Drinking beer in this state a decade ago was a bland affair. Crates of beer-like water shipped in from the flat grainy states of the Midwest dominated shelves and beer coozies alike. When I first sampled a macrobrewed lager at a tender age, I thought to myself, "Who would WANT to drink this crap?"
Slowly that has changed, first at a snail's pace, now in waves. The beer scene in South Florida is no longer saturated with the "yellow stuff"; instead, we are seeing a revival of the old ways, making something of quality that we're proud of; the ways of our ancestors. That's a good thing.
History has a way of explaining how things came to be, if you go looking.
For the world of beer, its history is steeped in local flavors. When everyone was separated by oceans and national borders, people drank what their local breweries produced. In those days, brewers were limited by the availability of local water, local grains, and local yeasts. Like wine, areas of the world become known for specific styles of beer -- from Trappist ales in Belgium to the hoppy IPAs of the Pacific Northwest. The English drank bitters, the Bavarians drank pale bottom-fermented lagers, and the South Americans drank corn beer.
Beer ingredients are hard to transport -- one needs to be in either the right spot where hops and barley grow or have access to good infrastructure to get all of your materials together. "Beer ingredients are heavy and difficult to transport overland," Randy Mosher, author of Radical Brewing says, "and the same is true of the finished product.
"Beer never did that well on the frontier."
Today, we don't have the hurdles of an expansive wild frontier or the difficulties of transportation. In the global market, everything is available from somewhere. If we don't have a supply problem anymore, what happens?
You can do whatever you want.
Florida doesn't have a long or entrenched history of brewing. It's like an empty canvas down here.
"The palate of the craft beer drinker in South Florida is growing because of the growing availability of different styles," Mike Halker, owner of Due South Brewing in Boynton Beach told us during a busy brew day. "So I think that [the market] is even more fragmented now because there's so much stuff available."
But the fragmentation isn't a bad thing; it just means that people's tastes are changing.
"Ten years ago, you wouldn't have been able to taste [a beer style], so you wouldn't know if you would have liked that particular type of beer or not. I know a lot of the guys that come here drink something different every time they come in. They like the fact that it's varying, and they want to try something new. It works out for us because we get to use our creativity to make different kinds of beers. It allows us to go out there and make some crazy stuff knowing that these folks are willing to try something new when they come in."
John Linn of Funky Buddha Lounge & Brewery, which is opening its enormous new brewery in Oakland Park this May, reiterates the sentiment of experimentation. "I think the beers we're most well known for, what people gravitate to, are beers that have treatments that make them taste like something other than what you'd think beer would taste like."
"The brewing scene in Florida has been a little slower to catch on. We consume the fourth-highest amount of beer in the U.S. but are 47th in terms of breweries per capita."
There's still room for more breweries and for people to take risks in what they create. That's what people are excited for. It shows that Floridians are willing to try anything, as long as it tastes good.
"The trend," Halker summarizes, "more than any particular style of beer, is toward local beer. They know the local stuff is available and they can get their hands on it and it's fresh."
Does Florida have a beer style? We sure do, and it's "local."