For craft beer lovers, the Tampa Bay scene is a paradise. We’ve lost count of the number of breweries that are now open within a five- or six-county radius, and several districts feature multiple tasting rooms within a short walk of one another — you can spend whole days in Dunedin or St. Pete’s Grand Central District or Tampa’s Heights neighborhoods drinking homegrown beer, and never drink the same beer twice. There are breweries that specialize in IPAs or sours, breweries that feature traditional European styles, breweries that are, heaven forbid, branching out into hard seltzers.
It’s an insanely good time to be a craft beer fan around these parts.
Being a craft beer producer, on the other hand, is a more complex proposition.
Yes, the local brewing community is an amazingly intermingled and cooperative one. Yes, the phrase “a rising tide lifts all boats” is one that exists. But the stakes are higher than they’ve ever been. More breweries inevitably mean more competition and, like it or not, craft brewing is big business in Tampa Bay these days, not only because of deep local pockets but also because of outside investment. As with restaurants, we’ve already seen some smaller, less well-funded concerns close or scale back further, adopting or reverting to a model that doesn’t compete with other breweries with the capital to try to take things to another level.
Exciting? Sure. Daunting for brewers who’d like to make their own mark by striking while the iron is hot? Undoubtedly.
It’s gotta take some serious nerve to step out on one’s own — but more importantly, it’s gotta take confidence, determination and, above all, passion.
“I did cross country and track and field in high school,” says 42-year-old Tim Ogden. “And I want to do better than I’ve done before every time I go out there.”
Sitting on the floor in the gutted building on North Nebraska Avenue in Tampa that once housed a church and will be the home of his own brewery, Deviant Libation, Odgen is more than aware of the area’s big fish — after all, he’s worked for more than one of them over the years. But it was a love of beer that got him this far, and he’s sure that love, along with the skills he’s learned over nearly a decade and a half in the business, will show his decision to strike out on his own to be the right one.
Ogden started homebrewing in ‘98 while living in Maine.
“I started my first home batches just because I love beer,” he says. “And when I moved [to Tampa] in ‘99, there wasn’t really the variety of beer that I was used to. If I wanted the beer I wanted in my fridge, I had to make it.”
His batches came ever more frequently as he grew more adept and ambitious, partially due to making friendships at a brewery supply place, Brew Shack, that used to reside on Waters Avenue, and partly because he “never had enough beer, my friends kept drinking all of it.” When it got to the point that he was brewing two batches a week and frustrated that he couldn’t always find the time to brew a third, Ogden toyed with the idea of opening his own brewery — a rarity back in those days — but eventually decided it would be smarter to first get a job, and some experience, with an established industry player.
He found his first gig in 2005 at Hops, a chain of restaurants whose primary claim to ‘90s fame was brewing their own beers in-house. (Hops, get it?)
“I’m gonna do this one job,” Ogden told himself, “and then open my own.”
When Hops closed in 2009, however, he was quickly hired by a little start-up that had recently started serious production called Cigar City Brewing. Ogden worked for Tampa Bay’s best-known craft brewery for six years in various capacities, first at the production facility and later at Cigar City’s lauded but relatively short-lived off-site brewpub, where beer was also brewed on-site. To say he learned new skills while refining the ones he’d picked up as a homebrewer and an employee at Hops would be an understatement; it’s not going too far to say that the folks working at Cigar City then and now helped write the book on Tampa Bay craft beer. And when he moved on in 2015, Ogden hooked up with another deity in the pantheon of OG Bay area brew houses, Tampa Bay Brewing Company.
“I’d known [Tampa Bay Brewing Company principal] David Doble for a long time,” he says. “Since the Brew Shack days.”
Local craft beer was really taking off at the time, and Ogden worked hard for a company that already had a proven track record in the market; award-winning beers like Old Elephant Foot IPA were augmented by new favorites like the Reef Donkey American pale ale and even sours, something Tampa Bay Brewing Company — now known as TBBC — hadn’t been known for in the past. (This writer remembers — maybe only partially correctly? — a spicy and untouchable limited-batch habanero and dragon fruit sour that made an appearance a couple of summers ago.) But during his tenure at TBBC, the itch to hang out his own craft beer shingle was there for Ogden, as it must be for all creative brewers.
About the only thing that might compete with beer for Ogden’s passion is music. A lifelong music lover and a musician himself, he’s currently the vocalist in a local self-described “noisecore/math-rock” group called The Path of Increased Indifference, and the creative elements of both beer and tunes have been intertwined since before the beginnings of Deviant Libation. Way back in 2013, he brewed a double IPA in honor of Tampa band Alexander & The Grapes, and in 2016, he put out a TBBC brew namechecking super-heavy local bands Meatwound and Ninehorn along with Gainesville’s Thunderclap. The following year, Ogden not only paid homage to six Bay area bands — Set and Setting, Old Vices, Flat Stanley, Radarmen?, Navin Ave. and Band of Sorrows — with beers inspired by them, but also spearheaded a concert in October of 2017, dubbed Friends Fest, that served as both a celebration of local music and a release for the beers.
It wasn’t too long after that Deviant Libation’s first official beer was unveiled at St. Petersburg music store Planet Retro on Record Store Day, that annual celebration of independent music retailers, in April 2018. It was an ale named, aptly enough, Crate Digger, after those vinyl devotees known to spend hours sifting through records looking for treasure. The release of Crate Digger served as an announcement that Ogden was ready to take his vision and career to its logical next step; less than a year later, in January 2019, he left TBBC to concentrate on Deviant Libation full-time.
“I’m not selling a lot of equity in the brewery — I’m harkening back to my punk-rock roots to large degree.”
Sitting in his spot on Nebraska, Ogden looks around. It’s obvious that he sees more than the kegs and the piles of ripped-out lumber and the strange wooden statue that cradles its own severed head. He sees the future. He has investment, though he’s loath to talk about it and downplays the amount that’s coming from outside. Deviant Libation is very much a DIY-style operation — and a community one that will set itself apart from other Tampa breweries by offering some of the massive space to other interests; Ogden says he’s talking to progressive local nonprofit art gallery Tempus Projects about coming in, for instance.
He’s still working out which styles of beer will be on tap when the brewery opens; it’s important to him that Deviant offers something unique, but he’s also open to listening to the demands of discerning local beer drinkers.
“Yeah, I’m brewing things I want to brew, but I’m not so arrogant as to say ‘fuck you, you don’t know what you’re talking about,’” he says.
When asked how big he’s thinking about beer production, he’s likewise a little cagey, though he says it won’t be a boutique operation or nanobrewery by any means:
“I just think that with my reputation, I would piss off more people by just doing five gallons of beer,” he says. “I’ve definitely gotta go bigger than five gallons.”
The timeline is still a little shaky, and there’s still a lot of work to be done. But Ogden’s got a plan, along with the aforementioned confidence, determination and passion. This is his dream, and he knows he’s got what he needs to add something very special to the Tampa Bay craft beer scene.
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