Thankful for Craft Beer

Florida before good beer, as far as we know: 1591- PGA

Written by Alan Shaw for Florida

From his column: “Beer Geek: Covering the brewing scene of Southwest Florida”

On a day where we count our blessings, I’d like to give thanks for a relatively small one: the growing craft beer scene in Florida.

It was only a few years ago that Florida deserved the label of Beer Wasteland. The state was dominated by the big guys and about the only craft beer you could hope to find was Samuel Adams Boston Lager.

Our archaic restrictions on the size of beer bottles played a big role in that, and the relaxing of those laws changed everything. No longer are craft brewers kept out of the state because they bottle in 22-ounce or metric bottles instead of 8-, 12-, 16- or 32-ounce containers. Now we can buy beers from all over the country and all over the world, and new breweries are coming to Florida all the time.

Florida itself is building up a craft beer reputation, thanks to breweries like Cigar City in Tampa and Saint Somewhere in Tarpon Springs.

New breweries are sprouting up, like Swamphead in Gainesville, Orlando Brewing in (you guessed it!) Orlando and Little Giant right here in Manatee County.

Even brewpubs are on the grow, with the soon-to-open Mad Crow Brewery and Grill at Fourth Street and Kumquat Court in downtown Sarasota becoming the second brewpub in Sarasota, after the Sarasota Brewing Co.

Of course, the nonsmoking craft beer bar scene is also — as the youngsters say — blowing up. Over the past year, World of Beer, Mr. Beery’s and Growler’s Pub have opened. And places like the Cock & Bull Pub and Shamrock have gone smoke-free. Finally, we have places to go and have a beer where you won’t breathe cancer-causing fumes and have to take a shower when you get home.

Restaurants, like Stairway to Belgium in Sarasota and The Waterfront in Anna Maria, are pairing beer with food and offering craft beer menus to diners.

And you don’t have to drive all over creation to buy craft beer, because more and more stores are carrying it. To show you the sign of the times, I found the Sweetbay on North Beneva Road selling Cigar City Jai Alai IPA last week. That beer tastes so good, it almost seems like Cigar City makes it just for me.

So if you think the phrase “good beer in Southwest Florida” is an oxymoron, I say: Look around you. You can find great beer with just a bit of effort.

And that’s a great thing to be thankful for.

I’d also like to give extra-special thanks to my ever-suffering wife, the Beer Widow, who doesn’t like beer but married me anyway. Thank you, darling.