04 Apr Touring Cigar City Brewing in Tampa, FL
Visiting a brew house, winery or distillery is a great way to gain insight into the local culture when traveling. We were hopped up to tour the award winning Cigar City Brewing facility in Tampa on a recent visit to Florida’s west coast.
Drawing from the local Latin culture and the city’s history of tobacco manufacturing, the name Cigar City was created, and a brewery that focuses on first-rate ingredients and passion was born. Joey Redner, Jr. was first exposed to craft beer in Portland in the 90’s, but it wasn’t until around 10 years later, after he began writing a beer column in an area newspaper, that he realized the void of craft beer in Tampa. Joey eventually decided to start his own brewery and he ended up hiring Wayne Wambles as the brewmaster; Jai Life was the company’s flagship beer, and even today, it continues to fuel the growth of the company.
Since its opening in 2008, the brewery has generated an almost cult-like following, and they have been expanding their distribution each year by demand. During its first year of commercial sales in 2009, around 1,000 barrels were produced; compare that in contrast to more than 30,000 barrels produced in 2013, and you can see the exploding growth of the company. Today the brewery produces a wide range of specialty beers, ranging from fruit beer, a variety of ales, porter, IPA, stouts and more–they love taking the traditional and turning it on its side to create something new and unique.
Each of the beers have a name inspired by the history and culture of the area, and there is a unique story behind every one. The Jai Alai is an IPA and gets its name from a game that is native to Spain but was played throughout Tampa. Another back story for a different beer is the pale ale called Invasion; the beer received its name due to the continuous pirate invasions in the Tampa Bay area. Each beer has a great story, and I loved learning about the history and creation of the beer.
Tours of the facility are around 30-40 minutes and are held 5 days a week, Wednesday-Sunday, at various times throughout the day. Starting off with a pint of beer (your choice from the tap), you will have a few minutes to relax and sip your brew at the bar after arriving. My favorite aspect of the tour is that it is only $5 per person and you get to keep your glass as a souvenir–how can you go wrong with that?! Once the tour starts, you must first be fitted with safety gear. Everyone is required to wear safety glasses and closed toe shoes. Apparently, we didn’t get the message and had to wear foot coverings to hide our scantily clad, flip-flopped feet.
After suiting up, the tour begins with a brief history of the area, insights into the brewery itself and stories about how the beer names were chosen. Make sure to ask lots of questions during this part of the tour–we were told, “the more questions you ask, the more beer you get to taste later in the tour.” Once we soaked up all of our newfound knowledge, we were then given a tour around the brewery and even a couple tastes of beer straight from the fermenter.
We sampled a blueberry beer and a sour ale–I enjoyed the sour ale, but even though it was still good, the blueberry was slightly odd without carbonation.
The beer is sold in cans instead of bottles for a number of reasons. One of the main reasons is that cans are 100% recyclable; cans also have no light penetration, they chill faster, have a longer shelf life, and are shatter proof.
It was interesting to learn about how the company was formed and to hear how the brewery has grown over time. Cigar City is in the process of expanding their production operations to keep up with the growing demand. There is also a Cigar City Brewpub restaurant and microbrewery in Tampa, so if you are looking for dinner with your brew, you know where to go.
Do you ever visit breweries when you travel?