I'm fond of pointing out that great beer is happening everywhere, last year alone saw 350 new breweries opening around the US that is almost a brewery a day, along with this boom are appreciative new audiences, wanting to get out of the house, try something new and support their hometown heroes. The same holds true for beer and arts festivals we love to see what creative talents are tucked away in our communities, we love try making things for ourselves.
With this mandate in mind the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg Florida created "The Beer Project" an exploration of the intersections between beer creation, appreciation and the arts. On thing I really loved about this event, it drew not just on the participation of professional breweries but there was a whole day devoted to a home-brew competition and arts district gallery crawl, and of course beer crafting presented by yours truly.
I can't rave enough about the three days of events, the fantastic folks I met along the way and the very truly exceptionally good beers I sampled. Prior to the trip I'd never had a Florida beer and this shouldn't sound like I'm being a snob- there really wasn't a craft beer scene in the sunshine state until 2005 and it wasn't until Cigar City Brewing opened up in 2009 that the whole scene really started to take off. I get this great info from Gerard Walen's indispensable guide Florida Breweries . If you're headed out this way, grab the book it's a fantastic trip planning guide and he's got a wonderful palate for picking the best beers to sample when you've got a huge list to choose from.
The event kicked off on Thursday night with crafting at the museum and beer tastings by Tampa Brew Bus and Cigar City. I finally got to try the award winng Jai Alai which is a deliciously powerful kick in the mouth of citrus and cascade hops- if I didn't know better I'd swear this beer was a Pacific North West IPA with a crisp finish or somewhere else. The perfect thing to pair with crafting! We had two projects on deck that evening- Beer Can Bird Houses and Pull Tab Bracelets. I loved the cans that the sponsors donated, the cool colors and graphics made for darling houses, which some of the gals took to new embellishing heights with fancy roofs and bottle cap interiors.
A huge thanks to the volunteers and awesome MFA staff for helping me out with the crafting. Not sure how many bracelets they put together that night, from where I was standing it looked like a lot. They are total pros now so if you need some one on one help, they are your go-to kids.
Friday during the day was free and I took the opportunity to hustle out of town and head up to to the Weeki Watachee Springs and cross "swimming with manatee" off my bucket list. It was truly a breathtaking and humbling adventure.
I booked the trip through Doo's Amazing Tours and they couldn't have been more accommodating, knowledgeable and fun, plus they are the only company to do paddle boards on the river, which really is the way to go. Not only did John pick me up at the hotel, he drove 35 minutes in the other direction to grab my river buddy from the tire repair shop where she was stranded with a flat. Few words can accurately describe the gorgeous clear water or the magic of meeting not one but SEVEN manatee. Really wish that Florida could do more to protect those rivers and gorgeous creatures from motorized vehicles and pollution, they truly are national treasures. ALSO if I'd known that there were mermaid shows there, we'd have stayed an extra 3 hours.
Back in St. Pete's on Friday night Iheaded over to Green Bench Brewing for their beer release party. This being Florida I went by golf cart a complimentary service from my outstanding hotel The Hollander.
I assumed that everyone in Florida traveled by golf cart but this just isn't true, but they should!
Khris Johnson created two special beers for the Beer Project event based on exhibits and visits to the MFA. One a light rice beer influenced by the show "My Generation" a look at contemporary art from China, and a killer green chili, agave and corn ale base on the outgoing exhibit of Southwestern art. Can't tell you how much I loved this second beer- each flavor was on the money and hit the tongue at separate times with warm Hatch's chili up front and a sweet corn finish. The guys at Green Bench couldn't have been nicer, owner Nathan Stonecipher took me on a tour and it seems like an awesome place to work, with barrel aging room, some very impressive brew kettles and still space for a game of hoops. Nathan and Khris were around the next day too, judging the home-brew competition at the MFA.
Saturday was crazy jam packed with more great events- along with the home brew tasting (which was EXCELLENT) I had a table demonstrating how to make beer can fishing lures. These were a hoot to put together since Florida fish are considerably bigger than the trout I grew up with, fortunately there were lots of nice folks at my table to talk over what would work best on their lures vs. the dainty ones I've made in the past. The St. Petersburg Tribune has a great recap of the afternoon here. From the museum there was a gallery crawl through the arts district with growlers of local beer to sample along the way and an after party at Three Daughter's Brewing, where Gerard took my favorite picture of the weekend.
I'm doing a cheek rub with Carol Deckkers who was a huge part of the fest being so much fun and the truly sweet Mary Szaroleta of the MFA. Can't wait to get out to Florida again as things couldn't have been more fun or perfect and there is a certain approach to life which I highly approve of.