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All aboard the brew bus

The Tampa Bay Brew Bus is the best way to taste all the local beers.

Creative Loafing Tampa, by Sean Nordquist

If you visit any of the well-known “beer cities” like Portland or Asheville, you’ll find an impressive list of breweries complete with brewery tour companies to take you to each freshly brewed pint safely. Brewery tours are nothing new, and have been commonplace in Europe for decades (wineries there too).

Well, now you can add Tampa Bay to that list. The Tampa Bay Brew Bus offers riders the opportunity to join a group of craft beer lovers on a comfortable, fun beer adventure around the Bay Area.

Owner and founder Anthony Derby was living in Colorado in 2008 when he first noticed the craft beer scene really starting to take off. Breweries like Oskar Blues and Avery were getting national attention, and the entire industry was poised for explosive growth. At the time, there was a local history tour called “Banjo Billy’s” that drove people around Boulder and Denver, visiting historical places, highlighting local and independent businesses, and had stops at several of the Colorado breweries as they are very much a part of Colorado culture. In addition, it was a BYOB tour, allowing passengers to bring along adult beverages and share the craft beer love.

With the opening of Cigar City Brewing in 2009, Derby recognized the potential for the Tampa Bay area to emerge as a craft beer hot spot. As more breweries began to open, he figured the geographical spread of the region was perfect for some kind of connector, and in February of 2011, Tampa Bay Brew Bus was started.

Not content to be just a tour service, and faced with the difficult decision of what beers to carry on the bus, Tampa Bay Brew Bus opened Brew Bus Brewing in June of 2012 and now brews its own series of beers (with the help of Cigar City).

I had the opportunity to ride the bus with Derby and 30 other passengers in July. This trip was part of the “Witch Brewer Series,” starting in downtown St. Petersburg at the Ale & the Witch, then visiting Cigar City Brewing in Tampa and Dunedin Brewing and 7venth Sun Brewing in Dunedin. From the start, it was a party atmosphere. With a cooler full of Brew Bus beers, a crowd of rambunctious beer lovers, and a great itinerary, we set off on our adventure. During the trip, Derby introduced the two beers — Rollin’ Dirty Red and Are Wheat There Yet?, both available in bottles around Tampa Bay as well as on draft — and gave us a quick rundown on our trip.

Upon arrival at Cigar City, we were treated to one free beer of our choosing (with a pint glass to keep), and were led on a tour of the brewery by guide Bob Lorber. From the brewing process to the history of Cigar City, Lorber is very knowledgeable, fun, and engaging. We were able to see some of the ever-expanding brewery, gaze in awe at the huge pallets of Jai Alai cans just waiting to be filled, and taste several beers directly from the tanks.

The drive to Dunedin Brewing was filled with music and beer talk (there may or may not have been some sing-alongs), and at the brewery we were treated to another free pint of our choosing. We didn’t do a tour this time, but got a nice look at the brewhouse and brewery itself. A short hop later, we were at 7venth Sun Brewing for another beer and a discussion with one of the brewers.

We returned to the Ale & the Witch that evening, having had a great time, made some new friends, and tasted some of the best beer in Tampa Bay.

Tampa Bay Brew Bus has done a fantastic job of organizing these tours and tying breweries together across the bay. With trips to Rays games, private parties, and any other kind of event you can imagine, the Bus will continue to expose the people of Tampa Bay to the craft beer scene.

And with a brand new 33-passenger bus, I expect to see twice as many opportunities to ride.