One of Tampa city's most celebrated microbreweries, Cigar City Brewing does not just produce some of the best craft beers in the region, but has also carved a niche for itself as popular tourism destination. By Sudipta Dev
One of Tampa city’s most celebrated microbreweries, Cigar City Brewing does not just produce some of the best craft beers in the region, but has also carved a niche for itself as popular tourism destination. By Sudipta Dev
Tampa city in Florida which has more than a century old brewing history is today the capital of craft beers in Florida on account of the many new microbreweries which are popular with not just the local community but also domestic and international tourists. Cigar City Brewing is the most popular microbrewery in west Tampa. Founded in 2008, it started production in 2009. “When we opened it was a two man operation. Six and half years later the brew house is still in operation, only it is 85 employees with 60,000 barrels produced a year,” says Chris Lovett, director, Customer Interactions, Cigar City Brewing. He acknowledges that one of the causes of the success was that when they set up operations at that time there was no production brewery in Tampa. “We were the first to market in the state of Florida with an extensive craft beer range. Sometimes we produce a stuff because we want to make it, we need the flexibility and the experimentation,” adds Lovett.
Microbreweries are a centre of the local community in most places worldwide, and in Tampa too Cigar City Brewing sees its tasting room as the neighbourhood pub of west Tampa. “When we opened up none of the restaurants in the area were here. We have seen the development of this part of Tampa in the last seven years and we have been a catalyst in the development. We have seen the ground break and the apartments rise. We are the neighbourhood pub for 10,000 people in these apartments,” states Lovett with pride.
The CSR initiatives include partnering in a project to teach jobs skills to disabled, engaging with Make a Wish Foundation and children’s home in Tampa. “Our role in the community is the vital piece to be involved as good community citizens as it reflects on the business and customer perception,” mentions Lovett.
The brewery does not have its own restaurant but every night, and all day Saturdays and Sundays the food trucks come in the premises. “This is one way to give back to the community,” remarks Lovett.
Cigar City Brewing is also a tourism hotspot in Tampa, and Lovett points out that this just happened and was not an intentional focus by the company. “We stumbled into that, we have talented brewers and make great beers and people just come here for our beer. We being a tourism destination is more a symptom of our success than it is a goal. It is a very happy circumstance that we are in that people get off the plane, grab an Uber and come here. So much so that we had to put a designated Uber drop off zone so that we could control traffic flow,” he says, adding that Monday and Friday afternoons they see a lot of baggage with people coming to town for their weekly meetings or leaving for the airport after business meetings.
Visitors can go on a tour of about 45-50 minutes which includes information about the history of the brewery and the production process for making beer. The visitors get to taste four different types of beer and take home a glass. The tour costs US$ eight.
Kevin Wiatrowski of Visit Tampa Bay informs that Cigar City Brewing was one the six breweries that was last year included in a craft beer marketing campaign, with its own website and social media component. “We had people from all over the country getting involved with the campaign with people from Washington DC being one of the biggest audiences. This showed people an aspect of the city that they did not know much about – it was about getting a true taste of Tampa,” remarks Wiatrowski.
The Cubano-Style Espresso Brown Ale produced by the brewery truly reflects the multicultural legacy and Cuban heritage of Tampa. The most unique beer that the company is proud of is a special release called Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout.
The brewery is operating two brew houses to full capacity. About 85 per cent of the beer leaves the facility, primarily in Florida, some to Alabama, Georgia, Manhattan, etc. The company has 80 employees, 25 in tasting room and others in packaging, production. There are three full time microbiologists on staff to run quality assurance and quality control programme. “We are working with the University of South Florida to develop some brewing science programmes with them. Other major breweries are also doing the same,” informs Lovett.
The plans are to continue to grow organically. “We are headed in the right direction and to speed up is not the wise thing. We’ve gone from 350 barrels from year one to 60,000 barrels in year six. We are in partnership with Brew Hub which is a contract facility, they are doing some production for us. We are renting the brew house from them and have complete control over the beer, our QA/ QC guys walk through the entire process so that it meets our standards and our production manager oversees the entire operation of every one of those beers,” explains Lovett.
Talking about competition Lovett believes that as long as other breweries make great beer it is going to help the company. “It is the breweries that do not focus on high quality product is going to be a problem for us. Craft beer is still 8 per cent of the market in Tampa when it comes to beer consumption,” he says, reminding that many of the brew masters or owners of the micro breweries in the region have worked for Cigar City Brewing at some time.