Beer Scene: Tampa, Florida

January 4, 2010

Tampa, known more for its over-the-top (read fully-nude) strip clubs and hand-made cigars, has recently begun positioning itself into a new category: beer destination. While it’s still a far cry from San Diego, Portland and Denver, it may soon be climbing up in the ranks with some solid beer bar and brew contenders.

Cigar City Brewing

I grew up in Florida about an hour and a half south of Tampa, moving to New York City a little over six years ago. I often go back for the holidays, as I did last month when a pre-Christmas stop over in Tampa to see an old friend led to quite the brew adventure.

As a teenager and young adult, I was never terribly thrilled with Tampa’s offerings. But, returning as a full-fledged adult and avid beer drinker, my good friend was determined to show me the other, newer side of Tampa.

The first stop, a dinner at Ella’s Americana Folk Art Cafe, not only subdued my craft brew cravings (Brooklyn and Anchor Steam on tap, Dogfish Head, Rogue, Lagunitas, Abita and much more in bottles), it also convinced me that there was much more to this town than stogies and strippers. Ella’s features several funky local folk artists and was designed and furnished by local businesses. As a big plus, the Badd Burger (angus beef, roasted red peppers, goat cheese, and garlic aioli) was delicious if a little messy.

Following dinner, my guide took me to The Independent. The second of two local beer bars (the first Independent location is over the bridge in St. Pete), this cozy spot, decorated with wooden tables and benches much like you’d see at a trendy gastro-pub (but nowhere near as pretentious as you might think), pours local brews alongside high-quality imports. Indoor and outdoor seating (it’s Florida so you could sit on the patio two days before Christmas) in addition to wide array of brews on tap make this a great place for a pint. The staff was both friendly and helpful, guiding me to choose some quality brews. I sipped several tasty concoctions, including the Cigar City Maduro Brown Ale, a local brew from a local icon.

Cigar City comes from an infamous Tampa Bay family. Joey Redner is the son of the man owns the notoriously all-nude strip club, Mons Venus, and routinely runs for office on, what many Floridians would consider, a pretty “radical” platform. His father’s business and political dealings aside, Redner has quite a tasty brew on his hands. Award-winning brewer, Wayne Wambles, helms the beer recipes and I can definitely say that their brown ale is certainly decent. This may be the brewery that puts Tampa on the beer world map.

Our third and final stop for the night brought us to New World Brewery located in Tampa’s famed Ybor City. We parked and walked past several over-crowded clubs thumping with loud dance music to find this laid back bar boasting several tasty beers. With a long list of tap beer and bottled brews, this spot might rival NYC’s d.b.a. – if it weren’t for the frighteningly dirty restrooms and the juke box.

Tampa offers far more in the way of beer than what I managed to find in a single night. Mr. Dunderbak’s and The World of Beer are just two of the other beer bars pouring local brew but it’s the breweries, Cigar City, Saint Somewhere Brewing Co. and Dunedin Brewing (not to mention brewpub Tampa Bay Brewing Co.) that might really make this Floridian city a beer lover’s destination.

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