The Brass Tap chain of restaurants could hardly have wished for a better wave of cultural and consumer trend horsepower to swell up behind them.
The Tampa-based sister company of Beef ‘O’ Brady’s is on a tear of expansion and likely will triple in size in the next few years, with new locations opening at places like the intersection of Kennedy Boulevard and Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa.
Here’s why: By now it’s a well-established fact that craft brewing is a trend that’s absolutely on fire.
Brewers across the country can barely keep up with demand, and even mid-sized brewers like Sam Adams have been reduced to making TV commercials that portray hipsters picking their beer in blind taste-tests. Any new bar or restaurant that aims to court beer fanatics now needs to have dozens of craft beers on tap, with names so bizarre you have to wonder what made the brewers so mad at the world. “Angry Orchard”? “Arrogant Bastard Ale”?
The most fanatical beer aficionados tend to compete in a race toward the most unusual crevices of a product genre in pursuit of authentic purchases that broadcast their insider status. For many, hipness requires this.
Amusingly, I’ve found a kind of inside-out beer snobbery feedback loop, where beer makers embrace the absurdity of beer snobbery. Take, for instance, the Fat Tire brand brewer, which describes one of its beers this way: “This is an aggressive ale. You probably won’t like it. It is quite doubtful that you have the taste or sophistication to be able to appreciate an ale of this quality and depth.”
And it sells. Very well.
Restaurant owners around town tell me they can’t even get deliveries of Fat Tire, or many varieties from Tampa’s own Cigar City Brewing. If you spot a spare six-pack of Cigar City Jai Alai India Pale Ale, go ahead and buy it, because there’s a market on eBay — the legality of which I find deeply suspect.
Tampa’s Cold Storage Craft Brewery on Florida Avenue grew from producing 1,600 barrels in 2012 to 2,400 this year and a projected 3,500 barrels next year. Tampa will soon be home to at least three new craft beer brewers from Seminole Heights to Ybor City.
Into this mad rush has stepped The Brass Tap. The owners have nine locations now but will have 15 by year’s end, with another 14 scheduled for 2014, and possibly that many more again in 2015. Their location in Carrollwood is their new prototype, and if you walk in, you’ll quickly realize they are beer fanatics. The whole back wall is a row of 60-plus beers on tap, with hundreds more by the bottle, and they specialize in independent, local brewers and the most unusual beers available. That includes a hip new segment of “sours” that are what the name implies. If a traditional IPA has a punch, a sour beer goes that much further, with a sharpness that one bartender told me is a great “palate cleanser.”
No, there is no Budweiser or Miller on tap.
And craft beers aren’t necessarily for the dollar draft night crowd. For instance, Cigar City’s Jai Alai is $5.50 a pint at The Brass Tap, Founders Brewing’s Red’s Rye is $6, and the more exotic New Belgium’s Coconut Curry Hefeweizen is $10.
There are some early signs the craft beer trend may have at least slowed down from its scorching growth. The research firm GuestMetrics found beer sales in casual and fine-dining restaurants easing off, as well as in traditional bars. But that comes after phenomenal growth. Even restaurant giant Darden is expanding new beer spots with its Yard House concept chain.
As for The Brass Tap, one of the next locations will be an undisclosed site near the corner of Kennedy Boulevard and Dale Mabry Highway. I’ve talked with several developers and property owners near there, and none would cough up exactly where — but that’s a killer location if it comes with enough parking and easy enough access to turn in. Beyond Tampa, The Brass Tap plans new locations in Cincinnati, St. Petersburg, Coral Springs, Pembroke Pines, Fort Worth, Texas, and Mesa, Ariz.
The next trend in brewing coming over the horizon is even more exotic derivatives like mead, which is made by fermenting a honey and water mixture. That’s a throwback to viking days, but look for mead to make a big appearance in Ybor City — there’s a new mead and hard cider bar set to open there soon on 15th Street.
Like all good trends, new kinds of food and drink tend to come and go, but there are also trends that start off small and simply endure and become part of daily life: Mexican food, smartphones, video streaming, chewable vitamins, social media, gluten-free food and so on.
The Brewers Association found craft brewing grew 15 percent in 2012 by volume and 17 percent by dollars, and the market share of craft beers has grown to 10.2 percent by dollars spent. Lately, the beer aisle at grocery stores is more than halfway filled by non-traditional beers.
As described by James Walker, the chief development officer of The Brass Tap and Beef ‘O’ Brady’s, “It’s not a trend anymore, it’s the new normal.”
Here’s other retail, restaurant and trend news around town:
If you haven’t reached for the coffee yet today, keep this in mind. Today is National Coffee Day, and Dunkin’ Donuts is offering free coffee for the day — with one catch. You have to download the app for your smartphone, and use it at the store to redeem the 100 percent discount.
One other quick note on craft beer. Cold Storage Craft Brewery is not, not, not closing its location on Florida Avenue. Yes, a new sign went up in front of their building that advertises big space for lease, but that’s not their building, says Cold Storage founder Bruce Talcott. The brewery rents the place, so Talcott has been spending time telling people, “No, we’re not closing.”
With a potential government shutdown possible if Congress doesn’t act by midnight Monday, there’s one bright spot for military-affiliated people. Navy Federal Credit Union is pledging to cover the Oct. 15 payroll for active duty members who have their pay direct deposited at the credit union. Plus, they’re waiving penalties for early withdrawals on CDs, speeding approvals for extending credit card limits and are “prepared to work with you” on loan payments through the organization.
Just months after recovering millions of dollars in sunken silver ingots, Tampa’s Odyssey Marine has started putting some of the booty up for sale online. The treasure went down during World War II aboard the British freighter Gairsoppa after a German U-Boat sank it on the journey from Calcutta to England. Working with the British government, Odyssey robots recovered the haul 3 miles down, and each ingot has a unique serial number and is stamped “HM Mint Bombay.” For more info, check out Shipwreck.net, or some of the re-sellers, such as Merit Gold & Silver at meritgold.com/ship wrecksilver.