There’s a cavernous building in an old, currently renovating strip mall in South Tampa. It used to be a server farm back in the day, but now it’s the home of 81Bay Brewing, currently in soft open.
Pronounced Eight One Bay, the brewery’s name is a clever play on the region, according to co-owner and president Michael Beard. It’s a kind of combination of the obvious bay in the Tampa Bay area (of which they are incredibly close) and the region’s area code 813. Look closely, and you’ll see the 3 hiding in the B of the logo.
Michael is, par for the course, a homebrewer and honed his skills while living in the San Diego, brewing with friend, former Naval engineer, Matchbox 20 hater, co-owner, and Director of Operations Shawn Bowman (who also kind of happens to look like Elliot Stabler from Law and Order: SVU).
After moving back to the Tampa area, Beard and Bowman discussed their dream of opening a brewery with Beard’s fraternity bro Keelan Cottle, himself a veteran of the Bay’s bar and restaurant scene and 81Bay’s Co-owner and Director of Sales & Marketing.
While still unfinished, the tap room is quite impressive and only looks to be getting better soon. One wall is devoted to a giant mural-sculpture whose massive blank space, Beard told me, will be home to a kinetic texture-mapping underwater scene, whose fish will swim leisurely by next to brewery visitors.
Another wall is painted as a sunken television, and it will be used for some old school video game beat downs, as well as the prerequisite sports. A giant row of gleaming fermentation tanks in the back separates the brewery area from the tap room.
There’s a gorgeous line of taps behind the bar, and those taps are being filled by 81Bay’s brewmaster Stephen Foster. Stephen is incredibly knowledgeable, having spent time learning the art of brewing in Germany. He’s a great catch for 81Bay, and hopefully he’ll be bringing some really fantastic classic recipes to the brewery.
He’s already off to a good start as evidenced by some of the beers I was able to sample:
Lightning Lager (American Light Lager, 3.2% ABV) – There’s a lot to discuss with this beer. Yes, first of all, the beer’s name is a subtle reference to my beloved Tampa Bay Lightning, which is always a good thing.
As for the beer, the one they had on tap was a very light, slightly hoppy, instantly recognizable light beer. But Stephen let me know he’s in the process of tweaking the recipes to get the most out of the beers on their new system, especially with the water. Stephen let me try a sample of the newest batch of Lightning Lager right from the fermentation tank, and it’s fantastic. Light, bursting with malt sweetness and a well rounded mouthfeel. If they can this, it will easily be one of my favorite Florida beers.
Ramble on Raspberry Ale (Framboise, 5.5% ABV) – This is a non-soured framboise, quite the rarity in the craft beer world. And I can’t quite understand why, since it’s so good. Michael even told me people will grab him to let them know how much they enjoyed this beer. It’s got a light body and a great raspberry flavor that feels fresh, not artificial.
Fishwater IPA (West Coast IPA, 5.8% ABV) – Believe it or not, this West Coaster is actually a pretty approachable beer. Light aromas of earthy hops transform into a mildly-hoppy, yet not excessively bitter brew.
Snookin’ Around Stout (Irish Stout, 4.5% ABV) – Beautifully true to style and wondrous from a nitro tap. Classic roasted malt body with flavors of coffee and toasted bread.
Topwater Plug Porter (English Porter, 5.8% ABV) – Just like the Irish Stout, Topwater Plug is wonderfully true to style, resplendent with notes of dark cocoa, black bread, and a tiny little hint of molasses. Big malt character.
I am really excited to see what the team at 81Bay will be coming out with next. I’ll keep you in the loop.
But really, did you see the 3?
Drink Florida Craft,