Youíve had the bottled water, but have you ever been to the town? Like Gibsonton, Riverview and other Tampa-adjacent towns, Zephyrhills is a place that many of us have only experienced via signs on the interstate, despite its relative proximity.
Lakeland was like that for me, too, until a brewery popped up. Just one year after Zephyrhills landed a brewery, I took a trip to see what kind of beer theyíre making with that famous water.
Zephyrhills Brewing Company ó ZBC ó is the gone-pro establishment for beers made by former homebrewer Robert Hilferding and wife Terry. Hilferdingís name is familiar to anyone whoís attended local homebrewing competitions or festivals, where he regularly appeared as part of the Special Hoperations homebrew club.
In 2014, he won the American Homebrewers Associationís award for best homebrewer, based on his submission of his Way Off Kilter Scottish ale. He was the first Florida homebrewer to win the award, which is even more impressive given that he had been brewing for just two years at that point.
Way Off Kilter is now on draft at ZBC, along with a couple dozen other house brews. And yes, itís really good. Youíll see its gold medal, along with many others ó Hilferdingís on the right, ZBCís on the left.
ZBC is located in a former bank lobby on a quaint stretch in Zephyrhillsí historic downtown. Itís decked out in a variety of wood: wall panels; an original wood ceiling; long, sturdy tables for group seating; a shiny, lacquered bar top and straight-up branches for tap handles. Itís very homey ó letís call it a deconstructed log cabin.
Picture windows face a large patio looking out onto Fifth Avenue, Zephyrhillsí de facto Main Street. Itís small-town Florida, even without the black-and-white photos of the townís yesteryear ó framed in wood planks, of course ó inside the tasting room.
Some young breweries focus on a tight range of traditional styles and emphasize quality and consistency, which is to be admired. Others just get out there and brew a ton of beer, the results always interesting, if not always pretty.
ZBC falls somewhere in the middle ó the range of styles is about as wild as it gets, but the quality is fairly high, which I suppose isnít that surprising from a guy who brewed enough to win a national competition in his first two years of hobby brewing.
Not every beer is a slam dunk, and there are occasional brewing flaws to be found, but the overall lineup is adventurous, fun and pretty damn good. Itís my kind of place.
I sampled quite a few ó I brought assistants ó and a few really stood out as unique in our already-diverse beer scene. Of course, you have the Way Off Kilter, well worth trying or taking home in a bomber for a remarkable $8. Thereís also a fantastic pre-Prohibition porter and rye IPA to try.
And there are some more unusual ones, like the Zephyr Weisse Berliner, which has unexpected watermelon notes, despite not being treated with any fruit. Thereís also Medieval Mash, which is a gruit, flavored with lavender, heather, rosemary and other aromatic herbs and spices. Gruit is an ancient style of beer made before hops were used to flavor beer, and itís great to see a local rendition.
There are seasonals, of course. I imagine the holiday gose is polarizing, though it was easily my favorite. Flavored with cranberries and spices, it smells like a department store Christmas display ó and I mean that in the best way ó and tastes like a distillation of that aroma. My only regret is not buying a growler full of it.
Itís not all beer. ZBC also brews a selection of house sodas. I tried the root beer and spruce beer, which were both excellent. The spruce beer in particular is worth tossing into your flight order: itís sweet, earthy and, well, sprucey. Canít get that at your local 7-Eleven.
ZBC ó and Zephyrhills in general ó is a bit of a drive, for sure, for many of us, but itís the kind of place that I love going out of the way to visit. Like Brew Pop in Auburndale (another road trip brewery for me), ZBC is a brewery that wonít ping the radar of your average beer snob, but itís one that will reward the adventurous beer drinker with a selection of new things, some that will miss the mark slightly and some that will hit it. Thatís worth a drive for me.
Contact Justin Grant at [email protected] Follow @WordsWithJG.
38530 Fifth Ave., Zephyrhills; (813) 715-2683; zbcbeer.com
The vibe: A low-profile yet prolific neighborhood brewery featuring more than 20 in-house brews.
Food: Bar snacks and snack trays, $1.49 to $6.99.
Booze: Beer and wine. Beer, $4 to $7 by the glass and $8 to $42 in large-format bottles; wine, $5.
Specialty: ZBCís beers are produced on a relatively small scale, so thereís plenty of turnover, leaving room for quirky experimental brews and fun seasonals. The holiday gose is a must-try in December: itís infused with cranberries and spices and is the most festive-smelling beer Iíve ever come across.
Hours: 3 to 9 p.m. Tuesday; 3 to 10 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 3 to 11 p.m. Friday; 1 to 11 p.m. Saturday; 1 to 9 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday.