There are a lot of regions in Florida that have already taken hold of the craft beer scene, and are well on their way to becoming craft destinations in and of themselves.
Obviously I don’t need to talk any more about everything in Tampa-St. Pete, Jacksonville is doing quite nicely as I recently found out, and even the West Palm-Fort Lauderdale-Miami area is carving out its own niche.
But for all the discussion that’s going on, Southwest Florida seems to be left out of the talks. In a lot of ways, that area of the state is still in a pioneering phase of craft beer. Yes, they’ve got a fair amount of breweries in Fort Myers and below, and some are getting big with distribution, but it’s still not as wide and colorful as some other regions.
It is getting there, though, and there’s a lot of great growth happening as we speak. If you want to see proof of how that growth is going, the place you would need to take a look at first and foremost is Bone Hook Brewing in Naples. My wife and I are big fans of Bone Hook, and our first visit there was actually before their grand opening.
We tend to go to Naples on occasion, so we have tried several of the breweries in the area, and Bone Hook, with its attention to quality and really good location, is an easy spot to head to. If you haven’t been there in the past month or two, they’ve actually expanded significantly. The anchor restaurant that was on the corner next door to them is long gone, absorbed by Bone Hook to create a bigger, brewpub feel.
The old tap room area has been completely demolished, and they are in the process of building it out to increase their production space. All this will mean more beers in production, more distribution, and more visitors, something they clearly do not need to worry about with how full the restaurant area was on a Saturday night. On a recent visit I was able to sit and chat with managing partner Dan Bilzor and Head Brewer Josh Deitner to discuss everything that’s been going on and what is going to be happening in the near future for them.
Not before having a pint of their Festbier (Festbier, 6.3% ABV), a wonderfully complex fall beer made with pale Munich & caramel malts, along with Mittelfruh, Bobek, and Celeia hops. It’s got a great, meaty malty feel that you can sink your teeth into. And it goes great with the big plate of nachos we got (which were fantastic, by the way).
Dan Bilzor worked for local restaurant group Phelan Family Brands, growing the company to 16 locations in Southwest Florida. It was Dan that convinced the company to move beyond standard macro beers and into the burgeoning craft beer scene.
It was also Dan that connected Phelan with Bone Hook, who started brewing exclusive beers for the company. Eventually, those restaurants became the biggest purchaser of Bone Hook’s distributed product. Dan moved over to Bone Hook to spearhead the growth of the brewery. His connections with Phelan are still there, as that company operates the restaurant side of the business.
The overarching vision for the expanded business was to make Bone Hook the ultimate destination, not just a stopover on the way to do something else. They’ve installed a new music stage, 15 brand new TVs, the menu, some arcade games, and much more.
According to Dan, Collier County and the surrounding region has been very receptive to craft beer. A lot of the reception comes from appreciative snowbirds, coming down from the north where craft beer and brewpubs are considerably more widespread. The community has been excited as well, with pieces in the Naples Daily News and even brewed a collaboration with Kathryn Marsh from Fox 4 (of which all three kegs disappeared in 2 days).
Josh Deitner came by with a pint of the Rheinhold Gold (Pilsner, 5.5% ABV), an unfiltered pilsner made with Slovenian hops and authentic German Pilsner malt, a favorite of his on brew days. There’s a nice, lightly rounded floral hop characteristic in this classic beer, and a great solid example of a classic style.
I was also interested in their Sandbar Surfer (Kolsch, 5.2% ABV, 23 IBU), an easy to drink beer that is incredibly popular with a lot of patrons. This lighter beer is not too sweet as some other examples of the style can be, keeping it easy to drink and practically perfect for our average Florida summer day.
His brewing background is a bit interesting. He started homebrewing after returning to the U.S. from teaching English in Korea. He then returned to Asia, eventually becoming the head brewer at Shanghai Brewery. Upon returning to the U.S. again, he immediately became the head brewer at Bone Hook.
In a lot of ways, the beers he made in China were similar to the beers he started making in Naples. These trended to lighter, mid-ABV beers, nothing soured or too intense. As Bone Hook grows, Josh found that the tastes and interests of their guests have grown up as well.
As we were there, they had people installing new glycol chiller lines into their brand new cellar (in the space formerly occupied by their tap room). With the construction it’s not much to look at, but it will be significantly nicer now as the space has brand new tanks not seen in these photos.
Keeping the tanks on-stage and visible makes the space look great, and every so often some people will ask if they make their beers. Dan even told a story of a small group of ladies that asked where they purchase their beers, not realizing it was brewed mere steps away.
As of right now, the plans are for building the brewery and distributing kegs. To build a canning line would take space away from the tanks they need to keep up with the incredible amount of demand for their beers. Several breweries have echoed to them the sentiments I’ve heard myself, in that it’s not necessary or critical to get packaged beer out onto store shelves.
They still have their gorgeous, custom-made 15 BBL 3 vessel system cranking out the beers, with a tiny pilot system in the back to play with. Interestingly enough, Josh is pretty happy with the water in North Naples, whose alkalinity finds itself almost perfectly suited to everything down to a medium porter (after filtering, of course).
To finish, I grabbed one of their brown ales, Round & Brown (Brown Ale, 6.3% ABV, 36 IBU). We had chatted a bit about the relative unpopularity of the style, something neither Josh nor I could understand. It continues to baffle me when in the presence of such a delicious brown ale as this one. It’s lightly nutty with a soft Noble hop character and smooth mouthfeel. Incredibly fantastic.
They had just finished brewing a New England IPA, and Josh has plans to start bringing a lot more of the more radical styles to the brewery soon. Apparently the patrons are ready for it and asking already, which Bone Hook is more than capable of providing, and doing it well.
Southwest Florida is coming along quite nicely.
A special thank you to Dan, Josh, and Dave for their incredible hospitality.
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