What's Brewing
on the Beach

by Mark DeNote

AS RECENTLY AS five years ago, Southwest Florida was a difficult place to find a local beer. There were craft beers from all over the country, but there was nothing local, no beer with a story tied to the people and the backgrounds of Naples, Fort Myers, or any of the number of Gulf Coast beaches and islands. It would have been challenging to find beer from any Florida brewery, let alone one from around the City of Palms.

Naples Beach Brewing Company

In 2003, Will Lawson, a transplant from Michigan, moved to Naples to begin a career in golf course management. Will saw a void every time he went to go buy his weekend beer from local stores. Southwest Florida simply lacked the variety that he grew used to in Michigan, one of the most beer-diverse states in the country. In 2007, he decided that he would be the one to fill the craft beer void in this area and he leapt into the world of professional brewing, enrolling in the Siebel Institute of Brewing Science. With his schooling split between Munich, Germany and Chicago, Will quickly got a taste of beer making at its finest. After graduation, Will came home to Michigan and began honing his craft at the Ann Arbor Brewery.

In 2011, Lawson began making his way back to Naples with a business plan in hand and a small 1.5-barrel brewing system (1 barrel = 31 gallons). He selected a small industrial space to house the system and several 3-barrel fermenters to finish off his brewing setup. In November of 2012, Naples Beach Brewing Company opened its doors at 4110 Enterprise Avenue with the distinguished title of ‘Southwest Florida’s First Craft Brewery. ‘

Lawson then set to work building the brewery’s beer reputation with several core and seasonal brews:
• 5.2% abv Classic Ale
• 4.7% abv Weizen
• 5.0% abv American Pale Ale
• 6.0% abv Black IPA
• 9.0% abv Mango Ginger Tripel
• 4.2% abv Rojo Especial Amber Ale
• 8.0% abv Imperial Pub Ale Imperial IPA
• 4.8% abv FestivAle Marzen
• 5.8% abv American Stout

Naples Beach’s success has driven the brewery to a need for expanded facilities. In May 2014, Naples Beach Brewing purchased the industrial space across from them and added 4500 sq. ft. of space to the brewery’s current 1,250 sq. ft. home. Lawson will upgrade his equipment to a 15-barrel brewing system – ten times larger than his initial setup. The new space will come complete with a small 900 sq. ft. tasting room for the brewery.

But the best part of the expansion is a personal one for Lawson: the ability to bottle and keg his beer using larger equipment. Why is that such a perk? Lawson will no longer have to brew every day of the week in the Florida sun in order to satisfy demand for Naples Beach beer.

Fort Myers Brewing Company

Fort Myers Brewing Company, the brainchild of owner Rob Whyte and his wife, Jennifer Gratz, is keeping the craft beer fire burning down in the City of Palms. Another Florida transplant, Whyte got his beer education after homebrewing and working in the beating heart of American craft beer: San Diego, California. Rob got into homebrewing years ago and after abandoning the hobby for some time he slowly returned to it. After sharpening his skills, Whyte was hired by a San Diego brewery.

When he moved to Fort Myers, Whyte was astounded to see that there was no local brewery in his county, so he did what thousands of enterprising American brewers did before him — he founded his own.

He worked for months building the industrial space at 12811 Commerce Lakes Drive into a craft brewery. Fort Myers Brewing was almost ready for opening day in March 2013, when the unthinkable happened: Whyte had to have neck surgery. Family and friends pitched in and Whyte had to go from lead worker to supervisor, then tough out a good deal of pain to finish the prep work for opening day. When opening day finally arrived, no one knew what type of reception the brewery would get. People arrived by the busload. Whyte estimates that on the first day of business over 1,200 people attended the grand opening.

Fort Myers Brewing’s reputation continued to grow based on Whyte’s beers, with several beers (Caloosahatchee Kolsch and Citra Double IPA) winning honors in the first competition the brewery entered, 2014’s Best Florida Beer Competition. The brewery is adding and rotating beers to their lineup, with several mainstays:
• 6.0% abv Gateway Golden Ale
• 5.4% abv Tamiami Tan
• 9.3% abv Cypress Strong Ale
• 5.3% abv Red Tape Red Ale
• 5.8% abv City of Palms Pale Ale

Fort Myers Brewing Company has been open for a little over a year now, and already the brewery has expanded — and is expanding again. The first expansion saw a new 10-barrel brewing system delivered, allowing the brewery to make more beer. After the dust settled on their one year anniversary party, the brewery was ready for more space in the tasting room. This new expansion would see the brewery expand to 30 taps from the current 10 and quadrupling the tasting room space.

