Visit Jacksonville’s Eight Local Breweries

If you haven’t been paying attention for the past seven years, you might not realize just how diverse Jacksonville’s craft brew scene has become. From the beaches to Orange Park, we’ve got a flavor profile for every palate, from gloriously hoppy to incredibly drinkable malts and lagers.

Most of our brewers practice their art at the Beaches or in Riverside, with a few outliers such as Veterans United in Baymeadows and Pinglehead in Orange Park, but it looks like the scene is shifting in a big way towards Downtown Jacksonville. Last year, Engine 15 opened a production facility near Downtown, and they’re working to get permitting set for a tap room. Intuition released plans for a Bay Street rooftop biergarten and brewing facility last year, and Bold City recently announced that that they plan to open a location Downtown in 2016, next to the old Bostwick Building on Bay, where the Cowford Chophouse is slated to be.

It took a bit for craft brew to get to the Beach, but once it did, those brewers found that our beach bums are thirsty for it. Jax Beach is home to three breweries: Engine 15, Green Room Brewing, and Zeta Brewing.

Let us walk you through the eight breweries, click through the slideshow below.

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Aardwolf Brewing Company

1461 Hendricks Ave, Jacksonville – Est. 2012

Innovative small batch brews are what Aardwolf is known for. If you thirst to try something new on a constant and regular basis, Aardwolf is the place for you. Head there for some mid-week refreshment, because Wednesdays are when they release a new brew.

“Aardwolf is starting a new focus on small batch, high end beers,” says Preben Olsen, co-owner and brewer. “Between the recent addition of a barrel-aging cooler and installation of new sour beer fermenting vessels, we have found ourselves fulfilling a specialty niche that has gone largely unserved in the Jacksonville marketplace.”

Aardwolf is involved with their community—in the past they’ve hosted “green socials” and were home to the Green Lion Festival. There’s a definite historic angle, as their digs are an ice house from the 1920s and 30s, revamped into a tap room.

Their tap room welcomes well-behaved dogs, so you don’t have to leave your best friend behind when indulging in their locally brewed goodness. Check their calendar to see when food trucks will be there; they generally have one in the lot Wednesdays through Saturdays. And, if you want a chaser, head across the street for a craft cocktail at Sidecar.

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Bold City Brewery

2670 Rosselle St Ste 7, Jacksonville – Est. 2008

Bold City Brewery is like a hipster grandpa to all the other breweries in Jacksonville. At 7 years old, it’s the oldest of the new wave microbreweries. They’re only open to the public from Thursdays starting at 3pm, Fridays 3pm-close, and Saturdays 1pm-close.

While they might be the eldest, and are distributed throughout Jacksonville, they’re still a small, family-run company, owned by mom Susan Miller and her son Brian. Many of the employees are also family members.

When they opened, there were no stand-alone small batch breweries in Jacksonville, just places such as Ragtime, Seven Bridges, and the River City Brewing Company, all of which are attached to restaurants. “We didn’t know it at the time,” says co-owner Susan Miller, “but a lot of our friends thought that my son, Brian and I, were crazy, quitting our jobs at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida to open Bold City Brewery in 2008. But when we opened, we had a huge response from the residents of Jacksonville. Also, we soon realized that folks traveling would actually stop in Jacksonville just to visit us. Now, seven years later, we have the Jax Ale Trail. That’s quite a bit of growth in seven years!”

Perhaps the fact that they began when big beer was king in Jacksonville explains why their line-up has such great mass appeal and variety—lager lovers just getting into the scene can start with their Killer Whale Cream Ale, and advanced students of brew can fill the place in their hearts reserved for IPAs with their Mad Manatee. They also release solid seasonal brews that are a bit off the beaten path, well-tested and true before public release. 


Intuition Ale Works

720 King St, Jacksonville – Est. 2010

Intuition Ale Works has been a trend-setter in Jacksonville’s world of brew, doing everything from releasing a cookbook with recipes from area chefs, to changing the way beer is stored.

In 2012, they were the first brewery here to decide that cans are actually a good thing, no longer to be relegated to skunky cheap brews. Cans are actually one of the best ways to preserve and package beer, much more efficient and portable than glass bottles, but the perception was that the cheaper beers came in cans. But the folks at Intuition decided that they wanted to do the best thing for the beer and worked to educate the public. The practice has spread to other craft brewers in town, so you can find other locally crafted cans in supermarkets and beer stores across town.


Veterans United

Veterans United Craft Brewery

8999 Western Way, Jacksonville – Est. 2014

12357931_1659942724291446_32469533_nRescuing the Baymeadows area from a tragic lack of Jacksonville crafted brew is Veterans United Craft Brewery. It’s far from Jacksonville hipster territory, in a warehouse tucked behind Baymeadows on a dead-end, but you’ll find it well worthwhile. Head there on a Saturday at 1:30pm and get a tour with samples. Like their Facebook and check in to see which food truck will be there—generally food trucks are there Fridays and Saturdays.

