By Michelle Cannon Epting | Photography by Keith Betterley
Produced in local breweries in the U.S. and abroad, craft beer often exceeds the standards of the most discriminating palates. Unique brands offer flavor complexities, which increase and improve as the beer warms, a characteristic not shared by the mass-produced macrobrews. Most American breweries are craft breweries, making it a rapidly expanding sector of the market. The “beer revival” of the last 30 years began with homebrewers opening breweries in the late 1970s, the first new breweries since Prohibition. Appreciation has grown for these independent microbrews. Innovative brews demonstrate creativity and artistry, as brewmasters put their own spin on traditional beer. Originally a west coast trend, craft beer has finally come to Florida.
Florida Beer Company
Florida Beer Company arose in 2003 from the former Indian River Beer Company. In 2005 the acquisition of Ybor City Brewing, Key West Brewing, and Miami Brewing created the largest brewery in Florida, literally expanding from coast to coast. Headquartered in Cape Canaveral on over five acres of land and in a facility just under 60,000 square feet, Florida Beer Company is an impressive operation. The building houses a tasting room with large glass panels overlooking the brewing area, a merchandise shop, and a large and sophisticated lab to test samples from every tank in order to ensure product quality and consistency.
Co-owner Jim Massoni began as a software engineer in the Northeast before relocating to Florida in 1996. After seeing the growth of craft beer in California, Jim wanted to join the interesting, and successful, scene. What resulted from that vision is a major contributor to the growth of craft beer in Florida. Florida Beer Company’s brews have won awards almost every year since 2003, competing at the Best Florida Beer Championships, the U.S. Open Beer Championships, and the Great American Beer Festival, as well as judgings by the North American Brewers Association. Some of the company’s beers include Swamp Ape Double IPA, Gaspar’s Porter, Florida Lager, Devil’s Triangle IPA, Key West Sunset Ale, Key West Southernmost Wheat, Sunshine State Pils, and 321 White IPA. Active in the community, Florida Beer Company is often present at art festivals and other events.
Whether at an event, in a bar, off a store shelf, or in the soon-to-open tasting room in Cape Canaveral, there are ample opportunities to try one of Florida Beer Company’s popular and tasty brews. For more information visit FloridaBeer.com.
Cocoa Beach Brewing Company
Chris McCall is a former police officer and homebrewer from Phoenix, Arizona. Fulfilling a 10-year dream to own and operate a brewery, Chris and his wife Tracy opened Cocoa Beach Brewing Company in June 2009. After considering locations across the U.S., the McCalls decided to open their family business on Florida’s Space Coast, a place they had always loved and one that Chris remembered fondly from family vacations. The brew pub is located on A1A in the heart of historic downtown Cocoa Beach.
Cocoa Beach Brewing Company is a self-proclaimed nanobrewery, producing small handcrafted batches of beer on site. Cocoa Beach Brewing has three Best Florida Beer Championships 2011 Award Winners in their collection — Gold Medal Winner Cocoa Beach Pale Ale and Silver Medal Winners Not Just Some Oatmeal Stout and 888 India Pale Ale. Guest brewers from other breweries and bars have collaborated with Chris on various creations.
The tasting room consists of six taps, which dispense a rotating selection of the brewery’s 15 beers, many of which are Space Coast themed. In fact, much of Cocoa Beach Brewing is tied to the area’s space history. The building, one of the oldest in the area, was originally built in the 1930s as Navy housing for the Banana River Naval Air Station before housing several other businesses throughout the years. Today, the tasting room closes for launches, during which patrons are invited to meet across the street to watch the launch before returning to enjoy more beverages.
The tasting room offers a comfortable place to hang out. One can claim a spot in one of the leather chairs in the front room or join others at the large wooden table by the bar. Visitors can enjoy decorations including space and beach art, or they can join others in a rousing game of Cards Against Humanity. The atmosphere is casual and inviting, and one may find several hours have passed while enjoying the beer and the company. This month Cocoa Beach Brewing Company celebrates its fifth anniversary with a party open to the public. Guests can enjoy catering, food tents, games, live music, and, of course, plenty of delicious beer. For more information visit CocoaBeachBrewingCompany.com.
Donald, the brewmaster, has an environmental science background and passion for cooking and beer, which lends itself to interesting and appealing flavor creations. He began as a home brewer, and his vision attracted aspiring business owners and friends John Curtis and Kyle Smyth, the front of house and back of house partners, respectively. Donald brews three to four times per week, producing about 90 gallons of delicious and interesting beer. He describes the appeal of craft beer, “It’s like the farm to fork experience with food. There are subtle differences based on where it’s made.” This is what makes craft beer so exciting.
