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The Craft-Beer Craze Finally Finds Florida

Mike Halker wanted to make wine for his wife back in 2005 when a homebrew supply store manager convinced him making beer is easier. The manager gave him a sample of Sam Adams Boston Lager, and Halker was a changed man. It wasn't necessarily his favorite beer, but it made him realize that beer nowadays is much different from the pale-yellow swill his grandfather drank before him.

"Before this, I thought everything was Coors Light, you know?" says Halker. "Then I tasted some stuff that amazed me."

Halker began brewing two to three batches at five gallons each in his garage and handed it out to friends and family to try. He got so into it that two years ago, he dreamed of opening his own production brewery in Boynton Beach. It took months of legal wrangling with city hall to get ordinances changed to allow the brewery. Then he had to test the recipes. Halker brewed more than a hundred batches of Caramel Cream Ale before it reached perfection. From conception of the idea to the grand opening of Due South Brewing Co. on May 12, it took Halker 21 months.

"If you think about it, we're reverting back to the way it used to be," says Halker. "Eventually, everyone will have a brewery they can call their own."

The popularity of craft beer is surging in Florida. Large-scale breweries that have popped up in recent years include Florida Beer Co. in Melbourne in 1996, Tampa's Cigar City Brewery in 2009, and Tequesta Brewing Co. in 2011. Then there are brewpubs that can sell beer in-house but can't distribute, including the Funky Buddha Lounge in Boca Raton, Big Bear Brewing Co. in Coral Springs, Organic Brewery in Hollywood, and Brewzzi in Boca and West Palm Beach.

Due South and Tequesta are two of South Florida's newest production microbreweries that can sell beer beyond their doors. There is also Inlet Brewing Company in Jupiter, a certified organic brewer, and Native Brewing Company in Fort Lauderdale; they're both contract brewers, meaning they pay other companies to produce their products. Others are on their way. In Davie, Holy Mackerel owner Bobby Gordash got into the brewing business after winning the Samuel Adams World Homebrew Contest in 1996. He launched his Special Golden Ale in March 2007. He pays a South Carolina brewery to produce his beer. Gordash has what is known in Florida as a "broker's license," meaning that he can only sell beer directly to his distributors from the brewery in South Carolina.

But he has plans to start brewing it locally. He says he's only "days away" from signing a contract for a location in Davie. It will be a small operation, strictly for testing new batches and selling pints out of a tasting room.

Craft beer is getting big in South Florida, but will the market become saturated? Halker and Gordash both say no. "There's no way there can be too many breweries," says Halker. "Just look at Asheville [North Carolina]. They have the population of a small portion of South Florida, and they have 15, 16 breweries."

The next step for craft beer in South Florida is conquering the small pockets of resistance and brewing a bolder beer, says Gordash. "Hollywood Beach is definitely a nut to crack," says Gordash. "The next step is to see more bolder, flavorful beers in everyday places. Something more shocking to the taste buds, spicier, bitter, instead of your average pale ale."

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David Minsky is U.S. Navy veteran and Tulane graduate who has experience reporting on stories from California, South Florida, and the Deep South. He also won some journalism awards. Email or tweet David with story tips and ideas.
Contact: David Minsky

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