“I like to brew a very drinkable beer, so you can sit and drink two, three, four beers,” says Ron Gamble, owner and operator. The focus is on flavor and drinkability rather than high alcohol and trying to hop-bomb, except in the case of their Hop Banshee. The German-inspired Raging Blonde also favors a few more hop notes than you’d expect in a blonde. The alcohol content generally hits between 4-7%, rather than some of the more heavy-hitting 8%-9% that are the norm for a lot of craft brew (there are exceptions; some special releases will be higher).

Even though Veterans United Craft Brewery has just been established, in a short time they’ve worked with many charities here on the First Coast, specifically those that have to do with dogs and veterans. The taproom is open to well-behaved, leashed pups. True to their moniker, Veterans United Craft Brewery was founded by veterans and many of their employees are military and ex-military. 


Pinglehead Brewing Company

14B Blanding Blvd, Orange Park – Est. 2010

Orange Park contains little islands of local flavor, if you know where to look. Pinglehead is one of those islands, as the smallest production brewery in the area, bringing bold craft beer to this paved portion of suburbia. You might know them as Brewer’s Pizza.

Brewer’s Pizza is run as a separate business, under the same roof, so you can get pizza along with the Pinglehead beer. Not many of the new-school breweries (circa 2008 and beyond) include food, and this allows them to also showcase other breweries, and it means that you’ll have your choice in variety.

“Having both a brewery and restaurant, we often come up with new ways to pair food with different beers and even utilize beer in several food recipes,” says Steve Halford, Chief Beer Officer at Pinglehead.

Pinglehead is best known for bold in-your face craft brew. Those uninitiated into the hop-tastic world of craft beer, those that go for easy-drinking more weakly flavored beers should head elsewhere. Even their blonde is said to be “not light in flavor.” Extreme, robust, and screaming are amongst the adjectives they use to describe their “beer with attitude.”

When Brewer’s first opened, the craft beer in Northeast Florida had not fully blossomed into the hop-happening scene it is today. “Clay County was definitely uncharted territory for anything craft brewery related. Like Jacksonville at that time, big beer brands were still very much the focus of the area. Our market has become much more enthusiastic about the presence of all this great beer,” says Halford. 

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Engine 15

1500 Beach Blvd, Jacksonville Beach – Est. 2009/2010

Engine 15 began at the beach, but they’ve opened up a brewing facility Downtown. The Downtown digs aren’t a biergarten yet, but they are working on it. The original locale in Jax Beach features 20-25 of their own beers on tap, an impressive amount of variety, as well as guest taps. The selection can be dizzying, so we recommend first timers try a flight of their beers to get a feel for their flavors. Food is served there, so you won’t go hungry, but you can also take away package beers for that beach party you always knew you’d plan. Entertainmentwise, they’ve got some old arcade games, skee ball, and board games. If you plan to come on a weekend, try and get a seat early.

They’re perhaps most celebrated for their Nut Sack Imperial Brown Ale. It’s an excellent brew, but the name was deemed controversial. Luckily, Engine 15 won the court case, and Nut Sack remains a local favorite.

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What most people don’t know about Engine 15 is that they’re into kickin’ it old school. Head Brewer Luch Scremin says that they “brew traditionally, old-World style, without fancy automation.” A digital temperature probe is probably the closest they come to hi-tech. “We are very much artisans in that way,” says Scremin. Originally, it was out of necessity, because they had such a small startup to begin with, but they’ve seen the benefit of taking gadgetry out of the equation, and says Scremin, “now it’s just part of who we are.” 

Green Room

Green Room

228 3rd St N, Jacksonville Beach – Est 2011

Just two short Floridian blocks from the surf, Green Room is a bastion of beach beer culture. The name “Green Room” comes from the effect of being inside the curl of the wave, a fact that most non-surfers don’t pick up on. “I think what makes us different is that we are a local beach brewery that focused on being a part of the beach community,” says Mark Stillman, Owner and General Manager.

You’ll find a great variety of beers suited to any palate—eight are permanent and eight are seasonal, so you can try something new. Currently, they are brewing their 904th batch of beer, which features all-local sourcing for the additives. Green Room uses locally sourced additives in their process whenever they can, so you’ll find a lot of local flavor in their tap room. Their seasonal brews are popular and sought after, with their Quetzalcoatl Imperial Mayan Red selling out in just three hours when it was released last year.

They encourage dog-owners to bring along their best friend. “We are a dog-friendly brewery and love our furry friends being around whenever possible. They are part of our family and have helped define who we are, so we try to give back whenever possible by supporting organizations like FOJA (Friends of Jacksonville Animals) and First coast No More Homeless Pets.” says Stillman.

