At just about every local craft brewery, you’ll find a similar set of constants. A small crew of passionate brewers. A mix of consistent flagship beers and seasonal or one-off varieties. A brand name.
But not at Brewers’ Tasting Room in St. Petersburg. There’s no overarching brand that identifies the line of beers. Hell, there’s no “line of beers,” at least not in the traditional sense. And rather than being powered by a dedicated staff of brewers, the production side of Brewers’ Tasting Room is run by an entire community that includes everyone from hobbyist homebrewers to award-winning brewmasters.
“We’re a launching pad for brewers,” says proprietor Rick Wolfe. “Our model is to provide the opportunity, the equipment, the capital resources for brewers who want to open their own breweries.”
Think of it as a beta test for brewers with commercial ambitions. They can come to BTR, use its professional small-batch brewing system to produce a barrel — two kegs — of their own beer, then put the beer on tap for the public to sample. The brewers benefit from BTR’s equipment, communal expertise and tasting-room distribution; BTR benefits from both a wide and ever-changing spectrum of beers, and the novelty of offering brews literally unavailable anywhere else.
Wolfe and his wife Michelle are longtime homebrewers themselves. Immersed in a community that included several folks with dreams of opening their own breweries, the couple began to wonder if there were some sort of middle ground between hobby and commercial brewing, one that wouldn’t involve an all-or-nothing risk.
“We wanted to provide a place where those really awesome brewers could keep their day jobs, come in and hone their skills using professional-grade systems to brew their beers,” Wolfe says. “And then see if the public liked them by putting them on tap in a bar with good food, good entertainment, a mix of simulation and real-world environment.”
Not just anyone can come in and take a whack at it, but BTR’s facilities are open to anyone that fits Wolfe’s criteria for being a “serious brewer”: active homebrewers willing to submit a sample for evaluation, those committed enough to have experienced the competition circuit and commercial brewers whose work is known are all likely candidates. Wolfe and his co-conspirators are proud not only to foster a creative and collaborative yet professional environment, but also to put the finished product to the ultimate test via their taps.
“We always tell brewers, if your beer is awesome, you can call it your beer, and if it’s OK, you can call it our beer,” Wolfe says. “And if it’s crappy, we’ll boil hot dogs.”
Favorite local beer that isn’t his: “[Cigar City] Jai Alai. And [Tampa Bay Brewing Company’s] Old Elephant Foot IPA — I toasted my wedding with Old Elephant Foot instead of champagne.”
His favorite Brewers’ Tasting Room beer: “My personal favorite was a white IPA brewed by Josh [Wilson] from Big Top Brewing out of Sarasota. He had very unique brewing processes, used very unique yeast and created this totally unique beer. You could taste the art in it.”
Brewers’ Tasting Room
11270 Fourth St. N., St. Petersburg