Visitors will find a lively tasting room with welcoming staff (often including John.) The tasting room is decorated to reflect the Intracoastal Waterway for which it was named. It offers views of the brewing area and fermentation rooms, as well as eight taps featuring Intracoastal’s own brews, ciders, and guest taps from other local craft brewers. Customers can order beer by the pint, half-pint, flight, or growler. Intracoastal is the epitome of a community brewery, with its relaxed social scene and beers that are always changing. John, who has lived in the area his whole life, describes how Intracoastal captures the local vibe, “We wanted to name the brewery after the local area. Our goal was for the tasting room to be a part of the community.” After experiencing the scene, trying the beers, and meeting the owners, it is safe to say this goal has been met. For more information, including current beer selection, visit IntracoastalBrewingCompany.com.
One of the first brewpubs in Central Florida, Coasters opened in December 1988, before the craft beer trend had begun to take root in Florida. Coasters is a place for beer, food and fun, where one can try beers from all over the U.S. and the world. With 37 taps and 132 total beers, Coasters has a wide selection for beer lovers, including several craft beers. This helps to get exposure to locals. Owner David Schwartz explains the symbiosis of craft beer and his brewpub, “We have doubled business in the last five years, a lot of which is due to interest in craft beers. It’s still a very small percentage of the market yet to be discovered.” A great place to discover craft beer is at Coasters. For more information visit CoastersBrewPub.com.
World of Beer Viera
World of Beer (often referred to as “WoB”) began in Tampa in 2007. It was the product of two best friends who wanted a business involving something they loved and enjoyed. In December 2009 franchisees Chuck and Maribeth Liska chose Viera as the location for Brevard’s WoB. World of Beer offers a massive selection of beer, 500 craft beers in the cooler and about 50 rotating on tap, from more than 40 countries and over 8,000 brewery partners. The beers are all craft and import, not mass-produced commercial brew. Drew Thaller, product manager at WoB Viera, works closely with local breweries to focus in Florida and keep its home brews alive.
World of Beer is about the experience of socializing in a “neighborhood” bar, where patrons try new beers and share them. Customers gain knowledge from staff who must complete “beer school” training to help guide customers’ choices. The WoB Loyalty Program encourages branching out and trying new beers in order to gain points for rewards. Thus, a diverse beer palate evolves. WoB also hosts representatives from featured breweries in tasting events, which are posted on the website, on the Facebook page, or in the WoB newsletter.
World of Beer provides an ideal setting to gain exposure to craft beer, learn more about it, and have fun in the process.
For more information visit WorldOfBeer.com/Locations/Viera.
Crane Creek Ale Works
Eager to officially join the local craft beer scene growing in Brevard, the founders of Crane Creek Ale Works hope to open their own brewery within the next year. Matt McKee, Billy Feldmeier, and Ryan Westervelt started what is now Crane Creek Ale Works on September 1, 2012. The friends all homebrewed and became members of a downtown beer club, which gave them the opportunity to try different craft brews monthly.
The three men currently brew in Matt’s garage using a gravity-fed three-tier system, producing five-gallon batches of one of 15 or so recipes. They wear t-shirts bearing the company logo – an image of the Crane Creek Bridge and a bird, designed by a graphic artist in Nashville. The beer they create is being tested (for free) at events, including food truck events and charity 5Ks, where they collect feedback. This is the first step in their three-year-plan. Next is raising the capital in order to officially open a venue and start serving, steps two and three.
Each man has a designated role within the endeavor. Ryan Westervelt is currently going to school for business/accounting, and Billy Feldmeier will be the operations/front of house manager. Matt, an engineer who loves cooking, drinking, and science is the group’s brewmaster. He explains the beauty of craft brewing: “Craft brewers are true artisans. You’re making your own thing and selling it on the market. There are more options,” Matt said. “The beer scene has exploded with beer lovers becoming more like ‘foodies.’ Beer is going in the same direction as food shows. The process puts a unique stamp on the beer. For example, the local water can even change the taste. When you crack open a craft beer, you taste your area. It’s your own creation and fun to taste someone’s piece of art.”
The craft beer scene in Florida, and Brevard, is exciting, enjoyable, and expanding. True beer artists are finding their creative outlet, and entrepreneurs are finding opportunities to be part of the local economy. By supporting this movement, one can reap the benefits of developing a better palate, socializing in interesting venues, and patronizing a new work of art.
“We all shared an affection of craft beer that grew over the years,” says Matt McKee, Crane Creek Ale Works.