For craft beer enthusiasts, Tampa Bay Beer Week (TBBW) is like that week between Christmas and New Year’s. The party never really ends – and this year, TBBW did not disappoint. With more than 200 events in 8 days, it was physically impossible to do everything that you wanted to. But with a little prioritizing and planning, it was possible to get close.
The festivities this year kicked off at the Florida Brewer’s Guild Brew Fest on March 2nd in Ybor City, an event that brought out the backbone of Florida’s craft brewers all in one place for our tasting pleasure. Breweries from as far north as Gainesville’s Swamp Head and from as far south as Boca Raton’s Brewzzi made the trek to meet and compete. It was a beautiful day to see old friends, meet new ones, and find out who was doing what during Tampa Beer Week.
Hundreds of beer lovers and more than 40 Florida breweries were in attendance, and both the quality and diversity of this year’s offerings couldn’t have been better. Overall, Cigar City Brewing ruled the roost, taking 7 medals for the 8 beers that they entered. The Best of Show was announced later that evening, and Cigar City took it home for their Torcedores Series Vienna Lager (more on that later).
Founder and brewmaster of Rapp Brewing Company, Gregg Rapp, commanded one of the longest lines of the day. Their Gose, a slightly sour wheat beer, was one of the “buzz beers” of the day and people were talking about it from one end of the park to the other. It’s no surprise that Rapp Brewing is considered a rising star throughout Florida’s craft beer community. This is truly a brewery worth watching.
The day was not without its small missteps. The line to get in was long, and the line for the 8 port-o-lets was chaotic and poorly planned. And although it did occur to me that Ybor City may have been limited on the amount of port-o-lets that Centennial Park could legally provide, I’ve learned that there is a good rule of thumb for planning the proper amount of facilities for any beer event. First, take the number of people expected and DOUBLE IT. Then take the amount of bathrooms that would normally be needed and TRIPLE THEM. Again, only a suggestion, but from someone who covers craft beer events regularly.
In the end, it was the quality of the beer, the friendliness and accessibility of the brewers, and the enthusiasm of the crowd that we were left with. It was a great day and a perfect way to kick off Tampa Bay Beer Week. The days to follow would be filled with hundreds of craft beer events taking place all over Tampa Bay and its surrounding cities. The Brew Fest was just the primer needed, to lube the machine that would be the next week to come… And what a week it was!