Meet the Brewers: David Doble of Tampa Bay Brewing Company

click to enlarge Meet the Brewers: David Doble of Tampa Bay Brewing Company - Chip Weiner
Chip Weiner
Meet the Brewers: David Doble of Tampa Bay Brewing Company

If you follow craft beer, you’ve probably read about some of the hurdles that small breweries face in an economy dominated by corporations, and the influence their profits buy.

Real estate. Licensing. Distribution. Marketing. It goes on and on.

While the recent explosion of local commercial brewing has brought some of these issues back to the news pages, they’re as old as business itself. And David Doble, head brewer of iconic family-owned Ybor City brewpub Tampa Bay Brewing Company, has dealt with all of them, as well as the sort of personal tragedy that either destroys a family, or inspires it to work even harder in the face of adversity.

Doble became an assistant brewer when BrewCo first opened in 1995 in the heart of a booming Ybor, and helped make the business the quintessential Tampa brewpub before leaving in ‘98 to pursue a career as a commercial airline pilot. When his brother John, whom some call the heart behind the company, died in a house fire in 2003, David returned to the fold in January of ‘04 as head brewer to help continue the fulfillment of the family’s vision.

“When I first came back to the pub it was all about family survival,” he says. “I might have helped a lot, building the pub, but he was really the driving force, with my mom’s help. It was just about making sure we didn’t flop. And as the years have gone by, my role has changed into … just working to improve the product we have.”

Doble, a lifelong beer lover, dove right in. As BrewCo grew steadily, however, so did the obstacles.

“In 2006 we moved from our old space to here [in Centro Ybor], and we struggled here,” he says. “One of the biggest issues was that the state kept saying we weren’t allowed to hold the license we needed to distribute our beer out of here... basically we bumped along until 2011, when we finally hired legal counsel to push the state. Once we did, those guys said, ‘Yeah, you were right all these years.’ They issued the license, I ordered three massive tanks, ordered the canning line, and our first kegs went out in November 2011. Datz was the first place to tap one of our kegs.”

BrewCo’s ability to distribute beyond its own restaurant coincided with three timely developments: the beginning of the local craft beer boom, Doble’s appearance on a Weather Channel report about pilots (during which Tampa Bay Brewing Company was referenced), and the brewpub’s appearance on living bro-troll doll Guy Fieri’s Food Network series Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. The increased visibility spurred momentum for distribution well beyond the restaurant’s loyal locals and walk-in crowd.

“Our sales went through the roof,” Doble says. “And since then, we’ve really been on fire. We can’t make beer fast enough, which is a good thing.”

So good that the brand is building an additional 17,000-square-foot production facility in Westchase, complete with restaurant-slash-pub, outdoor bar and seating area. When asked when the new space will open, Doble — like so many of the other expanding brewers interviewed for Meet the Brewers — hedges his bets with a laugh, saying, “I hate even putting a date on it,” but hinting that summer 2015 might be close to the mark.

On a personal level, Doble is delighted to have been back in beer for a decade, and close to family. During the interview, his brother Mike, who’s in charge of business development and sales, wanders over to ask if he can borrow some diving equipment; later, Doble’s kids stop by to let him know they’re getting a ride home from their uncle. Even the BrewCo matriarch and general manager, Vicki Doble, stops by to say hello.

Having a job based in Tampa — as opposed to any number of airline hubs — also allows Doble to indulge his love for the outdoor lifestyle.

“I love to fish, I love to spearfish, I love to dive, I love to fly, and skydiving used to be a really big thing for me, but it’s slowed down over the past year,” he says. “Pretty much anything where you’re outside, active and involved. That’s the only way to drink so much beer in a week and not weigh 300 pounds.”

As for the local beer explosion, Doble is enthusiastic, if a little reserved:

“At this point, it’s a very healthy thing,” he says. “I’m not going to say that as the future goes, you’re not going to have some really well-financed guys open up, and the fact is they’re going to base their model on selling a lot of beer, and I’m scared of what they’ll be willing to do to sell the beer. But at this point it’s bringing more awareness to craft, and number two, it’s bringing more awareness to the concept of supporting locals, which benefits everyone in the game — and that extends beyond beer, to restaurants, local businesses.”

Favorite local beer that’s not his: 
“God, that’s hard, there are just so many beers that I like. I’m so focused on my own beers, even when I’m drinking other beers I’m looking for traits that I like. Even when I’m drinking, it’s work. Cigar City’s Hopped on the High Seas [IPA], I love that beer. But Coppertail’s been brewing some beers that are so awesome. I tell you what — Southern’s [Brewing & Winemaking] Hop Burst [IPA], that’s usually the beer I’m drinking. I walk in, they’re like, ‘Lemme guess what you want.’”

His signature BrewCo beer: 
“Old Elephant Foot IPA has always been our flagship beer, and has always embodied our attitude, which has always been bold — we brew the beers we want to drink. The twist on that is, I’ve finally reached the point where I can put my own twists on the beers, and the one I really love is the Reef Donkey [American pale ale]. It expresses why I brew, my lifestyle — I wanted a beer I could take on the boat, that would really embody that experience for me.”

Tampa Bay Brewing Company
1600 E. Ninth Ave., Ybor City


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