Tampa (naturally) has one of the best brewpubs not only in Florida, but in the country. That is Ulele, in the north riverwalk area.
The restaurant is owned by Columbia Restaurant Group and is inspired by pre-Columbian Florida and the native cuisine of those ancient tribes. It also boasts a very impressive brewing system headed by multi-generational brewer Tim Shackton.
I recently spoke to Tim about brewing history, family history, and the connection between his beer and the food at Ulele.
When did you first discover craft beer?
My first craft beer was an Anchor Steam Beer in the mid 80’s.
What was the beer that really opened your eyes to brewing?
Sierra Nevada Pale was a big eye opener for me. It was very early in the industry, and that pale just exploded with awesome hop flavor on the palate, immediately attaching my inner freak to Cascade Hops forever after.
When did you start brewing?
I learned about brewing from those in my family who worked in the business up in Milwaukee. I grew up in Florida, so I didn’t get to experience scale lager production like my relatives did up north. After a brief stint with the Marine Corps, I returned home and my first commercial brewing session occurred at Hops Grill and Brewery in Palm Harbor in February 1993. Since then, I haven’t looked back.
What would you say is your signature beer, and how did it come about?
I love all of our unique signature offerings at Ulele, but the one that shines the most is the Wedding Beer. I have a great friend, a brewer colleague from years ago who was getting married. I produced a cold fermented mixed berry lager for his wedding in Bradenton, the city I built my first brewery in. It was such a hit at the wedding, many couples began requesting it for future weddings – thus the name. It is not sour like a lambic, but lightly tart and flavorful, perfect for light sauced entrees and even desserts like our Key Lime Stack.
How did you come about finding your brewing space?
Columbia Restaurant fourth-generation president and CEO Richard Gonzmart showed me the site at Ulele a couple of years before we opened. By purchasing the best possible American equipment and allowing me to design Ulele’s Brewery production facility, as well as formulate the recipes, Richard empowered me to make the Ulele dream a reality.
Seeing Ulele grow like it has humbles me daily, I can’t wait to see what is in store for the future.
How do you get inspiration in developing recipes and names for your beers?
Many things offer me inspiration, particularly the history of Water Works on our property and the history of Old Tampa. Being located on the Tampa Riverwalk offers a lot of perspective in this area. Ultimately the powerful story of Princess Ulelesurrounds everything we do around here.
What was the inspiration behind the name of your brewery?
Ulele was a real Tocabagan indian princess who lived in Tampa Bay during the time of Spanish exploration. Her story occurred many years before Pocahantas, and mimics that legend in a lot of ways. The Native story of Ulele inspires me every day.
There are a lot of people getting interested in joining the craft beer industry. Do you have any advice for these people?
Be prepared to work hard. Take copious notes and learn to love your palate. Find a beer style you like and stick with it for a while. The best way to gain brewing knowledge is an entry level position in a craft brewpub. It offers you the closest customer feedback you could possibly imagine, and ties your brewing skill set to cuisine daily. Try not to do what all the others are doing. Don’t follow the pack. Be a renegade. Always use the best ingredients possible, but don’t let process take a back seat to recipe formulation. It is equally important. Never comprise on quality.
Do you see an end to the recent Florida craft beer boom?
Craft Beer in our state is a lot like the restaurant business, there will be ups and downs. Great quality will always be in demand no matter what.
What differences do you see in brewing at a restaurant than at a straight brewery?
Breweries without food operations focus solely on beer. At Ulele, emphasis is placed on approaching pairing realistically and comprehensively. I get to work closely with Executive Chef Eric Lackey. We get to build a beer menu around the cuisine, instead of the other way around. When you have that approach, it lends to better drinkability and a search for a delicate flavor profile and a better all-around experience. You also have an opportunity to go bold and expressive with a beer and create a cuisine around it. The conversations center on how to translate the flavor palate of the beer directly into the cuisine. You have exploration from both angles.
Since Ulele is part of the Columbia family, do you ever try to incorporate their specific history into your beers?
Part of being in the Columbia Restaurant Group is realizing that I’m part of something must bigger than myself and I’m humbled by it. Relation to historic relationship of Ulele and how it will play out Most time I’m thinking of beers to Ulele’s menu.
The founding member of the Columbia Restaurant, Casimiro Sr was the Florida Brewery manager in the early 1900s. The Columbia Saloon that became the restaurant used to be the Florida Brewery tap room. The water that came from the pump station that now houses Ulele was used in 1905 by Florida Brewery to make beer. It all ties together.
Ulele’s beers tend to be less aggressively hopped than many other brewers in the area. Is that a conscious choice?
We offer beers of all types, lambics, stouts, lagers, IPA. One of our beers is Riverwalk Red Double IPA that clocks in 8.2 percent and 80 IBUs and is barrel aged, We know how to do big beers.
It looks like Ulele will be opening at TPA soon. Will your beers be there as well?
What’s next for you and Ulele?
We’re currently working on a larger scale release of a lambic beer with honey that is sourced locally at Strickland Ranch in Myakka where Ulele’s beef originates. We’re also working on a genuine collection of authentic farmhouse beers.
Special thanks to Tim and Jeff Houck for making this possible.
Drink Florida Craft,