Florida is known for many things.
Yes, we may be known for doing crazy things like trying to steal a police car with an officer sitting in the driver’s seat, throwing alligators into a fast food drive through window, or loving our emotional support squirrel a bit too much (side note: who’s gonna be the first brewery to come out with an Emotional Support Squirrel nut brown ale?).
But people may not know that we’re also a resilient bunch. Live here long enough and you’ll go through your share of hurricanes. Which seem far superior to earthquakes – at least hurricanes come with a warning. All that waiting for a hurricane to hit can be stressful, but it also gives you time to stock up on supplies. Pro tip: get some dark beers, something you don’t mind drinking at room temperature in case the power goes out.
Most of Florida has picked itself up and dusted itself off after Hurricane Irma came through in early September, and that includes those sainted men and women who run our breweries. Florida’s craft beer scene has been growing by leaps and bounds over the last few years, with breweries opening everywhere and racking up national awards.
Florida breweries have literally weathered the storm after Hurricane Irma, but what’s interesting is how the industry as a whole has endured. Between an increasingly crowded craft beer marketplace, competitive pressures from the multinational big brewers, and just the everyday headaches of starting up any new business, new craft breweries have a tough road towards becoming profitable. Opening a brewery in Florida, which for years lagged behind as other states pushed the boundaries of craft beer, can be even more daunting.
It is telling that so many Florida breweries now have the ability to not only pay all their bills, but also shell out some dough to help their neighbors in need.
100% of the donations that came in went right back to the people here.”
Perhaps it is a sign of a maturing industry that brewers are now comfortable enough in their own balance sheets that they can afford to look out for their neighbors. Many breweries were even giving away their most precious ingredient, water, by offering to fill up growlers with water for free if anyone was without drinking water.
The first place that Hurricane Irma made landfall was in the middle of the Florida Keys, near the town of Islamorada. Despite sustaining heavy damage in the immediate aftermath, even that tourist dependent area has been getting back on their feet.
“Our brewery made it out of the hurricane okay,” said Jose Herrera, co-founder of the Islamorada Beer Company. “However, you can always make beer, but if there is no one there to drink it, what’s the point? We lost about 2,000 hotel rooms nearby. But the locals are phenomenal and the weekend warriors still came out. We saw a significant loss in business at first and there are still some resorts here that are closed.”
Like many other breweries, as Islamorada Beer Company was making sure their own house was in order, they immediately went to work helping their neighbors.
“We spearheaded the hurricane relief efforts in the Keys,” Herrera said. “We teamed up with a number of non-profit groups and raised over $75,000 to buy food, appliances and other necessities. We filled five tractor trailers full of food. We worked with Eagle Brands, our distributor, who loaned us the trucks to deliver supplies to the Keys. 100% of the donations that came in went right back to the people here.”
Collaborations are already common in the notoriously-chummy craft beer community, and Irma’s impact saw breweries team up not only with other breweries, but with their suppliers and distributors.
The distance between Miami, Tampa, and Jacksonville would have to be covered by a whole day’s worth of driving, but breweries from each of those cities worked together to make an IPA they named IRMA. IRMA is not just the name of our latest “weather event”, but also an acronym for the hops used: Idaho 7, Rakau, Mosaic and Amarillo. All of the proceeds from the sale of IRMA went to Feeding Florida, a non-profit that provides food to those in need.
“Green Bench Brewing out of St. Pete put everything, including the recipe, together,” said Karl Volstad, Owner and Head Brewer at Civil Society Brewing in Jupiter. “They pitched the idea to M.I.A. Beer Company who told us about it and we liked the idea. Our suppliers donated things, like the Brewers Supply Group donated malt and hops, designers donated time for the label. GigaYeast from San Francisco donated the yeast. Blue Label Digital did the artwork pro bono. We reached out to some of our neighbors like Tequesta Brewing, Copperpoint Brewing, and Twisted Trunk. It’s a great thing to be a part of. Irma hit the whole state, obviously some parts were hit worse than others, but everyone was affected by it.”
“Every brewery made the same beer,” Volstad continued. “We used 100% pilsner malt. A lot of our IPAs are called New England-style, but IRMA is more of a West Coast, hop-forward IPA. You get citrus, tropical notes and pine resin. You get a little cracker taste from the pilsner malt but we wanted to let the hops shine.”
Living in paradise also means the occasional alligator through the drive-through window.”
Immediately after Irma, Funky Buddha Brewery put out Florida Rebuilds, a blonde ale made with Key Lime juice. All of the taproom sales, not just the profits, of Florida Rebuilds went to benefit Children of Restaurant Employees (CORE), a non-profit that helps service industry employees, specifically those in the Florida Keys whose workplace was impacted by Irma.
Funky Buddha’s distributor, Brown Distributing, also pledged to donate all of their sales of Florida Rebuilds to CORE. They set a fundraising goal of $100,000, including matching donations from Constellation Brands, which acquired Funky Buddha this summer.
These charitable efforts have reached beyond Florida.
Two Miami breweries, J. Wakefield and Lincoln's Beard, teamed up to make Coqui Rechazado, a Berliner Weisse made with guava, oranges, and bay leaves. Coqui refers to a small frog native to Puerto Rico and is practically the island’s mascot. Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc on Puerto Rico and money raised from sales of the collaboration go to Direct Relief, a humanitarian aid group on the ground there.
Back on the Florida peninsula, Bangin Banjo Brewing put out Hunker Down Hurricane Ale, a rum barrel aged barleywine, to raise money for hurricane relief efforts. At 12% alcohol by volume, this ale would surely make you forget about that hole Irma made in your roof.
No one in Florida is going to forget Hurricane Irma anytime soon. Perhaps that is just the price you pay –living in paradise also means the occasional alligator through the drive-through window.
However, as the Florida craft beer industry matures, they will certainly be ready to lend a hand after the next disaster.