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Interview with a brewer: Cigar City Brewing in Tampa, FL

Our Interview with a Brewer series has been one of the most rewarding things we’ve done on this bog (yes, even more rewarding than discovering Travis’ new gig as a spokesmodel. It’s been great because we can get to meet other brewers and ? more importantly ? cheat off of their test papers. Peter turned us on to an upstart brewery out of Tampa, FL, Cigar City Brewing. They’ve been blogging about their trials and tribulations as they look to open their own brewery by the end of this year. For anyone interested in starting a brewery it’s a great read.

Cigar City Brewing is currently a two-man operation, the head brewer Wayne Wambles and the everything-else-guy (seems like every brewery has one of these utility players), Joey Redner. Below are Wayne’s interview responses. Joey has been inexplicably busy (okay, very explicable), but has promised that he has some insights of his own. I’ll post them as they come in. Below are responses from both (yes, BOTH) of them:

1) Give us a synopsis of who you guys are and what you’re about.

Joey: I’m  a fourth generation Floridian and native of Tampa. I’ve been into good beer since a trip to Portland in 1994. I’ve worked in the beer industry for a few years now and in addition to opening Cigar City Brewing I write a beer column for the St. Petersburg/Tampa Bay Times.

What I’m about is helping to make beer that Floridians can be proud of. Florida gets branded, sometimes deservedly, as a beer desert. But, there are a lot of passionate beer lovers here and the time is definitely past due for someone to make beers they can proudly say are from their home state.

Wayne: I am a craft brewer that has been involved in the business of beer production for that last 10 years commercially. Prior to this startup with Cigar City Brewing, I was brewing for Foothills Brewing Company in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. They are an award winning brewpub/micro that kegs beer for off premise sale/consumption and self distributes. Some of the high points during my career include my time spent brewing at Buckhead Brewery & Grill in Tallahassee, Florida. During my time at this location I medaled twice at the GABF (Great American Beer Festival(2000)) and once at the WBC (World Beer Cup(2000)). Joey and I are pursuing our dream of opening a microbrewery in Tampa, Florida and are in the startup phase currently. We have been documenting our efforts on our website in an attempt to lessen the complexities of opening a brewery for other people that are interested in opening their own breweries. [Editor’s note: Hmmm… Interesting.] We take beer very seriously and hope to be up and running before the end of the year.

2) What’s the craft scene like in Florida? We hear about craft beer in other parts of the south such as the Carolinas and Louisiana, but usually there’s nary a peep from our fine neighbors to the South.

Wayne: As far as microbreweries in the state of Florida are concerned, there aren?t enough. There is only one that stands out in my mind at this point in Florida and that is St. Somewhere in Tarpon Springs, Florida. The interest in quality beer is alive and well in Florida but the availability of locally produced beer barely exists. We are going to try our best to create quality craft beer for the Florida consumer initially and then we will eventually work on being a regional player in the southeast. We hope to increase Florida?s tourism through our efforts and help to put Florida on the map for beer geek beer runs.

Joey: The homegrown scene is not what it could be for sure. The Tampa Bay area is far and away the best in terms of quality, creativity and concentration. Tampa Bay Brewing, Sarasota Brewing, Dunedin Brewery and St. Somewhere all make quality brews. There are of course bright spots throughout the state as well. There are some exiting new things going on too. Bold City Brewing in Jacksonville will be open in October and we hope to have CCB open by then too.

Florida fares better in the good beer bar department and we actually get a pretty impressive selection of beers from other states and countries. So it isn’t all bad here in Florida.

3) It seems like you’re brewing a lot of big(ger) beers. What led to this focus?

Wayne: Bigger beers have more flavor and complexity. We aren?t strictly focused on big beers but many of our seasonal releases will be bigger beers. Our focus is making good beer regardless of the original gravity. I also believe that smaller more social beers can be full flavored as well and I have made successful full flavored pilots that prove this. Bigger beers are more of a challenge to make and require a longer amount of turn over time. They also age better than smaller beers. Vintaged, vertical, big beers are sought after by beer enthusiasts world wide and we will put a product in that niche for our consumer base.

Joey: Flavor. Wayne and I both tend to like beers that pack a lot of flavor per ounce. So what we are going after is not alcohol by volume, but flavor by volume. The alcohol just comes with that. But we also like to have a few beers socially so you see stuff like the Patio Pils ,somewhat big for a lager at  6% ABV but very drinkable. And the parti-gyle brewing will yield beers with big flavor, but more sessionable alcohol content. Like Wayne’s Little Belgian That Could which was made with the second runnings of a barley wine and then fermented with a Belgian yeast strain and given some sweet orange. It’s a sessionable beer that packs in loads of flavor.

