MELBOURNE - If you miss Florida Beer Company’s four stainless steel fermentation tanks shining beside US Highway 1, just look for the crowd: The brewery packs 150 people into its tasting room on the first Thursday of every month.
“Craft beers appeal to an upscale, more educated consumer - the one who leans toward the gourmet aisle rather than the generic aisle,” says Jim Massoni, president and CEO of Florida Beer. “Our consumer wants to be socially responsible and buy locally.”
According to the Brewers Association - an organization formed to promote and protect small and independent American brewers - the average American lives within 10 miles of a brewery.
“Florida is the new frontier, but it used to be known as the craft beer wasteland,” Massoni says, standing beside a wooden Chris Craft hull now used as a bar in the Tasting Room. “There are 44 breweries and brew pubs currently in the state, with seven more under development.”
Brewpubs, of course, are legitimate breweries, but they do not package and sell beer outside of their establishments. For example, Ron Raike opened his Shipyard Emporium in Winter Park, Florida, only a month ago. He has up to three ales on tap every day but “when I run out, I’m out.”
One of his biggest sellers is “Bacon Beer’ and he‘s introducing a new brew of “Girl Scout Stout’ that tastes like a thin mint cookie.
Indeed, American tastes are changing. Look at coffee, tea, cheese, chocolate, bread and yes, beer. The public wants choices, flavor and diversity in everything they buy. And a catchy name doesn’t hurt, either: Florida Beer Company brews distinctly Florida favorites like “Key West Sunset Ale, Hurricane Reef” and “Swamp Ape.”
Cigar City Brewing in Tampa produces “Jai-Alai IPA, Blood Orange IPA,’ and “Humidor IPA” while Cocoa Beach Brewing Company tempts surfer-types with “Cocoa Beach Pale Ale,” “Cocoa Beach Dirty Blonde Ale” and “Cocoa Beach Key Lime Cerveza.”
But beware of imposters…..
Holy Mackerel Beers says “founded in Florida” on its label (and has offices in Ft. Lauderdale), but actually is brewed in South Carolina. Orlando’s Orange Blossom Pilsner also is produced out of state.
“It’s a little awkward that Florida’s honey beer is brewed in South Carolina,” admits Tom Moench, president of Orange Blossom Pilsner. “The honey does come from south Florida.”
But true Florida breweries aren’t happy about the pretenders.
“They’re trading on the good name of this state,” says Massoni, who also serves as president of the Florida Brewers Guild. “They’re not employing people in Florida to brew beer. The image of Florida is relaxation: a tropical, vacation destination. That image sells beer.
“It’s intellectual theft,“ adds John Cheek, president of Orlando Brewing. He points to the “Best Beer in Florida Championship” medals hung behind the bar in his Tasting Room. Below them, taps are labeled with tempting treats such as “Pompous Ass,“ “Miami Veiss,“ and “Steamy Summer.”
“The average investment is $500,000 in brewing equipment and we’ve got $650,00 in building costs,” Cheek explains. “Unfortunately, there‘s a lot of people without that debt load who claim to be a brewer. They’re not - they just pay someone else to make their beer.”