For the past few weeks, I've been reading through, section by section, the latest and probably most all-encompassing book to showcase the craft brewing scene in Florida.
Florida Breweries, as it's helpfully and purposefully named, is a primary source on the state of craft beer in the Sunshine State. It's a mix of guidebook, short interviews with brewers, and personal anecdotes and recommendations.
In short, it's a collection of beer facts from one of the most trusted beer geeks in the state: Gerard Walen.
You've probably read some of his articles if you spend any time following the local beer scene, as he is the writer behind Beer in Florida, a blog that specializes in -- you guessed it -- beer in Florida, as well as a contributor to BeerAdvocate magazine and All About Beer. You've probably also seen him at the numerous beer festivals and special events held across the area. He's the self-described "guy with the long hair and goatee."
We met up a week ago at the Cigar City Brewpub in northern Tampa to chat about the book (which came in superhandy when navigating the continuously exploding beer scene around St. Petersburg).
Walen is a superfan of Florida craft beer. His dedication to this project is enormous; covering an entire state is no small task. Still, with 66 breweries listed in the book, I had to know, especially since I was traveling myself to visit a couple of breweries, how the research portion of the book went.
"I did some long trips to Jacksonville and South Florida," he said, though unlike the areas he frequents closer to home (which is about an hour north of Tampa in a town called Crystal River), he felt like South Florida's breweries were "much more spread out."
Florida is a large state, for sure, with over 65,000 square miles of land and 447 miles from south to north. Even in our highly populated area, the distance between breweries can stretch almost 20 miles.
"Leaving good beer behind to drive between the breweries was a challenge," Walen admitted. "Some of [the beers] are hard to get ahold of."
For the South Florida section, which he admits ended up encompassing Fort Myers and Naples as well as Miami, Broward, and Palm Beach, the usual suspects are represented: Tequesta Brewing, Due South Brewing, Big Bear Brewing, Funky Buddha Brewery... and the list goes on. Some newer players are regretfully omitted, due to their newness, but hopefully a second edition (which he said might happen) will fix that.
With the speed at which new operations are coming online month after month, the pressure to keep things as up to date as possible is a real threat. "[I'm just] trying to make it as current as possible, with all the details and such."
In addition to helpful beer guiding, Walen produces some helpful history, nearby beer bars, and other attractions that may prove useful to beer tourists heading around the areas in question.
I put the book to good use touring Rapp Brewing, 7venth Sun, and Dunedin Brewery (among a few more that opened within the past few months). It's a good primer to figure out what sorts of breweries are making what styles of beer generally. Culinarily-inspired? One-offs? Belgian-influenced?
Between each region is a sort of "miscellaneous" chapter, talking about beer in places that aren't actual breweries, such as theme parks, chain pubs, and the dreaded "Big Beer" operations.
With recommendations by Mike Halker of Due South Brewing and John Holl of All About Beer magazine, Florida Breweries is a must for anyone who considers himself knowledgeable about the craft in Florida. I guarantee you'll find a few treasures to go hunting for on your next road trip for beer.
Doug Fairall is a craft beer blogger who focuses on Florida beers and has been a homebrewer since 2010. For beer things in your Twitter feed, follow him @DougFairall and find the latest beer pics on Instagram.
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