Why Tampa Bay Should Be Your Next Craft Beer Destination


We partnered with VISIT FLORIDA to illustrate why the Tampa Bay area is a brewing paradise. Find out more here.

Image of Downtown Tampa Downtown Tampa, Florida / Credit: VISIT FLORIDA

In the Tampa Bay area, craft beer has woven its way into the fabric of everyday life. For those who call Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater home, this statement isn’t surprising. But for those whose perception of the region consists mainly of Cuban sandwiches, sunshine, beaches, and theme parks—and that’s a pretty wonderful perception, mind you—the emergence of Tampa as a craft beer powerhouse is one of those delightful surprises that demands to be explored in person. Here’s how to do it.

Image of different beers in glasses Craft Beer at Ulele

First, some background

Brewing in Tampa is nothing new—the Ybor City Brewing Company first started pouring beers in 1896. The past two decades have seen the area’s craft beer industry grow into a juggernaut, with Tampa establishing itself as one of the most formidable beer destinations in the country thanks to its wealth of world-class breweries, an unbeatable climate, and the fact that the only thing that goes better with a crisp IPA than pretzels is the sun.

There are more than 60 breweries operating in the Tampa Bay area, from old-guard legends to upstarts, with styles ranging from New England-style IPAs to sours, traditional Belgian brews, and cult favorites that bring beer drinkers from the world over to the Big Guava. It’s no wonder that Tampa has been called the beer world’s answer to Napa. The area has all the hallmarks of a craft beer destination: bucket-list breweries, easy navigability, restaurants that focus on pairing local foods with specific beers (such as Ulele, which features native-inspired cuisine and house-made brews), and a base of brewers and enthusiasts eager to share with visitors the great things they’ve wrought. But unlike most big beer regions, Tampa Bay has the bonus of some of the most gorgeous coastlines the Southeast has to offer, existing at the intersection of relaxing beach experiences and artisanal brewing.

It’s craft beer’s not-so-hidden paradise. And for beer drinkers both casual and obsessive, it’s an essential pilgrimage destination. But where do you begin?

Image of the beer at Coppertail Brewing Co. Beer at Coppertail Brewing Co.

The breweries

Any conversation about beer in the Bay starts with Cigar City Brewing, the pioneering Tampa brewery that elevated the entire state’s profile when it threw open its doors in 2009, ushering a craft beer revolution. Widely considered to be among the best breweries in the country, Cigar City more than earned its reputation on the strength of beers like the incredibly well-rounded Jai Alai IPA and its coveted Hunaphu’s Imperial Stout, a strong, jet-black beer whose annual release brings beer drinkers far and wide to the city to obtain a bottle, kicking off a yearly party called Hunaphu’s Day.

In Tampa proper, relative newcomer Angry Chair Brewing has become an instant festival darling on the strength of funky takes on classics—including sweet stouts and playful sours—and the heavy-metal artwork on its labels. Coppertail Brewing Co. has cultivated a huge fan base in Ybor City thanks to its rich, unfiltered wheat beers—perhaps the best type of beer to drink on a hot day—and seasonal experiments such as Captain Jack’s Stone Crab Stout. Dunedin’s heralded 7venth Sun has even expanded to a massive warehouse taproom in Tampa to help sate the thirst for its lauded Belgian beers.

Image of beer flight Beer Flight at Cigar City

Meanwhile, across the bay in St. Petersburg, breweries are opening and gaining traction at a rapid clip. The city’s unofficial torchbearer to Cigar City’s footprint is Green Bench Brewing Co., which kicked off St. Pete’s craft boom and became an immediate hit in 2013 with its crisp Sunshine IPA. The brewery’s only gotten better since, expanding its footprint to 21 states but saving the best stuff for its hometown, where barrel-aged experiments sit comfortably alongside crowd-pleasers, both of which are best sipped in its downtown beer garden. The bayside city is also home of 3 Daughters Brewing, which pairs IPAs, Belgian quads, and even sangria with live music and yoga in its sprawling warehouse of a taproom. Cage Brewing offers a backyard vibe with cornhole and arcade games to go with its brews, and Cycle Brewing draws huge lines to its taproom for a taste of its cycling-themed, small-batch beers.

How best to get your suds on

Tampa Bay’s scene is at once dense and sprawling, encompassing everything from widely beloved breweries in giant spaces to niche artisans seemingly hidden in plain sight and ready to defy convention. It’s also—to be frank—a lot to take in. And while Tampa Bay rewards those who choose to wander and take in the local sights, restaurants, and parks between sips, there are also myriad ways to tick multiple breweries off the list at once, or visit at an optimal time for a fully immersive beer experience.

During March’s Tampa Bay Beer Week, most breweries come together under the banner of spreading the love of local beer, with events ranging from educational panels to brewery-fronted festivals and, of course, the annual Hunaphu’s Day extravaganza. Beer fests are year-round occurrences here—among them are August’s Halfway There Festival of Beer and October’s beachside Sand & Suds Beer Festival. Tampa Bay’s professional hockey team also gets in on the fun with the Bolts Brew Fest, bringing local brewers to Amalie Arena.

For those who prefer to wander, there are self-guided tours down the St. Pete/Clearwater Craft Beer Trail (a.k.a. the Gulp Coast). And for those who prefer to tour in style, you can hop aboard curated tours courtesy of the Brew Bus, which provides transportation to the area’s best new and old breweries…including its own, which it recently opened to serve up brews like its barrel-aged S’mores stout.

Regardless of whether you’re a lifelong fan of beer or a casual sipper, Tampa Bay offers a beer scene unlike any other. It rewards exploration and comes with the promise of fresh ocean air and beachside relaxation after a long day of taking in the sights and suds. It is, hands down, the crown jewel of Florida’s brewing scene, and it demands to be experienced in all its glory.

Craving a cold one? Book your tickets to Florida today.

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