If the holy trinity of hops, yeast and water are your thing, you need to head to Florida’s Tampa Bay. Sure, it’s the sunshine state’s most diverse destination, complete with Cuban culture, thrilling roller coasters and next level food – but it’s also one of the US’ craft beer capitals.
With over 40 breweries in the area, the people here take their sipping very seriously. And, with daily flights from London Gatwick to Tampa International Airport with British Airways, soon you can, too.
Here’s the inside track on the place so devoted to the art of ale, they even have their own Tampa Bay Brew Bus, for a trip around the area’s finest makers.
Tampa Bay’s beer history
Recently rated one of “America’s Top Ten Emerging Beer Towns” by The Pour Fool, Tampa Bay prides itself on celebrating its rich local history of craft beer.
It all started in 1896, when a group of cigar factory owners decided that their thirsty workers needed a local source of beer at the end of a hard day. They opened the Florida Brewing Company in Ybor City, now one of Tampa Bay’s hippest areas.
Prohibition put paid to the area’s burgeoning beer scene. But, a century after, the Tampa Bay Brewing Company opened its taps in an old horse stable – the first licensed brew-pub in Florida – and heralded the dawn of Tampa Bay’s craft-brewing renaissance. Today, craft beer is beloved by young and old and Tampa Bay is legitimately raising the bar.
The unique tastes of Tampa Bay
Tampa Bay’s craft beer not only pays homage to its roots by incorporating local history into its names, but uses ingredients grown in the Florida sunshine to create unique and delicious tastes.
Take Cigar City Brewing. Rated a “top brewery in the nation” by The Daily Meal and the “number one brewer in Florida” by RateBeer, their first and most popular brew is called Jai Alai IPA after the local ball game and blends hops to create a marriage of citrus and pine; the perfect refreshing drink to beat the Florida heat. Their Cubano-Style Espresso Brown Ale is made with Cuban-style roasted espresso beans, sweet caramel and toffee – a nod to Cuban Coffee, a popular drink in historic Ybor City over decades.
The Cigar City tasting room on West Spruce Street is a must-visit with its welcoming vibe, lacquered bar and row upon row of beer taps all with intriguing names. Will you want a pint of Café Con Leche Sweet Stout, Good Gourd Imperial Pumpkin Ale or even the Invasion Pale Ale? You can also take a behind-the-scenes tour of the brewery.
Coppertail Brewing Company produces delicious brews with equally memorable names – and ingredients. At their two-storey industrial-style tasting room centrally located in Ybor City, you can order a Free Dive IPA, combining citrus and pine with malt, or a Night Swim, with just a hint of chocolate.
Brew day for Coppertail’s seasonally available Capt’n Jack’s Stone Crab Stout is eagerly awaited by locals. Made with freshly harvested stone crab claws it gives the surprisingly delicious beer just a hint of brine.
Ybor City is the Cuban enclave; Cuba is just a 60 minute flight from downtown. Once the ‘Cigar Capital of the World’ with factories producing 700 million cigars a year, it’s now Tampa’s hippest area with inviting coffee shops, trendy pubs and a vibrant nightlife, with the Coppertail Brewing Company centre-stage.
Just down the street from Busch Gardens® Tampa Bay, The Yuengling Brewery offers free tours. Their motto is ‘crafting beer before craft beer was a thing’ and they are fifth generation owned, the oldest still operating brewery in the United States. They got round Prohibition by opening a diary making ice cream and sell 5% beer. Remember to wear closed shoes on the tour – no sandals or flip-flops. Afterwards you can quaff their famous beer in the traditional wooden ‘biergarten’.
Beer festivals in Tampa Bay
Unsurprisingly given its rich craft beer scene and pub culture, Tampa Bay plays host to a number of beer fests, including Creative Loafing’s Beer Fest in August, Brews with Attitude and Tampa Bay Beer Week in March.