Brewery Travels #26: Florida

Florida is one of the more unique places in the country. Whether it’s the shape of the state, the lifestyle, the people, or the weather, it’s a place that seems to always draw attention. I spent several days visiting my old college roommate down in Jacksonville, but we did not limit our adventures there. Spending time in Tampa for the Gasparilla Pirate Festival and Orlando for the Pro Bowl allowed us to sample beer from three major cities. Each stop had several beers worth mentioning. It was difficult narrowing down my extensive list to four, so I’ve decided to do a rare 5-brewery article.

  1. Aardwolf Brewing: Jacksonville, FL
  2. Southern Swells Brewing: Jacksonville Beach, FL
  3. Tampa Bay Brewing: Tampa, FL
  4. Coppertail Brewing: Tampa, FL
  5. Orange County Brewers: Orlando, FL


An aardwolf is a smallish, wolf-like mammal that hails from Africa. Aardwolf Brewing is more local, situated in the San Marco area of Jacksonville. What is now the taproom used to be an ice house in the 1920’s, and I was a big fan of how much of the original exposed brick they kept. It’s a fairly dim environment, but it suits the place well. Often you can find a food truck out back, and if beer isn’t your cup of tea they also have a selection of wine. Most of us will never see an aardwolf in the wild, but behind the bar you can spot a stuffed one, which I assume serves as a kind of mascot.

There were several tasty, complex beers. My buddy and I both agreed that Robo Whale was the best. This Imperial Stout is brewed with smoked pineapple, coffee, and oranges. Somehow, this concoction allowed each element to show through, especially on the nose. The smoked pineapple was a particularly fabulous addition as the drink warmed. Another dark beer is the Imperial Milk Stout, White Russian. Coffee was more prominent here than in Robo Whale, which I enjoyed. Oud Bruin was a fun, sour treat. A Foeder-aged Brown Ale, it unsurprisingly had characteristics that reminded me of wine. If those are a bit intense for you, try BPA, their Belgian Pale Ale that won a GABF bronze in 2015. Quaffable, balanced, this beer walks a thin line between the clove and banana notes of Belgians, and the hoppy qualities of an IPA.

This was our favorite stop in the city of Jacksonville. It’s a classic, laid-back environment, and the selection of beers is quite impressive. I should also note that they seemed to have a large number of big beers, so watch those ABVs!

Southern Swells

I unknowingly visited Southern Swells the day before their one-year anniversary. Stationed about one mile inland from the Atlantic Ocean, it’s hard to beat the location. Large windows on two walls allow natural light to stream in, creating an open, airy, and coastal feeling. The two owners (Jay and Corey) are both originally from the Northeast, and had a different name picked out for the brewery at first to reflect that, Northern Roots Brewing. Before they got off the ground, they realized the branding didn’t exactly mesh with the beachy vibes of Jacksonville Beach. They finally settled on Southern Swells, and I think it fits the area perfectly. Not to lose out on the earlier name, they plan on releasing a Bourbon-Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout called Northern Roots each year on their anniversary. By the way, they are neighbors with Mini Bar Donuts. Which is important because….

One of my top beers from my trip, Hold Me Closer Tiny Donuts, is an Oatmeal Stout collaboration with (wait for it) Mini Bar Donuts! The donuts go right into the mash, and the result is a devilishly sweet, smooth brew with plenty of chocolate and vanilla notes dueling for attention. They also blew me away with their Berliner Weisse, Not the Gumdrop Buttons, whose mixed berry background leads to an intense and tart experience. As I mentioned, they are originally from the Northeast, so the fact they had 3 NEIPAs should not be a surprise. The two we tried were delicious, with Imperial Karate in the Garage coming out on top. Mango, pineapple, lemon, and tangerine swirl together, in this decadent, slightly sweeter than normal IPA. My Boss’s Boss is the other NEIPA I tried, and it was a little less intense. I got notes of citrus and papaya.

Loved hearing the story of Corey and Jay, and if I were to return to anywhere in the Jacksonville Metro Area, this would be one place I would go back to. Enjoy some drinks, and then head straight for the beach!

Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay Brewing is one of the older brands you will find in Florida. Originally founded in 1995 by a mother-father-son team, they have experienced substantial growth in the last decade or so. In 2006, they moved into their current location on the Plaza Level of Centro Ybor in the Ybor City district of Tampa. Then, in 2015, they opened a 2nd location on the opposite side of the city in Westchase. This production facility also has a taproom, and has allowed the brewpub back in Ybor City (where I visited) to focus on smaller batch brews. There’s a massive outdoor patio in front, which goes well with the lovely Tampa weather. The food is scrumptious as well, I had a sausage calzone. Pizza, sandwiches, soups, seafood, the list goes on and on. You’ll be sure to find something to pair with any beer you select.

