To find ratebeer.com’s Top New Florida Brewer of 2013, you wouldn’t go to downtown St. Pete, or Ybor City.
You’d head instead to that Central Pinellas County no-man’s-land where Largo, Seminole and southern Clearwater sort of, kind of, maybe don’t blend into one another. You’d turn off of Bryan Dairy Road into your standard, unassuming industrial park. And there you’d find Rapp Brewing and, more likely than not, Greg Rapp himself.
A homebrewer for more than 15 years, Rapp turned a hobby and an unfortunate, economically driven career downturn into a new full-time job and, not too long after, a small-batch brewing company known to adventurous and discerning beer drinkers nationwide.
“I worked in IT, and I could telecommute on Fridays, so I would brew beer while I was telecommuting,” he says, laughing. “So I ended up with a lot of beer, and every few months we’d do an event at the house. We called it Rapp on Tap.”
About four years ago, he started a homebrewing club, the Pinellas Urban Brewers Guild, which in turn began staging its own events. Rapp and his fellow brewers immediately began to garner positive feedback and encouragement.
“People loved it, asked if they could buy the beer, where they could get it,” he remembers.
The recession eventually caused Rapp to be laid off; by then, he’d won some regional and national medals for his brews, and decided to go for broke with a small-batch business. But he never figured he’d soon be a “brewer’s brewer,” the head of a concern whose beer folks would gladly drive across the Bay to taste, then harangue their local beer store to carry.
“It completely exceeded my expectations,” he says. “I was certainly not planning on being as successful or accepted [within the brewing community] as we have been.”
Rapp often likes to work with traditional Old World styles, tipping his hat to his family heritage — his great-grandfather was a brewery owner in Germany at the dawn of the 20th century, and his mother hails from Dresden, not far from the birthplace of the beer known as gose, and as anyone who’s had it can attest, Rapp’s take on the Lower Saxony style is in a class by itself. But he’s not content to merely recreate classic beers, and credits the input of his small team of brewers with helping him to tweak, tinker and push the envelope; it’s his favorite part of the gig.
“I like exploring,” he says. “It’s the art, the hands-on, the creativity, trying new things. I’ve got two guys, Joe Scheibelhut is my head brewer and Troy Bledsoe is my assistant brewer, and I really enjoy working with them. We have such a small system, we have the ability to be creative and try new things, sit down and ask what we haven’t done or want to do, just be footloose and fancy free.”
Favorite local beer that isn’t his: “My favorite local beer that’s not a Rapp is Old Elephant Foot IPA from Tampa Bay Brewing Company. That’s the beer that got me started in homebrewing, and that’s still my favorite.”
His signature Rapp beer: “We’ve brewed almost 70 beers in the last two years, pick one. I mean, obviously the Gose is one that kind of defines us, who we are, what we do, but I also think one of our European lagers, like our Munich dunkel… yeah. Those beers, and the Hefeweizens. Belgian Golden Strong is my daughter’s favorite, Scotch ale is my dad’s — my brother likes 'em all because they’re free.”
Rapp Brewing Company
10930 Endeavor Way, Seminole