The Second Annual 97X Craft Beer Experience, held Sat., Aug. 17, at the Mahaffey Theater in downtown St. Petersburg, featured a lot of beers you can buy any day of the week at your local World of Beer — Victory, Magic Hat, Kona, even the ubiquitous and crafty Shock Top.
That may explain why the most-crowded part of the sold-out (1,400 tickets) beer fest was the Florida wing. It was there that you could find Rapp Brewing Co. from Pinellas Park, Big Storm Brewing from Odessa, Cold Storage from Tampa, Tampa Bay Brewing from Ybor City, Bold City from Jacksonville and Pensacola Brewing from, well, Pensacola. And 3 Daughters Brewing Co. from St. Petersburg, which happens to be one of seven new breweries opening in the Tampa Bay area in the coming months.
It was the public debut for 3 Daughters’ owner Mike Harting and head brewer Ty Weaver, who hope to be pouring beer in late November at a location (222 Second St. South) in the downtown Warehouse Arts District. They have been serving limited samples at Bella Brava, the Beach Drive restaurant Harting co-owns and where Weaver is the chef. But this was the first full-on tasting by an audience of dedicated craft beer fans.
Weaver looked on with anticipation as fest-goers sampled four of his brews — Brown Pelican Dunkelweizen, Beach Blonde Ale, Summer Storm Stout and Bourbon Barrel Aged Porter. All were solid and well received. The porter, aged for a month in barrels from Lexington, Ky., was one of the most talked-about beers at the fest. Harting and Weaver are still working on the lineup of beers for the new brewery, but remain confident enough in the appeal of barrel-aged beers that they ordered 200 additional barrels from Kentucky.
While 3 Daughters was the only brand-new brewery at the festival — all the breweries are distributed by Great Bay Distributors in Largo, which limited the lineup of local breweries — a couple of others were in the crowd.
Mike Bisaha was there with his crew from Big Top Brewing, which plans to open in September at 6111 B Porter Way in Sarasota. They spent quality time sampling Greg Rapp’s (of Rapp Brewing) Gosé, Berliner Weisse and Watermelon Wit (which was so popular it ran out early).
Harting chatted with Ken and Julia Rosenthal of Pair O' Dice Brewing, which plans to open in late September in a warehouse near the Carillon area (located at 4400 118th Ave. North, Suite 208 in Clearwater). They discussed the challenges of opening a new brewery and the finer points of choosing the right distributor. (Harting chose Great Bay, but the Rosenthals are still talking it over.)
The beer fest was also the Tampa Bay debut of Aviator Brewing Company — one of North Carolina’s biggest breweries, which has deep family ties to one of Florida’s oldest craft breweries. Owner Mark Doble was one of the four founders of Tampa Bay Brewing Company before leaving to work for Hewlett Packard for 15 years. Bored with software engineering, he opened Aviator four and a half years ago in Fuquay-Varina, a small town about a half-hour drive south of Raleigh. The brewery started in a former airport hangar, then expanded to another building in town. Aviator brews 10,000 barrels a year and plans to expand to 40,000 a year soon. Doble also added a barbecue joint across the street.
The brewery has had a big impact in Fuquay-Varina. “The mayor loves me,” Doble joked. “People drive from all over to visit the brewery.” The neighborhood around the brewery is also starting to be revitalized, he said.
Great Bay was already distributing Tampa Bay Brewing’s Old Elephant Foot — the IPA Doble said he named — so there was a natural tie-in to the Tampa Bay market.
Saturday’s fest was not just a debut but a family reunion of sorts, with Mark Doble manning his booth not far from his brother Dave and dad John at Tampa Bay Brewing.
Expect to see Aviator brands like Mad Beach (and American Wheat Ale brewed with orange peel), Hot Rod Red Ale, Devil’s Tripel and Hog Wild IPA at retail outlets and craft-beer taverns across the Bay area, Mark Doble said.
He looks forward to some friendly sibling rivalry with his brother in the hot Tampa Bay craft beer market. “I’m trying to outsell him,” he said. He said it with a smile, but he was only half-joking.