Five reasons this was the Year of Beer in Tampa Bay 

Why the local craft beer scene took off in 2013.

This was the year the Tampa Bay craft beer scene went from craze to full-on revolution. It was, simply put, the best year yet for craft beer enthusiasts, cementing Tampa Bay’s reputation as the epicenter of the growing Florida craft beer scene.

You know things have changed when so many people start wondering if the current craft beer boom is about to go bust. It’s understandable, since we only had a handful of craft beer breweries five years ago, and the Independent in downtown St. Pete was about the only craft beer bar around (and now it’s gone!) But the idea that we have somehow reached the saturation point ignores the reality of the marketplace. As Cigar City founder Joey Redner pointed out recently, craft beer comprises only about five percent of overall beer sales in Florida. The craft brewers we have now can’t keep up with the demand, and doubling their market share to 10 percent would mean increasing capacity far beyond where it is now. Will some new breweries and bars fail? Probably. But the success rate so far is a lot better than your average restaurant’s. As Charlie Papazian, the godfather of American craft beer movement, might say: Relax, don’t worry, have a craft beer!

Here are five signs that 2013 truly was the Year of Beer.

St. Petersburg became a craft beer enthusiast’s dream Three craft breweries are already open (Green Bench Brewing Co., Cycle Brewing, 3Daughters Brewing) with a fourth (St. Pete Brew Co.) due to open in the coming weeks. New craft beer taverns The Amsterdam, Brass Tap and the Flying Pig offer lots of local and Florida beers on tap. And the Ale and the Witch, with its mix of music and choice beers, is drawing breweries, bands and big crowds.

The craft beer boom made inroads on the beaches Gulf beach towns used to be all about the Bud Lite. But I knew something had shifted when my local 7-11 in Treasure Island made room for Cigar City, Aviator and New Belgium beers. My favorite beach dive, the Ka’Tiki, started carrying CCB’s Jai Alai and put in several craft beer taps. Even the R Bar — best known for its snowbirds and all-you-can-eat specials — started brewing its own beer in the kitchen.

Bigger craft beer brands from out of state joined the scene First it was New Belgium from Colorado, then Saint Arnold from Texas, and Founders from Michigan. Now Shipyard plans to open its first production brewery outside of Maine at its Sea Dog brewpub in Clearwater.

ABC Fine Wines and Spirits began filling growlers ABC began filling growlers at its Lake Mary store near Orlando, then at its newly expanded and redesigned store on Kennedy Boulevard in Tampa. This is great news for those of us who would like to see Florida law changed to allow 64-ounce growlers. Increase public awareness of growlers, and lawmakers in Tallahassee might change their tune.

The spirit of collaboration Do you ever wonder why Tampa Bay’s craft beer scene is thriving compared to the rest of Florida? Is it something in the water? In a word: collaboration. There is no doubt that a competitive spirit drives the Tampa Bay craft brewing scene; every brewer wants to make beer better than the rest — and sell more, too. But what makes the Tampa Bay brewing scene so special it that every new brewer has gotten a helping hand from the more established brewers (Cigar City deserves credit for setting the tone), and the newbies pay it forward to the next round. That, more than anything else, is driving the whole scene.

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