Photo: Todd Bates
In 2005, founder and president of Cigar City Brewing Joseph “Joey” Redner, 41, knew Tampa Bay needed a local brewery to package and sell beer. He just didn’t know that it would be him opening it.
Four years after producing its first beer, Cigar City Brewing has tripled its brewing capacity, expanding from microbrewery to regional brewer. That’s in addition to the Cigar City brewpub just days away from opening in Carrollwood, a tasting room expansion, and the new Cigar City Cider and Mead (in production at nearby Keel and Curley Winery). Echoing the Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime,” I asked Redner, “How did you get this beautiful brewery?”
“I was the biggest cheerleader of breweries here,” he said. “But I think I even underestimated how much pent-up demand there was for a local brewery.”
Then, the majority of the breweries in Florida were brewpubs that made beer solely for on-premise consumption. Redner saw a need for a packaging brewery, where folks could buy the beer to take home.
“I expected someone else to do it,” Redner says, seated at a booth inside the new brewpub. “I wanted to find that guy and go work for him.”
Redner researched beer sales, marketing and production. He priced out equipment, and before long he had a solid business plan.
“Eventually I was like, I can do this, I can make this happen,” Redner says. “I followed the tried and true craft beer model of selling a little bit of beer in a lot of places.”
Redner presented his business plan to his dad, local business owner and investor Joe Redner.
“I wanted to be in the beer industry so bad I would take any job to stay in it,” he said. “He knew I was going down this road with or without him. He said, how much do you need?”
Joey got $850,000 in start-up money to start Cigar City, incorporated in October 2007. He wrote about the good, the bad, and the ugly on his blog, “The Trials and Tribulations of Opening (and Operating) a Brewery in Florida.”
Redner hired brewer Wayne Wambles (now the head brewer), and the first batch of Cigar City beer was born in January 2009.
“I’ve grown Wayne’s boundaries,” Redner said. “He’s taught me everything is possible; it’s how much pain are you willing to put up with to get there.”
From the beginning, Redner knew he wanted Tampa’s culture to be part of the brewery’s identity. Redner and his wife Jennifer now have four children who represent the sixth generation of Floridians.
“I’m a Tampa kid and it was important to me to own that,” Redner said. “Tampa’s culture hasn’t been exported very well in my opinion. But I think our culture and heritage are unique.”
Like the many local kids who spent their youths despising Florida for all its inadequacies, Redner says he had to leave Tampa, visit other cities, and come back to see its potential.
“I realized those cities aren’t any better than Tampa, it’s the people making them better,” says Redner. “That’s what I’m trying to do, preserve the culture and heritage but also add some other cool things, too.”
Besides making great (and award-winning) beer, Cigar City’s packaging and labels make them stand out in a cooler.
“When you have that bottle you have this little soapbox,” says Redner. “It’s a platform for you to spotlight anything. I want to talk about my city.”