Being from Florida, we are no strangers to tourism. While we have beautiful beaches and epic sunsets, too many outsiders still like to define Florida by our strip malls and amusement parks. We think that’s all about to change. Our craft beer scene is helping Florida form a real cultural identity and add new life to our urban neighborhoods — that’s something a new rollercoaster will never do. We started a conversation with several devoted personalities involved with beer in the Sunshine State, here’s what we learned.
Why Beer Really Matters
A microbrewery may not come close to the tax revenue generated by any amusement park but that’s not really the point. The flavor profiles we make, the names we give our beer, and the way we brand ourselves are all a reflection of our local culture. Many of our breweries make it a point to incorporate Florida history and culture into their brands.
Visit Tampa Bay recently launched the Bay Crafted campaign to promote the local breweries that are transforming Florida’s tourism experience. “The craft beer industry is a collection of small businesses that our rooted here. When somebody from out of state is holding a can of Jai Alai, that’s an advertisement for Tampa Bay,” said Kevin Wiatrowski, a Spokesman for Visit Tampa Bay. The campaign garnered national attention with people from all over the country taking part by unlocking the Bay Crafted badge on Untappd. On the east coast, Visit Jacksonville received a national award for their work creating the Jax Ale Trail as part of the Drink Like a Local campaign to encourage visitors to experience the area’s local breweries.
The craft beer revolution is happening all across the globe. When people travel, local drinking and dining options are always a part of their destination choice. Gerard Walen is author of “Florida Breweries” (Stackpole Books, April 2014) and Founding Editor of BeerInFlorida.com. He has been one of Florida beer’s top promoters. Like us, he believes beer is one of Florida’s best assets.
“Florida already is the top tourism destination in the United States, and now we have a varied and thriving craft beer scene to go with it. So take all the other reasons that Florida is a great place to vacation and just add beer to the mix… Walk into nearly any beer tasting room and ask the patrons where they live. You’ll find many are visiting from out of state or out of the country, and some have chosen their destinations specifically because of the local breweries. Because of its proximity to Tampa International Airport, Cigar City Brewing is a prime example. I have often seen people there wheeling their luggage behind them, indicating that they either visited there first after landing or made it their last stop on the way to airport.” -Gerard Walen
Don’t Forget About In-State Travel
Tampa Bay has been at the epicenter of Florida’s craft beer but amazing breweries are establishing themselves all across the state. Florida as a whole is one of the fastest growing beer states. In 2014, 46 new breweries opened and in August 2015 we surpassed 150 operating breweries with countless more on the way. Florida’s beer festivals pave the way for locals and tourists alike to experience our beer community. Linda Urbanik Johnson, who you probably know better as BrewNymph is also a Brew Bus Jacksonville tour guide. She’s constantly trekking across the state to visit breweries:
“Since 2012, I have regularly traveled to beerfests throughout Florida, and I have worked booths at a number of them. Usually, when traveling to a beerfest, I’ll tie in one or two brewery visits also. I maintain a spreadsheet and annual calendar of beerfests and beer events throughout the state. Over the past couple of years, I have visited  breweries [and 3 brewpubs] … I know that whenever I travel anywhere (in-state or out-of-state), one of the first things I do is search for local breweries if I don’t already know of any in the desired area. Hopheads travel, and not only do they like to sample new beers from new places, they like to collect growlers and merchandise, such as shirts and hats.” -BrewNymph
It’s no mistake that new breweries are moving in close to one another. At the center of any effort to build or refresh a cultural district are local restaurants, shops, street art, and more often than not, beer. The presence of breweries are helping these neighborhoods find the right live/work/play dynamic that both locals and tourists can experience. Downtown St. Pete or the Ybor/Seminole Heights area in Tampa and the Wynwood Arts District in Miami are perfect examples of this. Local breweries are part of the cultural fabric of these communities.
“There is also a high level of camaraderie amongst the breweries. Even though the breweries are competitors, they realize that collaborations are good for the industry as a whole. I think beer fans really enjoy the collaborations.” -BrewNymph
It Takes a Community
Florida may not be thought of as one of the world’s top craft beer destinations yet, but you can help us get there. “Throw some locally produced beers in your cooler or your checked suitcase, and share them with your old and new beer geek friends wherever you travel” said Gerard. And don’t stop there, invite your out of state friends to the next big beer fest, write to your local government and tell them you want more breweries, and more than anything, get out there and support local beer anyway you can.