More than just tattooed guys with beards are talking about craft beer.
Teachers, doctors, police officers and more are part of the region's homebrewing culture. Tampa Bay — and its surrounding communities — hosts almost 20 homebrew clubs, and according to the American Homebrewers Association website, 1.2 million people in the United States make their own beer.
On Sunday afternoon, Cigar City Brewing held an AHA Rally to inspire homebrewers to continue their craft and improve the thriving community. The brewery showcased intimate tours, beer tastings and a raffle throughout the gathering's three-hour run.
In the Cigar City tasting room, a couple hundred passionate brewers mingled, compared recipes for different styles of ale and bragged about their escapades in the world of competition brewing. For some, becoming a certified judge for these events is harder than grad-school course exams — after a physical exam, and a tasting assessment followed by an essay, Gary Holmer of the Special Hoperations club said the test to judge was more difficult than his anatomy class at the University of Florida.
Although the homebrew battles can be very competitive, the community is one of encouragement and learning. Providing their own tips and tricks, nearly everyone at the rally insisted on getting into brewing for fun.
Mary Taylor, from Brandon Bootleggers Homebrew Club, said folks can get started with just a 5-gallon Zephyrhills bottle and a crock pot, and local businesses that aid in homebrew production featured booths at the event as well.
Clearwater's HiFi Homebrew and BBQ Supply has ingredients, tested recipes and large containers for people interested in having a go at the DIY hobby at the shop. Similar to a craft class someone would take at a rec center, experienced brewers are there to assist with the brewing process. Making 5 gallons of beer costs $150, HiFi owner Rob Larson said, and the shop will also help bottle and store the brew on site.
Another Clearwater spot that had a booth was VetterBrew HomeBrew Supply Store, which carries an array of equipment and supplies that a brewer might need as a newbie or a pro. As CL reported earlier this month, the store's sponsoring a contest with Cigar City, inviting homebrewers to use a kit of products to invent their own beer. Cigar City will brew the winner's suds and then sell them at the brewery.
Cigar City's head brewers led tours of the packaging, barreling and main brew rooms. They answered highly specialized questions while promoting the importance of absolute control in processing and ingredients as the key to a great beer. They said homebrewers are welcome to come for help, explaining that these hobbyist brewers are one of the biggest reasons Tampa's becoming a mecca for craft brewing.
"Tampa is becoming the Portland of the South," Cigar City brewer Fred Thibodeaux said. "This business isn't competitive, it's collaborative."