Not too long ago Florida barely made a ripple in the ocean of the craft beer world. States like Colorado, Oregon, Washington and California saw the coming revolution and jumped in early while Florida languished in the heat of its own sunny climate. As recently as five years ago it was difficult to find more than a few taverns or pubs with more than a half dozen craft beer tap handles, most were filled with the mega lagers and a few of the more popular imports. But, there were always those who dreamed and believed in the untapped potential of the Sunshine State. One of those believers was Gerard Walen who saw the wave coming towards Florida and dedicated himself to documenting what is now a full-fledged tsunami.
Walen is a former writer for the Tampa Tribune and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and now edits the online travel magazine Road Trips for Beer and the website BeerInFlorida.com. Recently, though, he completed his largest project to date; he compiled information and wrote a book about 66 of Florida’s breweries. Walen’s book, Florida Breweries, published by Stackpole Books, hit the book shelves last month and offers a glimpse into the history of craft beer in Florida along with insights into each brewery and picks on their best brews.
Looking through the book, one gets the feeling that Walen has spent his entire life researching, documenting and, yes, drinking craft beer. But, a quick read of the Acknowledgements section puts that belief aside. Walen, though now exceptionally knowledgeable and passionate about craft beer, is a convert to the world of IPAs and stouts, just like many of the rest of us. In 1999, as a copy editor at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Walen began hearing about the tastier cousins to fizzy yellow beer from others on the newspaper’s staff. After trying several craft beers, he confesses he was hooked.
Years later, as the result of editing and writing several beer blogs, Walen found himself deeply entrenched in the Florida beer scene. So much so that he set out on a year-long journey to visit all of Florida’s craft beer breweries and documenting what he found. In the book, he explains that his goal was to talk to a brewer, owner of manager of each brewery, taste their beers and find a compelling story to tell about it. Sometimes that story turned out to be something other than the beer itself, but it is always entertaining.
The book is broken up into sections that roughly cover the different regions of Florida; North Florida, Central Florida, Tampa Bay Area and South Florida. In addition, Walen tosses in information about the mega-producers that call Florida home and tidbits about beer festivals, container laws and breweries that are still in their planning or build-out phases.
In the North Florida section, Walen talks about the explosive growth of craft beer in the Jacksonville metro area – including St. Augustine – that grew from a few brew pubs to eleven breweries and several more coming soon. In the section about Intuition Ale Works, Walen launches in to a discussion about the race to can beer and how, among all the breweries in Florida, Intuition was the first to put craft beer in cans.
The stories related by Walen in the book are fascinating, enlightening and often, just plain fun. His picks for signature beers at each brewery are spot on and are absolutely worth seeking out or at least adding to your beer-drinking bucket list. There is absolutely no doubt that, in the years since his conversion to craft beer, Walen has become a connoisseur, an advocate and an historian.
Florida Breweries is available on Amazon.com and at bookstores throughout Florida with a cover price of $19.95. You can read more of Walen’s observations and ruminations about beer at www.roadtripsforbeer.com and his blog www.beerinflorida.com.