With its restaurant open for a year already, Florida Ave. finally opens what may be the state’s largest craft brewery!

I honestly don’t know if Florida Ave. Brewing Co., located in the former location of Sports + Field on S.R. 56, is now the largest craft brewery in the state, but it’s not for lack of trying to find out on my part.

The long-awaited Grand Opening and North Tampa Bay Chamber ribbon cutting of Florida Ave.’s brewery at its  34,000-sq.-ft. S.R. 56 location was held on Oct. 8, where CEO Anthony Derby and his family (and partners, including company president Joe Redner) unveiled their huge (for a microbrewery) brewing warehouse, complete with gigantic, stainless steel beer kettles — big enough, Derby says, to produce up to 50,000 barrels per year of Florida Ave.’s huge variety of beers.

Pasco County District 2 Commissioner Mike Moore called it the largest family-owned brewery on the west coast of Florida. But, when I tried to do some research of my own into the largest craft breweries in the entire state of Florida, the largest I could find was the unrelated Florida Beer Co., which is based in Cape Canaveral and reportedly produced nearly 33,000 barrels of its variety of beers in 2018. I couldn’t find similar numbers for 2019 or 2020, but while Florida Ave. likely won’t get close to producing its 50,000-barrel capacity this year or next, it certainly could challenge Florida Beer Co. for the largest craft brewery in the state sooner than later.

Either way, it’s been a long and difficult, more-than-two-year journey for Anthony, his mom (and company CFO) Toni and the rest of the Derby family just to get the brewery open, even though the adjacent restaurant and its huge outdoor patio and indoor private event spaces have been open and successful for more than a year.  

Anthony says the Covid-19 pandemic caused a lot of the delays for the brewery, as many of the important pieces of equipment, especially in the canning line (top left photo on next page), as the machines and parts had to come from Italy, where everything ground to a halt in 2019. Once the equipment finally made its way over here nearly two years later, Florida Ave. had to get it all put together, up and running and inspected by multiple agencies before the brewing process could begin — which wasn’t until May of this year. Derby says it takes at least two weeks to actually make beer, but the equipment all had to be tested again and again in order to re-create the beers that Florida Ave.’s Seminole Heights factory — which produces about 7,000 barrels per year — has been brewing for years and has been providing for the restaurant since it opened last year.

Anthony admitted that there have been a lot of challenges but he is confident it will all end up being worth it — and he thanked both North Tampa Bay Chamber president Hope Allen and Moore for their help in getting the project to this point. 

Moore said that when he first heard about the project in 2019, he said, “Do you have a time machine? If not, can you get it open by tomorrow?,” and called Florida Ave. a “beautiful asset to the county.”

Florida Ave. Brewing Co. currently employs more than 120 people at the S.R. 56 location alone, with about 20 other employees out in the field. And yes, now that it is officially open, you will soon be able to tour the state-of-the-art Florida Ave. brewery. 

What About The Food & Beer?

Even though I haven’t been able to give you the full story about the brewery, I’m just about officially out of space to tell you about all the great beers, hard seltzers and full liquor bar, the comfy bar stools and the delicious chef-created food at Florida Ave., but some of my favorite dishes appear on this page, including the Korean bibimbap beef bowl, the Chinese-style sticky ribs, the specialty burgers, the crab cakes and sesame-seared ahi tuna appetizers and the perfect Florida Ave. wings. 

Other menu items we’ve enjoyed include the house-made cheesesteak egg rolls, the steak Argentine flatbread (although photographer Charmaine George says the mushroom truffle flatbread also is excellent), the BBQ chicken sandwich and the 12-oz. NY strip steak. We even loved the sautéed veggies and the crispy Brussels sprouts, the hand-cut fries and the loaded fingerling potato side dishes. There’s also a great kids menu with everything from burger sliders to mac & cheese to cheese quesadillas and more.

But of course, for most of you, the stars of the show at Florida Ave. Brewing Co. will be the beers. My favorites are the most basic — the lager, Dead Parrot light lager, and the brown ale, but I also enjoy the “You’re My Boy, Blue” fruit beer, the Rollin’ Dirty Irish red ale and Jannah likes the Key lime hard cider, the tangerine splash and other fruit-flavored beers and hard seltzers at Florida Ave.

Based on both the crowds we see there whenever we go for dinner or to watch a Lightning game there, as well as all of the votes it already has received in this year’s Reader Dining Survey for Favorite Restaurant and for Favorite Bar in Wesley Chapel — a lot of you already enjoy the place, too.

So please, do me a favor — please visit Florida Ave. Brewing Co. and tell anyone who works there that you read about them in the New Tampa Neighborhood News

Florida Ave. Brewing Co. is located at 2029 Arrowgrass Dr. and is open every day at 11 a.m. for lunch and dinner. Happy Hour is Mon.-Fri., 3 p.m.-5:30 p.m.For more information call (813) 452-6333 or visit FloridaAveBrewing.com. Reservations are accepted for parties of eight or more only.

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