“When you introduce a style that someone’s never heard of or tried ... to see their eyes light up when they taste it, and then they order a glass or a growler, the reaction to something new is so refreshing and so satisfying.”
It’s easy to see Chris Johnson's passion for craft beer. His own eyes light up like the customers he’s describing while he talks about it.
A dedicated homebrewer since college, Johnson helped found one of the area’s first clubs, Tampa Bay B.E.E.R.S (Brewing Enthusiasts Enjoying Real Suds), back in 1990. But it was just last year that he and wife (and fellow beer aficionado) Leslie realized their dream and opened Six Ten Brewing in Town N’ Country on Valentine’s Day 2014. The stylishly industrial brewery/tasting room was named after the couple’s desire to break out of the 9-to-5 grind of their corporate IT jobs. They’ve certainly put in bigger hours in the preparation and execution of their vision, but neither would have it any other way.
“I’ve never regretted it for a second,” says Leslie, who’s looking forward to her fifth day off since they opened, while Chris jokes that he can “barely remember what we did before this.”
A year in, they still consider themselves lucky. Sometimes when a passion becomes a job, it becomes, you know, a job. That hasn’t been the case for the Johnsons.
“Are you kidding?” she says. “He’s just got bigger toys to play with.”
Six Ten has already become both a neighborhood go-to and a rising name among Bay area craft labels. But the Johnsons haven’t forgotten the main reason they wanted to open a tasting room in the first place: sharing exciting new beers with anyone looking for them. They’re planning on hosting Tampa Bay B.E.E.R.S’ next Brew Day (scheduled for May 2), when interested parties can come watch some of the area’s most experienced homebrewers do their thing, and first-timers and the brew-curious are always welcome at their bar.
“What sets us apart is we try very hard not to be intimidating,” Leslie says. “We spend a lot of time on educating, talking to novice beer drinkers, helping them make that transition, try styles they haven’t had before and understand them.”
“Our thing was to fit into the existing community and maintain that level of quality and standards,” Chris says. “The [craft beer] community is defined; it’s a matter of maintaining those levels. And if you do that well and you’re lucky, you’ll succeed in raising the bar.”
Favorite local beer that isn’t theirs: Chris: “One of my favorites is the Prickly Pear Raised Bungalow [Berliner-style weiss] from Southern Brewing. Just a great beer, and it actually won Best in Show this year [at the Best Florida Beer Brewer’s Ball], but for all the right reasons.” Leslie: “Pretty much any 7venth Sun beer is my favorite.”
Their signature Six Ten beer: Chris: “My wife likes the Magpie Rye [pale ale] but I say the Blouser [Belgian-style tripel]. We’ve gone to Belgium several times and I really gained an affinity for the Belgian-style beers.” Leslie: “I love rye beers, and Chris made [Magpie] for me before we even opened, and it’s our dog Maggie’s favorite, too.”
Six Ten Brewing
7052 Benjamin Road, Tampa