There was also a particularly solid lineup of IPA's by Tampa Bay's newest home brew guild, the Suncoast Barley Mashers, which made its public debut at the fest. Note that Suncoast Barley Mashers is a guild, not a club. These are some serious home brewers with serious intent. They want to learn from each other and spread their knowledge, the rookies learning from the veterans. With only nine charter members, it's a small but strong group that includes Bob Bridges, who has won numerous state and national awards. Bridges made a nice strawberry beer, his wife brewed an interesting spice orange concoction, and Vinnie Giordano brought a well-balanced wheat. There were nine in all and there wasn't a drop left at the end of the event.
The Mashers are an offshoot of the Pinellas Urban Brewers Guild, founded by Greg Rapp, and it's likely you'll be hearing a lot more from these folks. Home brewers are the foundation of the local craft beer scene, experimenting with different styles, and supporting local breweries, festivals and craft-beer pubs with enthusiasm.
Still, there was a big draw for the myriad offerings from the booming number of local breweries like Rapp Brewing — Rapp was still a home brewer planning to turn pro at this time last year. Justin Stange, head brewer and co-owner of 7venth Sun, said these local concoctions are the biggest change in the evolution of the IPA fest.
"Now we're getting a lot of fresh IPA's,'' Stange said, "beer from within a few miles from here."
That includes 7venth Sun, which opened at the beginning of last year just a couple blocks from Dunedin Brewery, Florida's oldest craft brewery.
If you attended the fest, then you know about the IPA pairings that were offered. My favorite pairing of the night was Dunedin's American Classic with 7venth Sun's Summer Camp, the latter is the second in a series of summer session IPA's made with citra and galaxy hops and house yeast. At 3.8 percent, it had a dry finish that paired well with the hoppier, slightly sweeter American Classic.
Sure, there were some out of town IPA's, too, including Sweewater, Stone, Terrapin and Ballast Point. But you can't try everything — OK, I can't try everything — so I stuck with the local stuff.
Another change in the fest was the addition of fans of Dopapod, the funky, jazzy, prog-electronica rock outfit that drew plenty of young non-beer-geeks to liven up the atmosphere. See Nicole Abbett's review and photos here. And those beer geeks who were not Dopapod fans? They jammed too, especially when the sky opened up with a deluge of rain that had nearly everyone crowded inside for cover.
But if you're going to be trapped by a deluge, a beer fest with great music isn't a bad place to be.