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Blake Dowling: 2020 — a tough year for beer

It’s been a tough year for Florida’s beer industry.

Beer. The Final Frontier.

These are the voyages of Florida Beer Enthusiasts on a mission to try all beers, to seek out new beers and new beer civilizations. To boldly drink beer where no one has before.

Bet you didn’t see a Star Trek intro spoof coming when you clicked this column?

How about a quote from Beer Enthusiast Bob McKenzie, while in the court scene in the cinematic masterpiece, “Strange Brew,” as the judge tells him to be quiet: “He’s startin’ to sound like the old man. Soon he’ll be sending me out for beers.”

Even though Strange Brew was set in Canada, just typing these words has me fired up, feelings of patriotism are soaring through me like a 2020 Florida Hurricane.

I can hear the national anthem; I can hear fireworks.

My goodness, college football is back; watching these games has me like “hey Kool-Aid,” smashing through walls excited.

America, Florida, Beer, Football. Wonderful.

Is this column going anywhere, you may be thinking? Yes, Florida … to the beer industry, Batman!

This trailer is gold for Strange Brew.

While we all have done what we had to do to get by in 2020, what have our friends in the beer business been doing to get by? My neighbor could barely get his recycling bin to the street this week as it was completely overflowing with beer and wine bottles.

A lot of that is going around — there are some heavy recycling bins out there in Florida.

So, there are sales of beer in the stores, what else? Do people miss bars, breweries, beer festivals, concerts, sports? Yes.

2019 Tallahassee Beer Fest. Image via Ben Graybar.

The beer industry contributes almost $19 billion to our economy in Florida each year, and over 150,000 jobs are associated with the industry.

Bars are reopening, so let’s start the chatter and get out there and support our favorite watering holes.

I was attending an event in St. Pete in early 2019, walking from the Vinoy to the Pour Tap Room — wow, 80 plus beers on tap. Unbelievable.

Have you visited? You get an armband, and you choose what you want when you want. It’s like Disney World but no rides, just beers.

We had a fantastic evening there celebrating the life of my old friend Braden Ulrich who is no longer with us. What an excellent place to gather and sip.

Across from my office in Tallahassee is a Brass Tap location, and if I can put the pretzels and cheese down, I love to try a new beer every time I visit.

Although, as my 40s roll on, I have to ask, please, not something with 10% alcohol or more. The Big Nose IPA made by Swamp Head would be an ideal choice. Check it out from our friends at Swamp Head in Gainesville.

Big Nose

Over in Jacksonville is a bar called Sherwood’s, we will just leave that right there; if you know it, you know it. Great beer.

How about the Salty Dog Saloon in Gainesville? Is there a better place for beer consumption? No.

I did my first around the world there. I believe the challenge was 100 beers consumed worldwide, and you get a fantastic shirt. Mission accomplished. I struggled through the selections from the Orient, but I got it done.

Thanks, Erica Bolderson, for the support; I believe you were my partner in crime for that summer effort.

2019 Tallahassee Beer Fest. Image via Ben Graybar.

Our bars (and the beer industry, as a whole) were dealt a lot of curveballs this year. While we celebrate these great places, I wanted to also check in with someone from the industry.

I spoke at length with Danny Aller, co-founder Tallahassee Beer Society, columnist and radio show host:

“Fortunately, none of the North Florida and South Georgia breweries we personally cover here at the TLH Beer Society had to close their doors permanently as a result of the pandemic. But others weren’t so lucky — and we’ve lost several terrific breweries in Florida in the last six months alone.

“And after entering the year with sales skyrocketing and tons of momentum for breweries in general across the country, 2020 went from being what should’ve been a banner year for craft breweries to becoming the most challenging stretch for the craft beer industry to date.

“The silver lining to all of this — if one can be found — is that breweries have proved they can adjust and adapt their business models from primarily relying on taproom sales to sustaining themselves through to-go purchases.

“Most of them launched online ordering sites almost overnight when the first shutdown happened and began offering curbside pickup to-go — a service that has been terrific for the consumer and the breweries and likely will stay in place when the coronavirus crisis is over.

“The entire goal of the TLH Beer Society is to help raise the visibility of our local craft beer scene, and we’ve been challenged to adjust how we do things as well. We had to shift from encouraging folks to get out, explore, and visit our area beer scene, to heavily focusing on ways you can simply just help keep your local breweries in business and help get them through this tough time.

“The last six months have truly turned into the survival of the fittest in the craft beer industry and we hope — now that tasting rooms have been allowed to reopen at 50% capacity as of early September — we are close to being on the other side of what’s been a tough year for an industry that was thriving and growing at a rapid pace before the pandemic hit.

“All we can do in the meantime is to keep encouraging people to drink local and support local. And to our local craft beer scene’s credit, they’ve done just that, despite this being a tough time for everyone.”

I also checked in with Ben Graybar, president of the Tallahassee Beer Festival, and they have inked Aug. 28, 2021, for their annual event. The festival features over 200 beers (and every Florida brewery you could imagine). It’s for a good cause too.

The choices to the beer consumer are so vast these days; not long ago, I remember training to be a bartender in Gainesville (at an establishment that will not be named). My manager said we have Coors, Coors Light, Bud, and Bud Light. But they all went to one keg of South Paw?

I didn’t stay on board there long, but I will never forget the experience or my comp plan — free beer to drink on duty and tips. That’s it.

Writing about our state’s bars and brewmasters is an excellent reminder of perseverance while they faced extreme barriers to overcome this year. But they kept going.

As we look ahead to the fall — and 2021 — I hope you all will join me and supporting them as we get back out on the town visiting breweries and watering holes while we give our recycling bins a much-needed vacation.

Cheers.

___

Dedicated to the memory of my friend Braden Ulrich.

___

Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies and the host of the Biz & Tech podcast. He can be reached at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com

Written By

Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. His technology columns are published by several organizations. Contact him at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com or at www.aegisbiztech.com

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