Florida has a young craft brewing history, only dating back to 1996, when the state's first microbrewery, Dunedin, popped up just west of Tampa. The same year, Tampa Bay Brewing Company also opened their doors. But after those two brewers arrived in the state, it took a while for the craft beer to really catch on with locals. The 2000s saw a new batch of craft breweries in Florida that helped put the state on the beer-destination map: in 2006, Jacksonville's Bold City Brewing opened, and Tarpon Springs became home to St. Somewhere, a brewery focused on farmhouse ales. Cigar City Brewing, perhaps Florida's best-known craft brewery, started selling their adventurous brews in Tampa in 2008.
But Florida's brewing culture continues to grow. Just over the last year or so, the state has welcomed several new small breweries—the Tampa Bay area is cultivating a fervent craft beer scene, while the other side of the state is just getting started. If you find yourself thirsty in Florida, here are three new local breweries to seek out.
Rapp Brewing Company (Seminole, Florida)
This barely one-year old brewery has earned a name as the best new brewery in Florida from Rate Beer. Founder and brewer Greg Rapp had been home brewing IPAs and experimenting with sour beers for 11 years when he decided to go pro.
Rapp focuses on styles that serve to refresh in Florida's balmy weather. "I make a lot of session beers—I try to make beers that work well in our climate." He works in small batches—about a barrel and a half at a time. He regularly rotates out the brews he has on tap in his tasting room—his most popular brew is a gose, a slightly sour German beer style that's only recently seen a resurgence. He notes, "No one else in the area brews it and it seems to be a perfect Florida beer."
Rapp's gose interpretation stays pretty close to the traditional style (it's salty and tangy, brewed mostly with wheat). The cloudy yellow concoction offers a lemony tartness to balance the salt, and the result is especially refreshing thanks to its low alcohol level.
Due South Brewing Co. (Boynton Beach, Florida)
This Boynton Beach-based brewery (which just celebrated its first anniversary in May) has a penchant for malty but easy-to-drink beers. Brewery Operations Manager Mike Jurewicz explains that the owner and brewer Mike Halker originally set out to make wine for his wife. "When he went to buy his equipment, the owner of the homebrew shop talked him into doing beer instead. After about five years of homebrewing, he decided that he wanted to do it for a living."
Due South's most popular brew—and the one the team considers to be most representative of the brewery—is their Caramel Cream Ale. "People say [it tastes] like a caramel beer soda or those small caramel candies," says Jurewicz. The dark amber beer has a vivid caramel aroma, but it's a bit more balanced in flavor, with roasted malt up front and caramel candy in the finish. Due South's Caramel Cream Ale manages to deliver sweetness without overpowering the other flavors in the beer.
The brewery also produces what they call a Florida-style IPA, which offers a careful balance of bold citrusy hops and a nice helping of malt. Their other brews include a Honey Vanilla Wheat (brewed with local honey) and the malty, coffee-heavy Cafe Ole Espresso Porter.
While the team has recently added a 60-barrel fermenter to their facility (and expects to grow even further), they still want to focus on their current distribution area, reaching almost 300 miles from Vero Beach down to Key West on the east coast of the state.
Gravity Brew Lab (Wynwood, Florida)
The Miami area was a bit slow to get on the craft-beer train, but over the last year, that has begun to turn around. One new South Florida brewery to watch: Gravity Brew Lab in Wynwood.
In 2012, Diego Ganoza started brewing out of a warehouse space he borrowed from a friend. He has his sights set on a larger facility but even though he's producing just a quarter barrel at a time, he's managed to deliver some of the most creative beers the Miami area has seen. He's developed four core beers so far: a pale ale, a sour wheat, a coffee stout, and a watermelon saison.
A dedication to local ingredients is key when it comes to Ganoza's brewing technique. He notes, "We're trying to keep the flavors as local as we can." Ganoza's Cortadito Coffee Stout uses an espresso blend direct from Panther Coffee, the local coffee shop. His sour Berliner Weisse is made with Jabuticaba, a locally grown grape-like fruit that gives the very tart orange brew a plum-like character.
In an attempt to cater to Florida drinkers who don't have much experience with hoppy, West coast-style IPAs, Ganoza created his Biscayne Gold Pale Ale, using only aromatic hops. The intention was to create a pale ale that featured IPA-like aromas without a super-bitter flavor. Ganoza thinks of it as a bridge for drinkers to become more familiar with hoppier beers.
And when those same drinkers are ready to take on a hoppier beer, Ganoza has something for them. His Citra Pale Ale starts with the mild Biscayne Gold which he then dry-hops with Citra hops. The resulting beer pours a cloudy orange and smells grassy and earthy. The flavor brings together the milder pale ale with a touch of citrus.
The loyalty Ganoza feels toward local ingredients translates to his current distribution plan. He's staying very local for the time being, serving the beer at festivals and at a few locations in the immediate area, with hopes to make the business national someday when he has the resources.
Gravity Brew Lab.: 786-536-7085; gravitybrewlab.com/
What are your favorite Florida breweries? Let us know in the comments.