course the brewers and the retailers can talk to each other – but the reps are there to help get things done.

Getting the Beer from the Brewers to the Retailers

J.J. Taylor reps take the beer from the brewers in huge batches – sometimes arriving on J.J. Taylor’s own private rail spur in huge refrigerated railroad cars – and store it in facilities as specified by the brewers. They then break down these bulk shipments of pallets and pallets of beers into the orders as placed by the retailers. Most retailers aren’t ordering 50 cases of one unique flavor of beer in a single order – they’re ordering 5 cases. It’s the miracle workers that break down those shipments, stock the shelves of the incredible Technicolor beer packer ultimately make sure that every single retailer’s order makes it out the door correctly. Every time.

Kegs of Guinness await distribution to the marketplace.

Kegs of Guinness await distribution to the marketplace.

This middle-man work is a crucial step, and one that shouldn’t be overlooked: we all know that fresh beer is the best beer. Distributors like J.J. Taylor have a huge impact on the quality of the beer you drink. Most of the facility is temperature controlled by an on-site A/C plant big enough to make literally football-fields worth of ice. The miracle workers also make sure that the oldest beer – sometimes only days old – is moved out first. Not enough can be said about this: if your retail outlet is serving old beer, skunky beer, or other defective products – it’s probably because they’re not keeping an eye on it and not because it comes to them that way.

The conveyor line is incredibly long.

The conveyor line is incredibly long.

Once the beer is in the J.J. Taylor warehouse, the work of the reps starts the process to get it out. Each day the reps are out there servicing their accounts: making sure that the products are fresh, front, and center; making sure that promotional materials are current and orderly; informing the retailer about specials, promotions, and changes in brewery lineups; and finally taking the next order. This is where the magic begins: with the order.

Each order taken must be organized such that the beer that the retailer wants is loaded into the truck in the right order and in the right quantity to make sure that the retailer gets what was ordered the first time, every time. Some orders are very complex – perhaps pulling from dozens of breweries around the world in various form factors and sizes like kegs, tall-boy cans, bottles, 12-ounce cans, and 22-ounce bombers. The miracle workers back at the warehouse see to it that it’s all there.

Now, I don’t have pictures of it, but you have to take my word for it. The peer packer is incredible. It can automatically pick beer off of shelves and stack it on a pallet. All.Day.Long. Without making a mistake. It basically is like a series of towers, each tower stocked with a specific kind of beer. As a retailer orders a beer, it carefully drops down the tower and onto the conveyor belt line. There’s another line that has beer which is less frequently sold – this one is operated by a guy that knows the precise slot location of each variety of beer and can pull it almost by muscle memory. After the beer is picked, it rides along this massive conveyor belt system into a palletizing device.

Getting the beer out of the warehouse is a huge endeavor. J.J. Taylor must operate literally hundreds of vehicles throughout their territory. They operate a variety of vehicles but in general there are two: refrigerated keg trucks and lift-gate tractor-trailers which are used for packaged beer delivery. You probably see these trucks out and about delivering beer to your local retailers.

A J.J. Taylor natural-gas powered tractor-trailer awaits its load before going out on its route.

A J.J. Taylor natural-gas powered tractor-trailer awaits its load before going out on its route.

Getting Kegs and Returns Back to Breweries

This is the final part of the value that a distributor like J.J. Taylor adds to the equation: moving the empty beer kegs back to the brewery so they can be cleaned and re-filled. Not only do J.J. Taylor reps bring back the empty kegs, but they bring back the beer that is out of date, didn’t sell, or was damaged on delivery.

Out of date and damaged beer awaits processing

Out of date and damaged beer awaits processing

Going Green

J.J. Taylor takes a number of steps to be a good corporate citizen here in the Tampa Bay area. Probably the most interesting is their focus on efficiency in all forms – from replacing individual air conditioners with a single more efficient centralized air conditioning system (using less energy and therefore costing less) to replacing light-bulbs with more efficient ones and installing motion sensors to reduce cooling needs caused by the heat the lamps produce. Not only do they focus on their own operations, but they look for ways to reduce the impact of what leaves their buildings each day. J.J. Taylor saves all of its recyclable plastic for use by a company that transforms it into building materials – it never enters a landfill. And probably the biggest energy saver/pollution reducer is the conversion of the J.J. Taylor distribution fleet from diesel to natural gas by 2016. That’s right – they operate their own compressed natural gas filling station for their fleet of distribution tractors.

What Makes J.J. Taylor a Fixture in the Tampa Bay Beer Community

It all comes together when you think about the big picture of what J.J. Taylor does: they sell beer. Most of their employees can tell you the difference between an ale and a lager – they all get that level of training. And everyone working there when I went seemed genuinely happy – and its not like they set up a Potemkin village beer distributor – I walked into their main production facility on a busy afternoon. People were happily stocking the huge devices that load the pallets. There was a guy that looked as if he actually enjoyed sweeping the floor. And rightfully so – these people work for a company that loves beer. They participate in the marketplace as the variety leader. They want to be known as the company that can get the biggest variety of beers – not just six different packages sizes of that one light lager – but six different unique lagers from six different breweries. Not only do they love beer, but they’re always looking for ways to improve things – reduce the amount of time it takes to load a truck, or reduce fuel consumption, or get tap handles out quicker. Sure these things are helpful to the bottom line, but after spending some time with them it sure feels like they’re doing it because they its the right thing to do, rather than because they’ll save a few dollars a year on lighting costs.

Other Tampa Bay Beer Distributors

Tampa breweries are fortunate to have a wide variety of distributors from which to choose. Other Tampa Bay beer distributors include Pepin, and Great Bay. J.J. Taylor’s not alone in their commitment to the region: you may have heard of the Pepin Heart Hospital, Pepin Academies, or the Pepin Family Foundation – all charitable causes related to the distributor. With so many great breweries popping up in the Tampa Bay area, these distributors can look forward to lots of new business. And breweries – you have choices!