Not too long ago, if you asked a beer gourmet where to find the best beer, you might have been told England, Belgium, Germany, Scotland or some other place where the celebrated quality of the brewing is a source of national pride.
Now, the answer could easily be the United States. No longer is American beer considered a watery imposter only drinkable if cold as ice.
American beers are growing rich in character, putting down local roots and winning the devotion of local fans.
That's great news even if you don't drink beer.
Three breweries are opening soon in trendy downtown St. Petersburg, as the Tribune's Josh Boatwright recently reported. They add to a successful and growing local industry that is a boost for the regional economy. The breweries also enhance our reputation as a great place to visit.
The most interesting cities these days tend to have the most interesting local brews.
The success of microbreweries demonstrates the power of free enterprise and competition. Instructions for how to make beer are probably the oldest recipes in written history, but the formula has never stopped evolving.
The newest versions soon will be produced in St. Petersburg from Cycle Brewing, St. Petersburg Brewing Company, and Green Bench Brewing Company.
If you're wondering what happened to Anheuser-Busch, it's still making beer, but now is a subsidiary of a giant Belgian-Brazilian company.
The excitement is at the local level. In Tampa, beer is made by Cigar City Brewing, Tampa Bay Brewing Co. and Cold Storage Craft Brewery, along with, of course, the local plant of the country's oldest beer maker, Yuengling Brewery.
In Pinellas, you'll also find Seventh Sun Brewery and Dunedin Brewery in Dunedin, Peg's Cantina & Brewpub in Gulfport, Saint Somewhere Brewing Company in Tarpon Springs, and Barley Mow Brewing Co. in Largo.
It is not unusual to walk into a good bar and find 20 beers on tap, some locally made and others from just about anywhere.
Part of the history of the microbrew renaissance is local. In 1988, Hops Grill and Bar opened in Clearwater offering locally brewed beer. The restaurant became a chain, spread nationally and soon had 13 restaurants in Florida selling beers such as Clearwater Light and Alligator Ale that were not going to be mistaken for Budweiser or Pabst.
The Florida restaurants were sold in 1997, but the concept of a freshly produced beer with a unique taste was too good to fade.
The best brewers don't try to make a beer that is the least offensive to the most people. They are trying to make a drink that some folks like very, very much. The world's best brewers are masters at blending the grain, hops and yeast, but they have no monopoly on the craft.
American brewers have learned fast. You can find domestic beers with huge variations in color, frothiness, spiciness, bitterness and carbonation. You might taste an herb, or pumpernickel, or pumpkin or citrus. Some are hoppy or malty. Some are mild, and some are sharp. The names are as distinctive as the tastes. There's Wild Boar from Atlanta, Old Foghorn from San Francisco and Dogfish Head from Delaware. Not to be outdone in the name department, local beers include Old Elephant Foot, Iron Rat Stout, Bolita Double Nut Brown Ale and Wild Warthog Weizen.
And the best part is, to get a beer of quality worth talking about, you no longer have to buy an import or a beer from out of state. We're making our own and are proud of it.