Tampa, Florida is a great place to be in general, but especially the first weekend in March. Aside from the great weather, it is the time when Beer week kicks off. What Better way to kick off a Beer Week than with the Florida Brewers Guild Beer Festival.
This was my third time attending this festival, and if you have not made it there yet, it should be a definite must on your Craft Beer bucket list. I am still amazed how many craft beer lovers do not attend beer festivals, but this is changing and attendance grows increases each and every year.
Though the festival is in March, tickets go on sale in mid January and I generally suggest you get them asap…and always opt for the V.I.P. admission. V.I.P. Admission gets you in an hour early and but tickets are limited. You have an hour to casually walk the festival, try the best beers and usually get all the good brewery promotional items (like coozies, coasters and bottle openers). Another big advantage is the chance to talk to the brewers about their beers without the huge crowds.
This year the festival featured over 200 beers from 64 Florida craft breweries and is held in Downtown Tampa, on the riverwalk. There are more than a few hotels available to stay at within walking distance. We stayed at the Waterside Marriott (which is about 400 feet from the entrance to the festival)
We arrived in line about 45 minutes prior to the gates opening for V.I.P. ticket
holders and already there were more than 2 dozen people anxiously awaiting at the entrance. While in line, I spoke to 2 different couples, both from out of town. One couple traveled from Michigan, the other from Orlando. The Michigan couple had attended this festival the prior year and already had the beer list meticulously highlighted with the beers they wanted to try. I was not as organized however, I quickly noted some must try beers on the list and made a mental note.
When the festival opened, I quickly got a sample of the closest IPA I could find and then headed directly to Cigar City Booth as they had their touted Hunahpu Imperial Stout (which has its own release festival in the same location next weekend). I have never been able to get my hands on Hunahpy and knew it would run out quickly. I was not disappointed with the unique and complex flavor of this Imperial Stout and especially liked the bite of chili peppers at the end.
Meandering through the rest of the festival I looked for new beers and breweries I had not tried. There are many to choose from and some that were in business less than 6 months. It’s always nice to discover a new brewery before your friends have!
With so much to choose from it can be overwhelming – but definitely in a good way. You do end up having to pick and choose and certainly have to drink plenty of water which is amply provided throughout the venue. I could probably write a book on just the beers I tried at this festival as it is some of the best craft beer you will find in Florida, if not the country. If you attempt to try all of the beers at this festival (as with most), it will not end well for you. You have to be selective.
Some of the more interesting were:
- 3 Keys Brewing -One in a million Wheat – Watermelon Wheat – 5.3%
- Ft. Myers Brewing Company – Salted Caramel Strong Ale – 9.3%
- ZephyrHills Brewing Company – Way Off Kilter Scottish Ale – 4.8%
- Marker 48 – Barrel Aged Bayport – A Belgium Strong Aged in Wild Buck Whiskey Barrels (Wild Buck is an award winning local Distillery) – 10%
- Crooked Thumb – Trippel dry hopped with Hull Melon – 9.6%
- Motorworks Brewing – Morita Tequila Imperial Amber 6.9%
After the Festival there are many events to attend and ample “after parties” at local hotels and breweries. We choose to take the Water Taxi to the other end of the River Walk to eat Dinner at the award winning Ulele Restaurant 2.5 miles away. The restaurant has a beautiful location on the river and has their their own Craft Brewery on the premises, which is a treat in itself. I had (as I always do) the Water Works Pale Lager with some chargrilled oysters. You cant go wrong with this combo!
So if you want to make a trip to a great Beer festival, on the water, in warm weather with local access to numerous award-winning breweries close by…this is one to put on your calendar for next year. It is Brewery tourism at it’s best.