Crammed in between the noisy, convivial tasting room and the production area where they make their beer, Big Storm Brewing’s crew members huddle around a piece of the brewery’s brand-new canning line. An obviously tight-knit group, they joke back and forth, calling out and shooting down ideas for a name for the latest “member” of the team, eventually — for the moment — settling on “Carl,” after the boisterous, balding neighbor from Adult Swim’s animated series Aqua Teen Hunger Force.
Located east of New Port Richey in Pasco County, Odessa isn’t exactly a hotbed of hip; it’s not even exactly a town, but rather a Census-Designated Place (CDP) that’s home to fewer than 10,000 souls. But it’s here, away from it all, that this group has found friendship and a shared passion, and parlayed them into one of the fastest rising local craft-brew brands around.
“It’s got its pros and cons,” says Big Storm co-founder Mike Bishop of the brewery’s location. “It’s kind of nice to stay out of all the politics. On the con side, we’re not as in the mix of things, and maybe we don’t get mentioned as often as other breweries. But we’re just focused on making great beer and selling it across the state.”
After graduating from USF with a finance degree, Bishop moved out to Wesley Chapel, because it reminded him of the undeveloped beauty he discovered as a kid when his family first moved to northern Pinellas from the Buffalo, New York, area. A dedicated fan of craft beer since his college days, he started playing hooky from his “real job” by immersing himself in the scene. A stint as a volunteer at Dunedin Brewery convinced him where his true calling lay, and he and co-founder Clay Yarn opened Big Storm — then a 3.5-barrel “nanobrewery” — in June of 2012.
Last October, they expanded to 15 barrels. Unlike other brewers who are either happy to stay local or go all-in in anticipation of explosive demand, Bishop and Big Storm are hewing to a business plan that’s equal parts organic growth and informed ambition. Their nearly 400 retail markets all over Florida haven’t yet maxed out their current production capacity, but Bishop is looking ahead to a not-too-distant future in which the brewery’s aggressive distribution strategy will do just that, and then some.
“It’s got its challenges, but they’re fun challenges,” he says. “We have some really good partners. We just play the balancing game, I guess.”
Favorite local beer that isn’t his: “Probably Tampa Bay Brewing Company’s Reef Donkey. It’s an awesome beer, and you can get it in cans — good times.”
His signature Big Storm beer: “Wavemaker [Amber Ale]. It was our first, it was our flagship, and it’s a flagship that’s not an IPA. It shows that we can make other well-rounded beers besides IPAs, that there are other good beers we can crush as well.”
Big Storm Brewing Co.
2438 Merchant Ave. #103, Odessa