All Hopped Up

Small batch craft brewing dominated the market until the 20th century, when mass produced beer nearly eradicated the American craft brewer. By 1980, there were only eight small-batch craft brewers in the United States, according to the Brewers Association.

Weary of one-flavor-fits-all corporate brews, people slowly started returning to homebrewing; some even went on to open small-batch craft breweries. Since then, microbreweries have popped up all over the country. Today, the majority of Americans live within 10 miles of a microbrewery — there are more than 2,300. And the microbrew revolution shows no signs of slacking: As of June 1, 1,500 additional microbreweries were in development.

Though some believe Northeast Florida is behind the times, the region is happily out in front of this particular movement. In fact, Jacksonville recently placed seventh in the 2013 BeerCity USA poll. Some less gracious residents of other cities were amazed the city ranked at all, let alone in the top 10. But, with no less than 12 places that serve house-made craft brew, eight of those in Jacksonville proper, it shouldn’t be much of surprise. Intuition Ale Works has increased its annual barrel production more than four-and-a-half times in three short years, from 1,200 in 2010 to 5,500 this year.

“I feel like after Tampa, Jacksonville is becoming the place for beer,” said Mile Marker Head Brewer Taylor Strunk. Tampa placed fifth in the poll.

The Northeast Florida craft brewing scene is heavy on exposed brick, “Drink Like A Local” signs, and, above all, being part of a community of brewers.

Like all businesses, there is some competitiveness, but in microbrewing, it’s more often found in the patrons than the owners, brewers and drink-slingers. Aspiring craft beer connoisseur David Reed (my husband) aptly calls the local microbrewing scene a “Brotherhood of Beer.”

“The whole idea of craft beer is diversity,” said Engine 15 Brewing Co. co-owner Sean Bielman. “[Refusing to drink other microbrews] doesn’t really jibe with the tradition of craft beer.”

“It’s a real localized community,” Strunk said. “Everybody helps each other.”

Everyone’s quick to lend a hand or some hops to a fellow brewer in need. Ideas, patronage and even hotel rooms are shared across brewing lines. Ask any member of the staff at a microbrewery what they think of the competition, and they’ll probably smile, stare off into the distance, and mention a favorite brew on their menu, mouth visibly watering. Look out, Tampa.