Acquisition, Attrition, and Evolution
Not that many years ago, the beer scene in Florida was just beginning to coalesce. What had been known for so long as a craft beer wasteland was finally coming into its own. New breweries were popping up around the state, festivals were drawing larger and more beer-savvy crowds, and the rest of the country was starting to take notice. There was a definite feeling of camaraderie between all of the brewers and emerging beer bars, and it felt like we were in a golden age of a warm-fuzzy-sudsy beer Camelot.
Welcome to 2016.
Florida is now a beer destination. The beer culture here is internationally recognized, as evidenced by the awards won, the reviews around the globe, and – in the specific case of St. Petersburg – by the honor of hosting the incredible Shelton Brothers Festival in 2015. Florida is home to over 150 breweries, with a whole slough of “breweries-in-planning”. Last year, the state legislature finally approved the sale of 64 ounce growlers (if you were not following that saga, it was an incredible tale of lies, cronyism, and lobbyist influence in Florida politics… but I digress). It is safe to say that the Sunshine State has fought its way into a rightful place among the best beer states in the country.
Nationally, we saw the number of breweries blow past the previous record, with over 4100 breweries now operating in the United States. We also began to see more of what many of us knew was coming. The Big Brewers have seen the writing on the wall, and they want a piece of the action. So they are buying it up, piece by piece. You may remember the big kerfuffle when the rumors spread that Cigar City Brewing was being acquired by AB/InBev. While that didn’t happen, there were some surprising pick ups in 2015.
And we have seen breweries close. Even locally. One of the most frequent questions I get is “Can we sustain this growth?” and “How many breweries can the Tampa Bay Area support?” There is frequently reference to a “craft beer bubble”. My answer has never changed. Yes, we can sustain the growth. We can support more breweries. And we are not on the bubble. HOWEVER… it has been something I have said for years. The brewery business is just that: a business. And sometimes businesses fail. There are a whole myriad of reasons why any business might have to close its doors, from lack of customers or funds, to increased competition and even health issues. Sometimes you just don’t have a good product or there is a lack of professional acumen to make things work. It is no different in brewing.
We have also seen some fracturing of the Circle of Love between brewers in our state. While many believed every brewery and brewery owner was buddy-buddy with the next, it is easily forgotten that underneath the titles lie real people. And some people are just nicer than others, and some can be serious assholes. Sometimes publicly. And as with any fanhood, divisions emerge, and #teamthisguy starts to bash #teamthatguy for no other reason than “their” brewery is involved. I just don’t have the taste for that kind of childishness…
So what is 2016 going to bring us?
First off, a hell of a lot of great beer coming out of Florida breweries. From the old guard to the new, there is some truly spectacular liquid being conjured up here, and I expect that to continue. And with that will be a increase in the number of events and festivals, some of which will be amazing, while others will simply be targeted as mass consumption and making some quick cash.
I expect to also see more and more tap handles and shelf space dedicated not just to craft beer, but specifically Florida-brewed beer. There is no reason that the usually homogeneous and generic tourist locations should not be offering a taste of Florida at their bars and restaurants. It is already starting to happen, but I really think it will expand.
On a more personal note, I am approaching 2016 as a chance to evolve this site and my involvement in the beer community. I have been doing this a (relatively) long time; I have focused almost exclusively on beer. And don’t get me wrong, I still love beer. And I will continue to participate and contribute to the beer community of Tampa Bay and Florida. But I am also going to evolve this space to be more. I am a beer lover, yes, but I am also an educator, a traveler, a father and husband, food lover, books and music, movies, science, and so on. I think I can bring more to the table than just the beer. But don’t worry, I’ll still bring the beer.