Exploring Tampa: Two local breweries worth a visit

In the shadows of Busch Gardens’ brightly colored roller coasters sits the second oldest and largest American-owned brewery in the U.S. — Yuengling.

Behind the welcome desk is a glass case filled with countless awards and commendations. A gift shop full of T-shirts and pint glasses all bearing the Yuengling eagle and American flag sits off to the side. A classic jukebox is pushed up against the wall in front of a dining room and soft country western music fills the air.

Old newspaper articles from the Tampa Bay Times to the Philadelphia Inquirer adorn the wood paneled walls. In the back of the welcome center is the bar, where visitors over the age of 21 get a free sample of one of the company’s brews and chat with the tour guides after the tour.

“There’s a very large following with Yuengling, it crosses over state lines that we don’t serve,” Suzanne Fletcher, a Yuengling tour guide, said. “We see the same people over and over again, it’s really nice.”

More than 20,000 people have visited the Tampa brewery annually since its opening in 1999. The summer is usually slow, but business picks up during the holidays with visiting snowbirds.

Fletcher, who has been a guide for four years, said the brewery’s busiest time for tourists is between January and April. Everything is up and
running Monday through Thursday, but production is shut down on weekends.

The free tour lasts around 50 minutes. Photography is allowed during the tour everywhere except the lab. During the week there are three tours a day at 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. The tours on Saturday are at 10 a.m., 10:30 a.m. and noon.

“We try to encourage people to come during the week so that they can see the bottles going by and the brewers working,” Fletcher said.

Visitors get to go through the older half of the brewery and see everything from the packaging line to the lab. During the week, two chemists are in the lab to answer questions, but sometimes the
brewmaster makes an appearance as well.

“It’s nice to see that interaction between the tourists and the people who work here,” Fletcher said. “The most exciting part of the tour usually is bottling and packaging. They can see all the bottles and cans going by.”

Since its opening in 1829 in Pottsville, Penn., Yuengling has stayed a family-owned company. The tour is very intimate and feels more like walking through a dad’s office than a company that is capable of producing 1.2 million bottles on its best day and distributing to 15 states.

“Some people are really intrigued by the process of brewing and some people are just here for the free samples at the end of the day,” Fletcher said.

For more information about visiting the Tampa Yuengling Brewery, visit yuengling.com.

Cigar City Brewing

Except for the colorful sign boasting “Cigar City Brewery and Tasting Room; Not in Ybor since 2009,” it looks like a garage from the road.

A porch with a few picnic tables with ashtrays is in front of a door that leads to a bar absolutely dripping with Tampa style.

Music blares overhead and the walls are decorated with local paraphernalia. Visitors can also grab food inspired by local cuisine at a snack bar. After checking in at the bar, and paying $5.35 for the tour, visitors receive a complimentary pint glass adorned with the Cigar City logo filled with one of the brewery’s beers.

Located just off Dale Mabry Highway near Raymond James Stadium, Cigar City prides itself as being a beer for Tampa.

Many of its brews bare names inspired by the area, including the Florida Cracker and the Minaret.

Steve Shanks, tour guide for Cigar City, said the brewery likes to feature aspects of Florida’s history and culture that are unknown to many of the brewery’s visitors.

“I like to talk more about the history and the process,” Shanks said.

He said he thinks their focus on local history is what sets Cigar City apart from other larger breweries.

The brewery is accessed through a door in the Tasting Room. Inside, silver machinery lines the walls and workers push carts loaded with various boxes and canisters.

On the wall, the owner’s collection of beer bottles from his days of reviewing beer sits upon rafters over racks of various barrels aging different beers.

Cigar City has tours Wednesday through Saturday, Saturday being the busiest day, with groups ranging in size from one to 20 people.

The tour is interactive and casual. The guide and workers are very welcoming and happy to share their work with the tourists. Visitors can ask questions and chat with their guide and possibly sample unfinished beer and roasted barley.

Shanks said every guide has his or her own style and preferences, meaning that no two tours will ever be the same.

“We get people from all over the world coming here,” Shanks said. “I’ve had guys from England, Germany, Japan. They come and specifically make a quest to stop here when they’re in town, and there are people that come here specifically just to see Cigar City.”

Shanks said that places like Oregon and Denver have large brewing communities that people visit just for the beer. Florida, with its unique flavor, is following in suit, Shanks said.

“Everybody comes here for the beaches, Disney and the amusement parks but this type of tourism is increasing because the availability the different businesses of this type which are opening up are attracting that crowd,” he said.

After the tour, visitors can revisit the two bars located in the Tasting Room to sample some of the brews they learned about during the tour. Those interested in visiting the brewery or for more information about Cigar City’s various beers, visit cigarcitybrewing.com.