As soon as you put together the words “Florida craft beer scene,” even knowledgeable suds drinkers look at you with confusion. “Huh?” It’s a common response because the state’s brewing scene is still young—about a decade old. And, it’s only in the last five years that brewers have really hit their stride and can finally proudly stack their ales next to any others across the U.S. Some local Florida brewers have even done more than that and come out on top in national competitions. Clearly, it’s prime time to drink up in the Sunshine State.
All craft brew roads lead to Tampa. Its Cigar City Brewing was the first to create a beer that truly caught on with devoted sippers in a big way. It was named fourth best brewery in the world by Ratebeer.com, thanks to its stellar Florida Cracker, Modero Brown Ale and Jai-alai. The success sparked the opening of other local breweries and then more further afield and soon, Florida had a bona fide “scene.” These days, there are more than 100 licensed breweries and brew pubs statewide.
Founded in 2008, Swamp Head Brewery won big with a gold medal at the World Beer Cup (a.k.a. the Beer Olympics) for Smoke Signal, its sweet, smoke-infused porter—a winner among 219 judges from 31 countries. It was a feat that made beer drinkers take notice.
Brewmasters have gotten bolder with innovative ingredients and finishes that make it clear that they want to zig while others zag.
Fort Lauderdale’s Funky Buddha Brewery lives up to its name with creative concoctions, like its Banana Split Ale (made with bananas, cherries and vanilla) and Cucumber Jones Cucumber Ale with, no surprise, cucumber and whole-leaf basil.
At Orlando Brewing, only organic ingredients are used and recipes adhere to the German Purity Law of 1516 decreeing only four ingredients should be used in beer: water, yeast, hops and malted barley. Its popular tasting room is a perfect place to sample a few, like the excellent light blonde ale.
The German theme continues with a beer found only in the state—Florida Weisse modelled after Berliner Weisse, a sour-ish wheat beer. The Yankee version taps into the flavour of local tropical fruit, using anything from key limes and guava to mango.
Of course, you can sample most craft beers at the breweries where they’re made—nearly all of them offer tours and tastings. But, if you’re looking for a shortcut that will get you sipping on a grander scale, try a brew pub like World of Beer (it serves up to 40 beers on tap) or hit the 16 stops (including Florida’s oldest microbrewery, the Scottish-influenced Dunedin Brewery) dotted along the St. Peter/Clearwater Craft Brew Trail. While in Tampa, voted the fifth best beer city in the U.S., hop aboard The Brew Bus for a guided, curated tour of some standouts in the city. It even has its own brand of beer that it is allowed to serve to guests on its buses. Cheers to that!