For craft beer lovers, the Tampa Bay scene is a paradise. We’ve lost count of the number of breweries that are now open within a five- or six-county radius, and several districts feature multiple tasting rooms within a short walk of one another — you can spend whole days in Dunedin or St. Pete’s Grand Central District or Tampa’s Heights neighborhoods drinking homegrown beer, and never drink the same beer twice. There are breweries that specialize in IPAs or sours, breweries that feature traditional European styles, breweries that are, heaven forbid, branching out into hard seltzers.
It’s an insanely good time to be a craft beer fan around these parts.
Being a craft beer producer, on the other hand, is a more complex proposition.
Yes, the local brewing community is an amazingly intermingled and cooperative one. Yes, the phrase “a rising tide lifts all boats” is one that exists. But the stakes are higher than they’ve ever been. More breweries inevitably mean more competition and, like it or not, craft brewing is big business in Tampa Bay these days, not only because of deep local pockets but also because of outside investment. As with restaurants, we’ve already seen some smaller, less well-funded concerns close or scale back further, adopting or reverting to a model that doesn’t compete with other breweries with the capital to try to take things to another level.
Exciting? Sure. Daunting for brewers who’d like to make their own mark by striking while the iron is hot? Undoubtedly.
It’s gotta take some serious nerve to step out on one’s own — but more importantly, it’s gotta take confidence, determination and, above all, passion.
“I did cross country and track and field in high school,” says 42-year-old Tim Ogden. “And I want to do better than I’ve done before every time I go out there.”
Sitting on the floor in the gutted building on North Nebraska Avenue in Tampa that once housed a church and will be the home of his own brewery, Deviant Libation, Odgen is more than aware of the area’s big fish — after all, he’s worked for more than one of them over the years. But it was a love of beer that got him this far, and he’s sure that love, along with the skills he’s learned over nearly a decade and a half in the business, will show his decision to strike out on his own to be the right one.