Big Storm rising

Local homebrewers turn a passion for beer into Tampa Bay's newest brewery.

In an effort to pool resources, Bishop moved in with Yarn, his wife Jessica and their two children. After a business plan was made, the pair hit the pavement seeking investors. “To go out and seek employment with another employer would have been the easy thing to do,” Yarn said. “We decided to do the hard thing and go forth with the brewery.”
But raising funds is no easy task in the current economy.
“We committed to this 100 percent and I think people saw it in our hearts and in our eyes,” Yarn said. “All we needed was capital to make beer.”
After gathering funds, the partners signed a lease on a warehouse in Odessa in December. It then took more than 100 days to get federal licensing to manufacture beer. Finally allowed to manufacture, the first brew day lasted 20 hours.
“We built this place and brew everything by hand,” Bishop said. “One shot is all we have, so we grind it out.”
Bishop spent nine months apprenticing at Dunedin Brewery, learning the ins and outs of the craft before he was let go. Inside Big Storm's towering metal containers are the fruits of his labor: the first and second batches of Big Storm’s WaveMaker Amber Ale.
Bishop pours a small cup of the ale, Big Storm's flagship beer developed the fateful night the pair decided to launch the business. It’s caramel colored, malty, hoppy and extremely refreshing.
“We submitted that recipe to a competition where it did really well,” Bishop said. “I was convinced we could really do this.”
Big Storm’s name and logo pays homage to the local weather patterns, choppy waves and lightning. The brewery itself is a work-in-progess, with an old green couch sitting where a future tasting room bar will be. Before that can happen, though, the County Commission has to give Bishop and Yarn approval to sell alcohol from the industrial park first.
“People will get their beer right from inside the brew house,” Bishop said. He reports that more than 20 people have already volunteered to work the bar.
Bishop is constantly developing new recipes. The next brew coming out is the Palm Bender Pale Ale, and he's currently developing the MurderBerry Imperial Red.
“Bishop is able to express talents here,” Yarn said. “One brew at a time, one day at a time.”
“There is a very revolutionary underdog mentality right now,” Bishop said. “People really associate with an underdog.”
Florida law requires brewers to go through distributors to sell their product. Distribution lines in the state had been caught up in Budweiser contracts, but that was before the brewing giant was purchased by In-Bev in 2008. Now, Florida’s craft beer industry is blossoming.
“The concern is making the beer fast enough,” Bishop said. “No one can make enough beer.”
Involuntarily shedding professional careers has since been deemed a blessing in disguise. Friday Bishop and Yarn officially introduce their WaveMaker ale to the public at the Brass Tap in Trinity.
“We are young, agile, and working hard to get beer to the consumer who wants it,” Yarn said. “It is a great time for craft beer in Florida.”

click to enlarge At the brewery in Odessa, head brewer Mike Bishop pours a sample from the first batch WaveMaker Amber Ale. - Arielle Stevenson
Arielle Stevenson
At the brewery in Odessa, head brewer Mike Bishop pours a sample from the first batch WaveMaker Amber Ale.

click to enlarge At the brewery in Odessa, head brewer Mike Bishop pours a sample from the first batch WaveMaker Amber Ale. - Arielle Stevenson
Arielle Stevenson
At the brewery in Odessa, head brewer Mike Bishop pours a sample from the first batch WaveMaker Amber Ale.
  • Arielle Stevenson
  • At the brewery in Odessa, head brewer Mike Bishop pours a sample from the first batch WaveMaker Amber Ale.

Head brewer Mike Bishop emerges from Big Storm Brewery's warehouse in Odessa covered in sweat. The music of Foo Fighters is blasting through the brew house that Bishop started last year with business partner and old homebrewing friend, Clay Yarn.
Yarn was Bishop's R.A. at the University of South Florida, and they've been close ever since. Yarn graduated with a degree in Mass Communications; Bishop majored in Business.
Last year, Bishop and Yarn found themselves in a new position: unemployed.
We were homebrewing for the first time in a longtime; Yarn said,"and we looked at each other and said maybe it's time we do this.

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