TAMPA — Beer enthusiasts kicked off a week of events celebrating the area’s breweries by sampling about 60 Florida-made beers.
The annual Florida Brewers Guild Fest was held Saturday afternoon in its new location in Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park in downtown Tampa. More than 2,000 people wandered through the park, getting in line with their complimentary 2-ounce glasses to sample beverages from the state’s most popular breweries.
For the first time in the festival’s 18-year history, all of the participants were from Florida, organizers said.
“It brings all the good beer in Florida together,” said Mike Halker, president of the Florida Brewers Guild. “It’s a good educational beginning to the week.”
The festival is one of three the guild hosts throughout the state, and served as the kickoff event to the third-annual Tampa Bay Beer Week. Bay area breweries, restaurants and bars will host events through March 9, all paying homage to Tampa’s growing craft beer scene, said Gary Kost, executive director of Tampa Bay Beer Week.
The Tampa area always has been a hub for beer-lovers, Kost said. In addition to being home of some of the state’s oldest and most popular craft breweries — Dunedin Brewery, Saint Somewhere and Tampa Bay Brewing Co. — Tampa is the birthplace of Cigar City Brewing, a wildly popular brand that made its debut on the craft beer stage a few years ago.
And the number of breweries in the bay area has more than doubled in the past year, Kost said.
“It’s really catching on,” he said. “Tampa’s ready for it.”
Tickets for the festival were sold for $35 online and $45 at the gate, which paid for unlimited samples from brewers such as Swamp Head, Florida Beer Company, Cigar City, Big Storm and Little Giant.
Proceeds went to the Florida Brewers Guild, which has been promoting and advocating for the state’s growing craft beer industry for about 20 years.
It was the third year attending the festival for Kris Greenslade, who called it one of the best beer festivals in Tampa. It was always fun to go when the beer fest was held in Ybor City, but the new location downtown is much better, he said.
He comes to the festival to learn about the state’s different craft beers, which aren’t always available in local bars and restaurants, Greenslade said.
“It’s a great way to get a chance to try them,” he said.
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn didn’t miss out on the opportunity to try some of the local brews, either.
“It really has become an industry that Tampa is becoming known for,” he said.
He has attended the beer festival for the past three years, he said, and each year the crowd is bigger.
“I love it,” Buckhorn said. “It’s part of what makes us special.”
To find out more about Tampa Bay Beer Week events, visit www.tampabaybeerweek.com.