October 31, 2014
Peg's Cantina in Gulfport, Florida

Peg’s Cantina in Gulfport looks like your artistic neighbor’s back yard and serves food more elaborate than old staples of pizza and burgers.

Photo: Lara Cerri

Intuition Ale Works in Jacksonville

Intuition Ale Works in Jacksonville specializes in small-batch handcrafted ales.

English Tap & Beer Garden in Palm Beach

Palm Beach’s English Tap & Beer Garden pairs its beers with one of the finer menus.

Craft beer on tap

Craft beer is on tap at locations across Florida.

Photo: Lara Cerri - Tampa Bay Times

Executive Lifestyle in Florida

Beer gardens at the head of the class

Chris Sherman | 9/20/2012

In Gulfport, a funky little town just outside of St. Petersburg, Peg’s calls itself a cantina and serves tortilla pizzas and tacos, but it looks more like your artistic neighbor’s back yard — odd trellises and pergolas, gauzy curtains blowing, more plastic chairs outside than wooden stools inside, even a tile tabletop perched on an old oak stump.

Something else is outside — the brewing and fermenting tanks of coconut porter, weissbier and a dozen more. If you thought the beer boom was a fad gone flat, you need another pint. Fact is, 20 years into the beer revolution, enough change is foaming to fill a growler, one of those half-gallon jugs folks filled up at saloons in the Depression.  

Florida’s fascination with craft-brewed beer, ale, porter, weissbier and more has grown so much that the state now boasts more than 70 breweries from the Panhandle to the Keys, with the biggest clusters around Jacksonville and Tampa. That’s perhaps 30 more than last year, making Florida more beer-savvy than most states and starting to catch us up with the Rockies and the West Coast.  

The craft beer revolution in Florida started with Irish pubs like McGuire’s in Pensacola, the Hops chain and the Dunedin Brewery, which opened in 1996. Today, little Dunedin also boasts a second brewery, 7venth Sun, and the House of Beer taproom plus a half-dozen more nearby.

Styles are more diverse than ever, from summery sessions (known as saisons to Belgians) to dark-hearted Russian stouts. Food served with beer is more elaborate than the old staples of pizza, burgers and wings. (Peg’s serves seared tuna sliders with wasabi guacamole.) And fine American craft beer now comes in cans around the country, and at Intuition Ale Works in Jacksonville, eco- and beach-friendly.

Today beer gardens/biergartens distinguish themselves with high-end craft beer and an atmosphere that’s goofy, geeky and gastronomic. The pub clubbiness of “Cheers” has been replaced by a foodie palate and a low-key aesthetic that’s art-student Bohemian.

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