My path toward opening a brewery began in 1994 when I traveled to Portland, Oregon, for a wedding. Prior to this trip to the hops-laden land of the Pacific Northwest, I’d only dabbled with the few craft beers and imports available to me in Florida. I’d certainly never had freshly-brewed craft beer. In Portland, my taste buds were exposed to beers I’d never imagined and to freshness and craftsmanship I’d never tasted. I became a beer lover during that trip.
In the years that followed, I began to plan my vacations and travels around beer destinations, always on the lookout for new beer experiences. Years later, I took up home brewing. In 2004, I started writing a column about beer for the St. Petersburg Times which allowed me to spread the good word about American craft beer to a mostly non-beer-focused audience.
In the back of my mind, I dreamed of bringing the vibrancy and creativity I’d discovered in the craft beer scenes of other regions to Tampa. There was no single “aha” moment for me. I just started taking small steps toward making the dream a reality. In the beginning, it consisted of getting an idea for what startup costs might be. Then, I began figuring costs for raw ingredients, rent, build-outs and salaries. Later came the year-long search for startup money.
Back when my dream was still just a dream, I concluded that my hometown of Tampa hadn’t always done the best job exporting its unique history and culture. I wanted to educate people about the town I loved as much as I grew to love craft beer. I made up my mind that spreading the word about Tampa and its Cuban-American heritage and its past as the world’s leading producer of cigars would be an integral part of what I’d do at Cigar City Brewing. With that pretty basic mission statement – make interesting beers and share Tampa’s history – I finally sold my first batch of commercially-brewed beer in March of 2009.