A steady stream of beer lovers surged into Keel & Curley’s Oct. 19 Biertoberfest, held in celebration of the Keel family’s launch of its Two Henrys Brewing Company.
The festivities included three bands on the outdoor stage, serious cornhole competitions, a mini-truck food rally, craft vendors and beer – lots and lots of beer.
“We’ve been waiting for this,” said Melisa Polen, who stopped by Two Henrys’ tasting tent with her husband, Dan, daughter Michelle Baldwin and friend Dallas Beavers to sample suds by brew master Clay Keel. The group from New Port Richey said they heard about the Biertoberfest during visits to the winery in June, July and August.
“We came for wine before and thought it was so good we’d come back for the beer,” said Dan Polen.
Four craft brews from Two Henrys have made the initial cut: Rough Around the Edges, Seven Mile Bridge, Runaway Locomotive and a chocolate stout.
Seven Mile Bridge already is on tap at Keel & Curley, while the other three brews will be ready for sale in about three weeks, said Clay Keel. A fifth, a pilsner dubbed The Gilded Age, is due out by the end of November.
Clay Keel, son of winery owner Joe Keel, is pioneering the new venture. Two Henrys Brewing Company will add one more component to family’s businesses, which include Keel Blueberry Farms, Keel & Curley Winery, Keel & Curley Tasting Room & Gift Shop and Six Stars Beverage Co.
In October, Keel & Curley Winery celebrated its 10th anniversary and one millionth bottle of wine.
“Wine is the mainstay, but beers will catch up, not that it’s a competition,” said Joe Keel.
While women make up about 75 percent of the wine market, men corner the beer market by about the same percent, said Clay Keel. So beer became the beverage of choice to broaden the family’s reach in the marketplace.
“That was Clay’s whole philosophy,” said Joe Keel. “We get the beer and we get the men and women.”
There were plenty of both men and women tasting beer at the event. Several brew clubs offered multiple selections for people to enjoy. Pumpkin brews were popular, including Southern Tier Brewing Company’s Pumking beer. And Special Hoperations poured Chris Tellex’s pumpkin beer, Dirty Paws, along with Scott St. Louis’ Belgian blond.
“The venue is awesome,” said Tellex. “We all support the craft beer movement in the community. Everyone works together. It’s competition, but its friendly competition.”
The craft beer market is what Clay Keel is setting his sights on. He plans to produce 1,000 gallons a month for the Keel & Curley location, 5210 W. Thonotosassa Road, and in several other local establishments to get the word out. “Then we’ll see where we are,” said Clay Keel.
According to the Brewers Association, the craft brew market is undergoing a resurgence. The number of craft brewers went from eight in 1980 to more than 2,300 in 2012. Craft brewers sold an estimated 13,235,917 barrels of beer in 2012, with a retail value estimated at $10.2 billion, up from $8.7 billion in 2011.
“We would welcome going outside our market,” said Joe Keel. “A dozen establishments would take our beer tomorrow.”
Two Henrys initially will be sold in kegs, not bottles or cans. “Fresh is key to beer, like a loaf of bread,” Joe Keel said. “Most wines, the older they are, the better they are.”
While Charlie O. and the Houserockers entertained a vino-and-suds sipping crowd on the covered deck, other visitors converged in the retail area, which now boasts a saloon-style beer bar in addition to the wine bar, and T-shirts touting the Two Henrys brand.
The name of the company and its brews are a bow to Henry Plant and Henry Flagler, two well-known competitive rail barons and hoteliers of the late 1800s and early 1900s who had a profound impact on Florida and briefly joined forces to connect the east and west coasts by rail.
Both Plant and Flagler were on hand to greet the estimated 3,000 visitors to the festivities. Harvey Curley elected to portray Henry Plant “because we live in Plant City.” Weekend winery tour guide Sam Miller posed as Henry Flagler.
“I love history,” said Joe Keel, “but Clay picked the theme.”
The Seven Mile Bridge brew was named for Flagler’s famous railway in the Florida Keys, Clay Keel said while pouring samples for an unending stream of hops aficionados. “It was the longest bridge in the world at the time. It was the eighth wonder of the world.”