ST. PETERSBURG — The local palate for fine craft beer has evolved rapidly since the inaugural Tampa Bay Beer Week was held in 2012.
The first time The Ale & the Witch in downtown St. Petersburg hosted Beer Week events, there were five breweries offered from across the state, Cigar City Brewing, Dunedin Brewery, Saint Somewhere, Swamp Head and Florida Beer Co.
This time around, it's a challenge to keep count of the locally-made brews that will be available during Beer Week at area pubs, liquor stores and microbreweries today through March 9.
Brass Tap locations across Tampa Bay are advertising 60 or more local drafts.
The styles of beer generating the most excitement among true enthusiasts speaks to the growing number of sophisticated drinkers in the local market, says Brett Andress, owner of The Ale & the Witch.
Stouts aged in rum and whiskey barrels and sour Belgians fermented in oak are among specialties being released this week by brewers.
“Three years ago, we couldn't get rid of sour beer if we paid someone to taste it,” Andress said.
During the next eight days, there will be food and beer pairings, tap “takeovers” where bars devote all their kegs to a local brewer, home brewing competitions and plenty of rare offerings.
Cigar City's release of its almost mythic imperial stout next weekend, Hunahpu's Day, brings hordes every year to the Tampa brewery, and the event already is sold out this year.
The listings on TampaBay BeerWeek.com also highlight the astounding progress local brewing has made on the Pinellas County side of Tampa Bay, where St. Petersburg alone has added four breweries, with a fifth, St. Pete Brewing Co., preparing to open this month.
At Pair O' Dice Brewing, which opened last fall, these events are a chance to introduce occasional drinkers and beer geeks alike to their delicately balanced West Coast-style India pale ale or a special variety flavored by Plant City strawberries.
Owners Julia and Ken Rosenthal are conducting something of an Intro to Beer class Monday evening at their warehouse tasting room and brewhouse at 118th Avenue North in Clearwater.
“You see palates developing, and that's exciting for us,” Ken said.
“It's exciting for the craft beer enthusiasts because we're all doing something special, but it also gets the interest of everybody else in town, too,” Julia said of Beer Week.
Here are a few highlights from more than 200 scheduled events:
Competitions and big events
♦ Annual Florida Brewers Guild Beer Fest
2-6 p.m. Saturday, Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park
601 Old Water St., Tampa
Tickets: $45 at the gate, but there's limited availability, so check online first
♦ 97X Beer in the Park
An evening of food, entertainment and beer from Florida and around the world.
6-9 p.m. Saturday, Hyde Park Village
1602 W. Snow Ave, Tampa
Tickets: $25 in advance, $35 at the door, and can be purchased at www.97xonline.com
♦ Best Florida Beer's Brewers Ball
Commercial and homebrew offerings, with awards for the Best Florida Beer Championships 2014.
12-5 p.m. Sunday, Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park
601 Old Water St., Tampa
Tickets: $50, with limited availability
♦ Brewer's Ball Leftover Party
Taste hundreds of beers left over after the competition.
6 p.m. Friday, Southern Brewing & Winemaking
4500 N. Nebraska Ave, Tampa
♦ Green Bench Brewing's Foeder for Thought
The tasting room taps will feature beers fermented in a rare oak foeder. In the beer garden, there will be a selection of oak sours, with food trucks and bands.
3 p.m. Friday, Green Bench Brewing Co., 1133 Baum Ave., St. Petersburg
♦ Cycle Brewing's Annual Barrel Aged Beer Day
Brewer Doug Dozark releases myriad barrel-aged stouts, ales and other rich brews.
12 p.m. Friday, Peg's Cantina
3038 Beach Blvd. S., Gulfport
Tickets: Free, but bar is cash only
♦ Rapp Brewing OMG Bottle Release
A limited release of 300 bottles of Rapp Brewing's OMG ale will be available.
7 p.m. Thursday, Rapp Brewing Co.
10930 Endeavour Way, Suite C, Seminole
For a full listing of events, tickets and details see www.tampabaybeerweek.com.