If you get hungry, they supply a binder full of restaurants, so you’ll have your pick of local eateries that deliver right to the bar! 

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Zeta Brewing Company

131 1st Ave N, Jacksonville Beach – Est. 2015

Being the relatively new kid off the surf, Zeta isn’t yet distributed, so you can only find their brew at their restaurant, or at special events. Their strength is in their food pairings, as the head brewer is a classically trained chef. Brewer Chris Prevatt says that he “enjoys incorporating local fruits, spices, and flavors into his brewing.” Also adding to their uniqueness, says Prevatt, is the fact that they “are one of the few breweries in Jax with a hand-pumped beer engine with changing unique beers such as a candy cane saison and cranberry white chocolate stout.”

Those dragging along a friend that isn’t into beer (it happens) can ply them with specialty cocktails and food. Among the new-wave breweries, they enjoy the rarity of a full liquor license. On Sundays they get a brunch crowd, perhaps in part due to their $8 bottomless mimosas. They’ve recently revamped their food menu too.

Zeta Brewing_Crispy Apple Fritters

Sports-lovers are sure to find the big game on one of their big screens, and do be sure to check out their website for drink specials from ladies night to military discounts, to brew specials, margaritas, and more. They have something different every day of the week, and their Happy Hour is happily lots of hours, Monday through Friday from 11am to 7pm. 

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See the Breweries for Yourself

Adventures on the Jax Ale Trail

By Brentley Stead, GastroJax Inc. 

Looking for your first adventure of 2016? Adding to your New Year’s resolution list of new things to try? Then the Jacksonville Ale Trail and Craft Beer Passport is just the thing! While we’re happy to celebrate bike trails and running trails any time of the year, this month we’re celebrating one of the most popular trails here in Jacksonville: The Jax Ale Trail.

The Ale Trail, which just celebrated its first birthday this December, is all about showcasing the Jax craft beer scene. With the great selections of beer and a variety of breweries here in Jax, it’s hard to go wrong. No matter where you are in the city, there is sure to be a brewery in close proximity.

While the Ale Trail celebrates our local beer, it’s not just locals enjoying it. According to Visit Jacksonville, since its creation in December 2014 more than 20,000 people have picked up a Craft Beer Passport, and about 900 have been completed. With participants from 39 states and 5 countries, you can safely say our beer scene has gone international.

The Ale Trail and Craft Beer Passport consists of 8 breweries, and a ton of different brews. Here’s how the self-guided tour works: start by visiting any of the eight breweries on the list and pick up your Craft Beer Passport. In the passport you’ll find the rules (really more like guidelines) for getting the most out of the trail and winning yourself some Ale Trail swag. (Hint: you have to complete the passport!) Then, choose your route and start drinking!

Since the Ale Trail is self-guided, you decide where to start, where to end, and how much time you’d like to spend at each brewery. Last, but not least, make sure you remember to bring your passport to each taproom and get it stamped. You’ve got to prove that you’ve been to all eight get the swag.

If you’re looking to knock out a big part of the Ale Trail in a day, you may want to check out the Jacksonville Brew Bus. The Brew Bus has tours that depart at Bold City Brewery or Engine 15, and have tour options like the “Full Pour Tour” and the “Sampler Tour.” These stops include beers and tours of the breweries, and are a little more comprehensive than just stopping in at the taproom for a beer.

Besides exploring different parts of the city as you visit the taprooms, take the chance to try an unfamiliar or interesting type of beer you might not normally choose. For example, try the popular Count Shakula, a dark stout from Green Room Brewing known for its chocolatey flavor. Or, if stouts are your go-to brew, try something a little lighter, perhaps a saison (often a paler, fruity, style of ale) from Aardwolf.

When in doubt about picking a beer, ask the person behind the bar. Tell them what flavors you like, and what you don’t, and more than likely they’ll be able to recommend a brew that’s to your taste. If you’re just starting to explore beer and are not sure what you do like, ask for a sample. Most taprooms will gladly let you try a few sips of a beer before committing to a full glass.

With such success from the Ale Trail in just a year what can you expect from the Ale Trail next? A new beer adventure, that’s what! Have no fear if you’ve already completed your Craft Beer Passport; Katie Mitura, Director of Marketing and Product Development at Visit Jacksonville, is working on a phase two of the Ale Trail designed to “exceed expectations.” This next phase will feature an extension of the beer community by involving local bottle shops in town and preparing exciting new contests with killer prizes.

If you’re really dedicated to your beer adventure, then it won’t take you long to finish the Ale Trail, but there’s no rush with this New Year’s resolution. You’ve got a whole year for eight breweries—take the time to learn about the beer in our city, and the people that make it!


About Erin Thursby