Matt Webster looks good behind the bar at Tequesta Brewing Co. Pull up a bar stool and sit down to sample any of the brewery's six beers, and he'll gladly pour you a pint and describe the taste and color -- even how each are made.
But that's not what makes him a good bartender. Here, he's also the owner and brewmaster -- the culmination of a lifelong passion recently brought to reality when he opened his brewery just a few short months ago.
Webster's love affair with brewing beer began back in his college days, spent in Lakewood, Colo., a state where beer is more than just beer, and microbreweries can be found in every city. Since then, Webster has come a long way: from experimenting with a home-brew kit to a full-on brewery with 10 taps, and replacing thirsty co-eds with avid beer lovers across South Florida.
Here's what Webster had to say about his own brewery, Tequesta Brewing Co.:
Clean Plate Charlie: You've been brewing your own beer since you were 21 -- did you ever think you'd wind up owning your own brewery?
Matt Webster: Growing up in Colorado, just being around all those breweries made we want to know more -- how it was made, how to do it myself.
Was it a long process learning how to home-brew?
My first few beers were pretty bad. Let's put it this way: my friends and I would go out to the bars to drink before we came home and drank my beer.
But you kept at it. What's the hardest part about brewing your own beer?
The temperature control and fermentation process. Getting the timing right. And using healthy yeast. That's very important.
What's your favorite kind of hops to work with?
That's a good question. No one's ever asked me that. I'd have to say Amarillo hops, the kind I use in Terminally Ale. It's what gives it that spicy, citrusy, grapefruite-like taste on the backend.
One of your first beers you began brewing next door at the Corner Cafe and Brewery, is that right?
Yes, the Gnarly Barley, one of the three beers we always have on tap here at Tequesta Brewing Co. I started brewing it [at the Corner Cafe] about two-and-a-half years ago, and it started out as something I made from a large home-brew system.
It must be pretty popular to be one of three always on tap?
Yes, in fact it's one of the first we will be putting out for distribution. You can find it on tap at a lot of local places, actually, like the Food Shack and Guanabanas. It's a copper pale ale -- a very hoppy beer (6% ABV).
Besides the Gnarly Barley, what else do you have on tap?
We have our Der Chancellor, a light German-style beer, also known as a kolsch (5.3% ABV). It's made with German noble hops, and has a very delicate flavor. It's a great crossover beer for people who aren't really into craft beers, but it's also still strong enough for someone who likes does [like craft beer] to appreciate.
You also have Terminally Ale (4.3% ABV) on tap at all times.
That's our lightest beer, but there's still a ton of flavor. You'll get a lot of coffee and chocolate.
Besides those, you have three rotating specials, as well?
Yes. We always have 10 beers on tap -- six of our own, and four "guest" taps. And we rotate them out depending on how fast they go. Some go quick -- in just two weeks. Others will stick around for a couple of months.
Of our own, right now we have the Julios Weizen (5.2% ABV), a wheat beer -- or German hefeweizen -- which we brew with coriander and watermelon and passion fruit purees. It's very citrus-laden, with a bit of spiciness you get from the coriander, backed up by the light citrus taste of the passion fruit, and ends with that refreshing bit of watermelon on the backend.
We also have our latest batch, an Irish red that we brewed for St. Patrick's Day. It has a roasted, carmel sweetness to it. It was a big hit.
Last, we have what we call our "Big Hitter." It's always a beer that is 7% ABV or over. Right now we have an oak-aged black IPA (7.6% ABV). You can taste strong notes of licorice, and a toasted-oat and vanilla aroma. The backend you get a really hoppy finish, too. It's a thicker, smoother beer.
Sounds like you like to get creative. Any new ideas for some beers coming up?
That's the fun of it. It's like being a chef -- I really enjoy layering flavors, and getting different tastes to activate different parts of the palate. Right now I'm brewing an American red ale. It should be done in about three to four weeks. It will be our fist strong lager -- a big, German bock. I'm making it with a very spicy Tupelo honey from Florida.
What's been your most popular so far?
I'd have to say a double IPA -- one of our heavy hitters. It was about 9% ABV, and we went through 35 kegs in two weeks.
What was it like opening a full-blown brewery?
Well, you know, there are always a few roadblocks -- the usual stuff. But we actually had to have a few city ordinances changed to allow us to open. They don't allow bars in this district, and since we don't sell food, we had to go through a few loopholes. If you're a microbrewery, however, you can have a tasting room. So, that's what we are -- this isn't a bar, even in the eyes of the federal government.
Another great thing about being a brewery: people can get growlers, right?
We sell the jugs here, and they come in both quarts and gallons. The first time you pay for your jug, and a fill. After that, it's just the fee for the fill. (Quarts are $7 per jug/$6 per fill; gallon jugs $10/$18).
No food -- but people drinking can order food from next door, right?
We've worked it out so that you can order all sorts of bar food from the Corner Cafe. Our favorite snack item on the menu is probably the Gorgonzola Chips ($9). They're fresh, homemade (topped with gorgonzola cheese and drizzled with a sweet balsamic reduction). It's that sweet-salty thing going on, and you just can't go wrong with that and a pint. But there's burgers and sandwiches, too.
How about a happy hour?
Every Tuesday through Friday, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., pints are $3.50. Otherwise, they're $4.50.
You don't serve liquor, either -- but you do have a small wine list.
Yes, we have just a few -- about a dozen. Like the beer, I wanted it to work with the small distributors that would be able to give us those craft, artisanal wineries.
I love the interior design -- it's got this half living room-chic, half beer-bar feel to it. What's your favorite part?
That would be the 100-year-old bar. It was built in 1915, and it's been in my friend's family since 1944. It was in storage in Pennsylvania, and when I was opening the brewery, I asked if I could have it. It's a rare piece of history -- something you don't see in Florida very often. I think it helps to give the brewery a more cozy, comfy, neighborhood feel.
What's been the best part about opening the brewery?
For a long time, South Florida hasn't really been known as the best spot for craft beer. By with what we're doing here, we're trying to prove that you can find good, local beer -- and that the craft scene is alive and well. Especially here, at Tequesta.