ST. PETERSBURG — Homebrewing might bring to mind images of beer vats in dorm room bathtubs, but in the Tampa Bay area the increasingly popular craft is treated as fine art.
At a three-day beer competition at St. Petersburg’s Museum of Fine Arts this weekend, the greatest works of Florida’s homegrown brewing scene paired well with masterpieces by famed painters such as Georgia O’Keeffe.
Museum patrons perhaps gained a different appreciation for the artist’s abstract Southwestern landscapes after sampling local brewer Vik Sriram’s Grey Hills Painted Red Ale, an agave-infused beer inspired by the O’Keeffe canvass on display at the downtown museum.
The Beer Project arranged by the museum and Green Bench Brewing Co. transcended the traditional model of mixing fine wines and art, demonstrating the high regard craft beer has gained in the local community in recent years.
Local breweries are, in fact, getting acclaim from residents of North America’s elite beer cities — such as Portland, Oregon, considered by many to be the nation’s capitol of beer arts.
“I know people that travel from Portland for Cigar City beer releases,” said Shawn Bowman, a Portland craft beer aficionado who attended the Beer Project.
“It’s really amazing because I haven’t had a bad beer yet and I didn’t really know what to expect,” she said, praising the infusion of local tropical fruit flavors that characterize the area’s brews.
Bowman attended the three-day event, which ended Saturday, to teach local beer enthusiasts “beer crafts” — that is, the recycling of used beer cans, caps and labels into bracelets, purses and even fishing lures.
On Saturday she tutored Tampa couple Katrina Heller and Joe Evans on making colorful fishing spinners from an empty can of Cigar City’s Hotter Than Helles Lager, though she suggested they add the hooks later for safety.
“This is the greatest pair of hippie earrings I’ve ever seen,” said Evans, dangling the red-yellow aluminum oval strung with wire.
The well-traveled couple make a list of microbreweries wherever they go, but they’ve been impressed by the quality and variety that quickly have become available near home.
“Tampa and St. Pete has got a pretty big microbrew scene and we were like, man, this is a really cool way to see art from around the world and get delicious beers, and make it (art) at the same time,” Evans said.
The museum collaborated with Green Bench Brewery owner Nathan Stonecipher several years ago for a beer tasting, but wanted to start a new event that would grow each year with the local brewing scene, said Mary Szaroleta, associate curator of public programs.
“We recognized the talent in the area and we wanted to find a way to showcase that,” Szaroleta said.
“Basically, they are artists in their own right.”
The best of the 47 professional and amateur brewers that participated in the Beer Project will be selected by a panel of judges and offered the chance to collaborate with Green Bench head brewer Khris Johnson on a beer that will go on tap in their tasting room in St. Petersburg.
Stonecipher says the goal eventually is to make St. Petersburg the “premiere destination for homebrewers in Florida.”
“Some of these homebrewers may be the next great brewers in our state,” Stonecipher said.