Brew Bus puts the pedal to the metal for beer buffs

A Brew Bus trip to Angry Chair revealed what's down the road for Tampa Bay's niche shuttle service.

click to enlarge Angry Chair's Ryan Dowdle leads a tour of the Seminole Heights brewery. - Meaghan Habuda
Meaghan Habuda
Angry Chair's Ryan Dowdle leads a tour of the Seminole Heights brewery.

As the Bay area’s craft brewing industry evolves and expands, the region’s quickly morphing into a destination for beer enthusiasts. And the Tampa Bay Brew Bus has become the best way to get you there. Cruising through the end of 2014 on all cylinders, the Brew Bus has some new plans in store for locals when the calendar flips.

Offering customized brewery tours and hourly rental options, the Brew Bus will begin showcasing a Sampler Tour in January. Whereas its regular brewery tours include your first pour at every stop’s tasting room, the Sampler will feature two smaller drafts at each location to allow for more variety. It will be a regularly scheduled tour, running twice on Fridays and once on Saturdays, that hits three breweries in three hours for around $30.

The reasoning behind the new Sampler is an increased demand for the Brew Bus’ beer-loving good time. On a Brew Bus outing with a small group Monday night, owner Anthony Derby said events have started filling up faster and the holiday season’s corporate rentals have been steady, necessitating more tour options, and another bus.

“Starting in 2015, we’re going to try to make something always available to the public,” Derby said.

The 14-passenger Craft Cart will accommodate the Sampler tours. And a 25-seat bus, nickname-less for now, will join the Brew Bus fleet’s larger 22-passenger Craft Cruiser and 33-seat Big Bertha. It’s all part of next year’s expansion, which also includes potential partnerships in Jacksonville and big things for Brew Bus Brewing.

Served on a complimentary basis during the rides, Brew Bus Brewing has a repertoire of five canned crafts, including the Last Stop IPA, Rollin’ Dirty Irish Red Ale (developed with the help of Cigar City Brewing’s Wayne Wambles) and Are Wheat There Yet? Hoppy Wheat.

According to Derby, the Brew Bus recently brewed its first beer with Lakeland’s Brew Hub. The brewing and packaging facility requires a marked increase in production from 15-barrel batches to 100-barrel batches, which will raise Brew Bus output from 1,000 barrels to 4,000.

There are other brews in the works, too. Derby described one as a “Nutella porter,” and said its official name won’t infringe on the trademark of everyone’s favorite hazelnut spread. But combining cocoa nibs, Madagascar vanilla beans and toasted hazelnuts into a beer should be considered the sincerest form of flattery, right?

Kicking off at Cigar City Monday evening, the Brew Bus excursion led this reporter to one of the bus’ newest stops: Angry Chair Brewing in Seminole Heights.

Angry Chair isn’t just an awesome song from Alice in Chains. It’s an abstract concept that has evolved into a way of life for co-founders Ryan Dowdle and Shane Mozur.

“Everybody has an angry chair,” according to the brewery’s website, “Be it work, a traffic jam or where else. Angry Chair Brewing is about the realization that you have one and the celebration that you can get away from it.”

Dowdle told the tour group of his discontent with a former white-collar finance job, his own angry chair. Fed up with what he called too much corporate greed and backstabbing, Dowdle contrasted the old vocation to his place within the local brewing scene.

“I love it... it’s very synergy-related. It’s a lot of really good people, and I chose to surround myself with those people as colleagues,” he said.

He goes on to describe the term “competitor” as something of a misnomer in the industry.

“We all work together, and that’s what’s cool to me,” Dowdle said. “I think, as a collective, we all get better.”

Angry Chair is a relatively small brewery, with a 10-barrel brewhouse that the crew needs to use three times to fill their 30-barrel fermenters, Dowdle said. The brewery also has a 10-barrel fermenter, and 10- and 30-barrel bright tanks for conditioning. He said he hopes to outgrow the facility in the next two years, and start using it strictly for sours.

In the meantime, long brewing days produced five Angry Chair beers for the tasting room, including a Florida Weisse called 3 Little Birds and the German Chocolate Cupcake Stout, which is magical. They’re available alongside guest taps occupied by fellow Floridians Cigar City Cider and Mead, 7venth Sun, Coppertail and Swamp Head.

“We all work together, we all strive to be better and we all benefit from having better beer,” Dowdle said.

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