It’s uncommon for my favorite beer to be the brewery’s flagship, but that changed at TBBC. Much of TBBC’s production revolves around Reef Donkey, their Pale Ale. Motueka, Equinox, and Citra hops come together for a big hop profile. Citrus, tropical fruit, and more specifically lemon and lime notes slide in amongst the slight bitterness. There’s more to this than your typical pale, which may be why I enjoyed it more so. A more unusual option is the Quat Fruit Ale, which is described as ‘kumquat sherbet’. A slight tang greets you taste buds, as well as some fizz. The two others I had were solid, to-style beers. Jack the Quaffer Porter is an old-world Porter, and is slightly more bitter than expected, but has a subtle smokiness to it as well. Florida’s True Blonde Ale is a light, crisp option, whose lemongrass notes and slight hop bitterness meld perfectly with the warm Florida climate.

If you like Tampa Bay Brewing, you’ll be happy to know that owners are not the only ones in the family who brew. Explorium Brewpub in Greendale, WI and Aviator Brewing in Fuquay Varina, NC have also been opened by members of the Doble Family.


Less than a mile away from TBBC, Coppertail has set up shop in a building that used to be home to a Hellmann’s Mayo plant, and an olive packing plant. They have renovated it into an impressive taproom, as towering two-story windows greet you as you walk in, offering views of the shiny brewing equipment. Not wanting to lose the history, they left some of the original building, and used pieces of it as décor. This includes old rail tracks that were dug up adjacent to the building, which now act as the foot rail around the bar. My personal favorite story is about how they got the name Coppertail. Kent, one of the founders, had a then 5-year old daughter who told a story of a make-believe sea creature called Coppertail that lived in Tampa Bay.

Besides the regular, expected styles of core beers offered (IPA, Porter, Pilsner), they also highlight a trippel, named Unholy Trippel. As a fan of Belgian beers, I also enjoy seeing breweries highlight one. Speaking of Belgians, Sanguino Rhino was my top choice. A Belgian Witbier with blood orange, this crisp beer had a light sweetness balanced out by some fruity esters and cloves. They also do a rotating series of ‘Florida Weisse Beers’, which is their own interpretation of a Berliner Weisse. That interpretation leads to packing in more fruit, and Whoops fits the bill with heaping helpings of hibiscus and cranberry. The tart delight starts out with stronger cranberry notes, but eases towards the hibiscus in the back end. I also enjoyed the Coffee Dunkel, with big roasted coffee notes on both the nose and tongue.

Coppertail has a wonderful atmosphere, and had some great beer to go along with it. Also, the label art is all hand painted by an artist out of Portland, OR. Shout out to their marketing director Gary for helping provide some additional information for me!

Orange County

After the Pro Bowl, we headed to downtown Orlando and were blessed to find Orange County Brewers. Located a skooch over from Lake Eola, it provides one of my personal favorite combinations: craft beer and pizza! Orlando Pizza & Wing Company share the space inside, which is a perfect situation. We had the mac & cheese pizza and the pepperoni cheese bread (both were winners). There were a few murals that I enjoyed. One was on the ceiling, and depicted the brewing process (something that I feel more breweries should do to help educated new craft beer drinkers), and the other was Florida-themed, with palm trees and oranges. A favorite aspect of mine is when a brewery has a unique flight paddle, and the Florida-shaped one at Orange County meets that criteria.

The Pledge was my favorite beer here, as this saison mixed in a nice amount of funk with the lemon and lime flavors. I’ve had some beers with tea additions before, and Green Tea IPA was added to that list. This seemingly was a typical IPA, with some piney, resin, and citrus aspects, but the tea snuck in during the aftertaste. Two of the beers we tried revolved around coffee. A Milk Stout on nitro, Perkulator kicked you in the senses with the aforementioned coffee, while Bean Girls, an Imperial Coffee Blonde, was more subtle, and drank similarly to a typical Belgian. If you like coconut, do yourself a favor and order Cocomon Porter. Taking a whiff of this should transport you to a beach, as the coconut overpowers everything else. It’s slightly less intense on the tongue, but definitely still present.

Pizza and beer is always a winner, and Orange County has a nice mix of approachable offerings, and ones that will test (if not abuse) your palate. The craft scene is continuing to emerge in Orlando, and their location downtown is a prime spot to lure in new fans.


To say my visit to Florida was a whirlwind would be an understatement. The Sunshine State seems to have more craft beer options than many other states in the Southeast (as we’ve discussed in previous articles), but there is still room for growth. It’s also interesting to compare the cities, as Jacksonville seemed to have more breweries in a close vicinity to downtown, while Orlando’s options were more spread out. Tampa’s scene is certainly growing, especially over by Ybor City (there’s three breweries within a mile of each other). I expect to see more progress in all three cities, and hope to make a return trip at some point. Finally, a special thanks to my buddy Jacob, who took me around to all these great places and enjoyed the beer with me!

Next Article

When you think of the best craft beer cities in America, Asheville, North Carolina is usually towards the top of the list. While it doesn’t boast the sheer numbers of San Diego, Portland, or Denver, the quality and per-capita numbers have drawn in thirsty visitors. Even some larger craft names have taken notice, adding additional facilities in the area. I have a couple nights to explore, and will write about my favorites!

Current Brewing Count

229 breweries across 115 cities in 26 states. These numbers are current as of 2/13/18. For an up-to-date count, follow my adventures on Twitter: @brewerytravels.

Joel Geier

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