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Florida Gets Crafty: How an Emerging Beer Culture is Changing the Sunshine State

Drink up.

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Though it’s most commonly known as Mickey Mouse’s stomping ground, Florida has been maturing lately. And like most parts of the country, the sunshine state’s craft beer scene is on the up. While it may not yet be as hip as Brooklyn or Portland, Pinellas County, an area which sits between the gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay, is getting its fair share of microbreweries and attracting more millennials than retirees.

... the sunshine state’s craft beer scene is on the up.

Ken and Julia Rosenthal, owners of a small, independent microbrewery Pair O’ Dice, moved back to their home state two years ago to partake in the movement. "We’re [Pinellas County] only a few years behind Austin," states Julia. "There’s a local movement forming in this area. People are willing to pay for their beer because they want to know where it comes from" she continues. Once they taste the beer and see how good it is, so begins the cycle. "Until 2001, there were bottle size limitations in Florida. Before 2009, you had to have a distributor to distribute your beer. Once the limitations were lifted, there became an opportunity for growth," explains Ken. Their warehouse, where the beer is brewed, is small but impressive, and the company only recently started canning.

Photo via Facebook

Photo via Facebook

Pair O’ Dice currently produces around 800 barrels of beer in 13 different styles distributed within the state of Florida. "It’s important that we focus on consistency and quality," notes Julia. Centered on experimentation and technique, the brewery’s most popular beer is its Hop Bet Red IPA. "We are known for a balanced IPA," says Ken, "we understand the ingredients and flavors, and how they contribute to the beer. It’s really an artistic ability." Another best seller, spiked with orange blossom, orange peel and corn, is the Clearwater Honey Cream Ale, which debuted in August. It’s a complex brew, pale yellow in color, with a sweet and creamy flavor. "The corn lightens the body. It’s essentially an ale but we treat the yeast like a lager yeast, so it’s fermented very cold," says Ken. The beer's distinctive flavor took a year and half to perfect, a testament to both Ken's belief in his product and the movement he's helping to shape.

Up-and-coming microbreweries aren’t the only ones setting up tanks in the area, well-known beer brands are following, too. Maine’s Sea Dog Brewing Company, which was founded in 1994 and produces more than two million cases of beer a year sold both domestically and internationally, opened a branch in Clearwater, in northern Pinellas County, after management realized the regional demand for their fresh brews. Sea Dog produces traditional English-style beers, but is most known for its Wild Blueberry Ale, a sweet and fruity beer. "I think the style of beer we brew fits the Florida lifestyle, lighter beers with fruity tones fit well with the beach," says Sean Higgens, a Sea Dog brewer. "We’ve had a presence in Florida for many years now. By adding a brewery down here, we are able to keep up with the demand and showcase a local aspect of the company."

Photo via Facebook

Photo via Facebook

"By adding a brewery down here, we are able to keep up with the demand and showcase a local aspect of the company."

Higgens, a Florida native, has witnessed the growth of craft beer in the area over the last few years. "Tampa has always been a brewing place," he says, calling out Cigar City, a micro brewing company that opened in Tampa six years ago, as the one that has "been paving the way for the last five years. It’s really the brewery that put Tampa on the craft beer map." Although Sea Dog operates a handful of breweries across America, the Clearwater branch is on a much smaller scale and is run by a small team of brewers who produce around 15,000 gallons of beer a year. There is an impressive tasting room onsite which serves a selection of beers on tap, most of which are novelty sips, like Pecan Nut Pie Brown Ale and Cherry Sour, a Belgian ale.

Just a short drive south from Clearwater is Saint Petersburg and 3 Daughters Brewing. The two-year-old family-owned brewing company is best known for its lighter, citrus laced Beach Blonde Ale and Rod Bender, an bready-flavored, amber red ale. Meanwhile, Dunedin, a city north of Clearwater, is home to several beer hubs, including Dunedin Brewery, Florida's oldest microbrewery since 1995, as well as newer Belgian beer specialist 7venth Son Brewery, which debuted three years ago.

Thanks to Pinellas County's affinity for bubbles, at long last Florida is beginning to establish itself beyond Disney.

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