Point Ybel Brewing Company

The newest production brewery to Southwest Florida began as the project of a former fishing guide. Walt Costello, a former homebrewer and guide to Southwest Florida’s waters, wanted to open his brewery on Sanibel Island, but was unable because of current building codes. Costello then took the lemons life handed him and made beer. Costello and his wife Amy worked for months to convert the facility at 16120 San Carlos Boulevard in Point Ybel and turned it into a home for Point Ybel Brewing Company. With its opening in December of 2013, Point Ybel Brewing Company marked the third production brewery in Southwest Florida.

Point Ybel prides itself on tweaking recipes and rotating beers, but the core brews are:
• 7.2% abv Black Mangrove Dark Ale
• 5.5% abv Endless Summer Pale Ale
• 5.6% abv Sanibel Red Ale
• 7.0% abv Snook Bite IPA

Point Ybel has been open for less than a year and has already had a few national music acts pass through the venue. Acts like Bradenton’s Have Gun Will Travel and Roadkill Ghost Choir stopped through Point Ybel to play a few sets and drink a few beers.

Marco Island Brewery

The Marco Island Brewery stands alone in Southwest Florida as the only brewpub — a restaurant that serves food, makes its own beer, and serves it on site. Father and son team Frank and John LaCava run the beer and food in the pub. The brewery serves up pub food and a taste for vintage autos with a fruity Pelican Pilsner and an English-style IPA dubbed The Rock. Marco Island Brewery is located at 1089 North Collier Boulevard on Marco Island.

coming soon

Old Soul Brewing Company

Old Soul Brewing Company is currently building a brewery on Cleveland Avenue in Fort Myers. The brewery is co-owned and operated by two sons, Nicholas and Jacob Schmidt and their father, Mike Schmidt. Finishing touches are currently being applied to the brewery and 1700 sq. ft. tap room. The tap room will feature ten taps of Old Soul beers like a white session pale ale called Untold Legend, a brown ale brewed with Chai tea called Chai, and How Are You?, a gose-style ale called Salty Water, as well as a peanut butter porter called Mad Jack’s Last Pint. Co-owner Nicholas Schmidt says that he wants the brewery and tap room to “reflect family, and welcome everyone to our ultimate beer experience.” As of this writing, Old Soul was planning to be open in September.

Bury Me Brewing Company

Bury Me Brewing Company is the product of a beer lover making his dreams come true. Bill Vaughan, brew master at Bury Me Brewing, began homebrewing in 2006. He worked in beer stores, craft beer bars in Ohio and New York then finally Florida’s Brown Distributing, before landing his dream job co-operating a brewery with the House of Brewz in Gulf Coast Town Center. When Vaughan moved to Southwest Florida, he began working with and for Fort Myers Brewing, but House of Brewz approached him with an opportunity he could not resist — the chance to brew at his own brewery. Vaughan will produce beers with traditional styles as well as experimentation. Bury Me Brewing is currently waiting on approval from the federal government to start brewing; Vaughan expects permitting to finish around September.

Momentum Brewhouse

Momentum Brewhouse is picking up speed towards opening day as Bonita Springs’ first production brewery. Former homebrewer Brian Hahn and his wife Kate have been building their space at 9786 Bonita Beach Road into a craft brewery. Hahn, a native of northern Illinois, perfected his homebrew recipes, building a portfolio of 28 beer recipes before quitting his engineering job and making the leap to professional brewer, seeking to fill a need in the thirsty southwest Florida beer market.

Momentum Brewhouse will feature a tasting room and lighthearted atmosphere with four to six taps of house beer on draft in an 1100 sq. ft. tasting room. Hahn likes many styles of beer and plans to brew many of them as he gets dialed into his 5-barrel brewing system. While the beer lineup is somewhat up in the air, one of Momentum’s crowd-pleasers, Hahn’s Imperial Red Ale will be on this list. Imperial red won the people’s choice award at a homebrew competition at ‘Time to Make Wine’ in Fort Myers and will be listed along with a brown ale, a wheat beer, an Imperial India Pale Ale, and a saison once Momentum opens to the public. That opening is currently expected by September, according to Momentum’s Facebook page.

As a rising tide lifts all boats, so too does a growing beer community. The diversity of available ales and lagers made locally with Southwest Florida flavor illustrates how much tastes have changed and demands have grown. Now beer can be brewed, packaged and consumed in the amount of time it used to take to ship beer into Southwest Florida. To paraphrase Fort Myers’ most famous resident, Thomas Edison, “There is only one Fort Myers [craft beer community] in the United States and there are 90 million people who are going to find it out.” •

Mark DeNote is a wandering beer writer who keeps a home in Florida and an eye on the road in search of fresh, local beer. Mark is the author of The Great Florida Craft Beer Guide and his work has been featured in DRAFT magazine and CraftBeer.com. He chronicles the story behind craft beer on his website FloridaBeerNews.com.

September-October 2014

Naples Beach Brewing
Company was the first
craft beer brewery in
Southwest Florida

Fort Myers Brewing
Company won honors
in this year’s Best
Florida Beer Competition