4) What’s your favorite thing about what you do?

Wayne: I enjoy formulating recipes and brewing the most. It is a pleasure to produce something that has my own personal touch on it. I recall visiting brewpubs back in the early to mid 90?s and being disappointed with the lack of flavor or sometimes contaminated aspect of the product that was put in front of me. I started home brewing partly as a result of this. I recall late nights sitting at the kitchen table of my old rental house and writing recipe after recipe while drinking my homebrew. I would constantly imagine what each ingredient would add to the beer I was formulating and I began to become familiar with the raw materials to the extent that I could formulate more efficiently. It is still a pleasant memory that I reflect upon from time to time.

Having said that, another thing that I really enjoy about commercial brewing is problem solving. There is much of this in a brewing environment. The constants begin to be more consistent as you learn the efficiency of your brewery and how all of your equipment works.

Of course, I would be lying if I said that I didn?t enjoy drinking the finished product and hearing other peoples? feedback about my beers.

Joey: Spreading the word. Correcting misconceptions. And drinking beer doesn’t suck.

5) What marketing tactic has been the most beneficial to you thus far?

Wayne: At this point the most beneficial thing as far as marketing is concerned has been our website and our pilots. We don?t have a running brewery yet and we have been mentioned quite a bit. Beer enthusiasts seem to be looking forward to our opening and obtaining our product. The press hasn?t hurt us either. We have been posted on Beer Advocate?s website and published in Ale Street News, Celebrator and Southern Brew News.

Joey: A combination of word and mouth and the blog. The blog gives people a window into what we are doing and lets them see the ups, downs, frustrations and triumphs and so people can get a little emotionally invested int he brewery. That is pretty cool.

6) What are distributors looking for from a new craft brewery?

Wayne: Distributors really want to know “What can you (as a brewery) add to our portfolio.” That is the way that you have to view approaching a distributor. What are you making that stands out compared to what is currently in your market? How does it stand out? Are you a consistent brewery that produces quality beer that is free of infection? Are your different packaging techniques consistent from batch to batch? There are many more questions that you have to ask yourself about approaching a distributor. I can?t get into them all but I will say that it is important to cost out your product and determine how you will be paid by your distributor and what that will bring the retail price of your product up to. We are concerned about what our consumer base will be paying at the checkout line.

Joey: Cache and name recognition first and foremost. Secondly a local connection. It’s pretty easy to sell the Tampa beer in Tampa, but not so much in Tempe.

7) If you were to start another brewery from scratch tomorrow (hypothetical, of course), what is the one thing you would do differently this time around?

Wayne: I can?t stress this point enough. Focus on the structure of the building that you intend to occupy. That is key in my opinion. If you have to make changes to the building that require permits then start with this first. Talk to a mechanical engineer on day one and stress to them the importance of getting your project off the ground in a timely fashion. We have been going at it for 3 months or more now and we still don?t have our permits in hand. You will have to wait until the mechanical engineer places all your tanks and equipment into the blueprint before you can move to schematics and an electrical engineer but as soon as you have tank placement immediately advance to the electrical engineer and make all equipment specs for the schematic available to them as soon as possible.

Work on a budget but don?t expect it to be the one that you end up finishing with. Contractors, engineers and all those unforeseen costs will raise their ugly heads in the midst of what seems like smooth sailing and ruin your pretty little budget with the wave of a pen. Get quotes from several contractors for the jobs that need to be done but when the permits are ready to go to the construction board or city for review, choose a contractor quickly so you don?t slow down the forward movement of the permits. That is the main thing that I would change with my 20/20 hindsight.

Joey: Hire a general contractor. We were just laughably ignorant about what the construction requirements and processes would be. On the plus side we were within acceptable ranges of accuracy in planning the brewery side of things. One other thing I’d do. Measure EVERYTHING. Right Wayne?

Thanks again to both Wayne and Joey, and best of luck to them in their endeavors!

2 thoughts on “Interview with a brewer: Cigar City Brewing in Tampa, FL

  1. Nice interview. I wanted to check out these guys when I was down there for Hunahpu last year but didn’t get the chance. Cheers!

  2. It’s a great brewery – lots of great ones in the Tampa area these days. Cheers!

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