TARPON SPRINGS – It’s no secret the state of Florida, and Pinellas County in particular, has become a hotbed for the booming craft beer industry in the last decade. According to a recent study, there were 224 craft breweries in the Sunshine State in 2017, the 10th most in the nation, with 40 percent in the Tampa Bay area.
While St. Pete and Dunedin may be considered the most popular Pinellas County craft beer destinations, residents and visitors may not realize Tarpon Springs, with three breweries—Silverking, Two Frogs and Saint Somewhere, and one more on the way—has quickly, and quietly, become a craft beer hotspot.
“When I started here in 2012, we had none, and when I tell people we have three, they don’t believe me,” Tarpon Springs Economic Development Manager Karen Lemmons said.
“But the leaders had a vision for growing the city, and through the creation of a façade grant in 2011 and a restaurant grant program in 2015, it led to a lot of revitalization of old buildings, and that’s what jump started the craft brewery movement here.”
Indeed, Lemmons noted all three of Tarpon’s craft breweries reside in restored historic buildings.
“We have a special historic district zoning plan here, where certain improvements have to be approved, and all of the brewery owners have done a great job complying with the guidelines while paying homage to the original buildings,” she said.
As is the case with most independent craft breweries throughout the country, each of Tarpon Springs’ current group is unique, in appearance, style and approach to producing and marketing beer. Here’s a quick primer to the trio.
Silverking Brewing Co., 325 E. Lemon St.
In late 2012, three fishing buddies— Bret Gamrot, Wayne Gonzalez and John Troyer—had an idea to open a brewery.
After finding an old building on Lemon Street, a former city jail and onetime fire station, was available, the friends oversaw three years of expensive and extensive restoration work before they opened the garage doors in February 2015, making Silverking, a nickname for the city’s namesake game fish, the oldest brewery in Tarpon Springs.
“We loved the building, the historic component, but it took a lot of work to get it to look like it does today,” Gamrot explained, noting they stripped it down to the foundation and up to the rafters to restore it to its original glory.
Today the brewery has an intimate and a wide-open feel, thanks to a cozy bar area featuring historic memorabilia, fishing trophies and signature tap handles, plus an indoor-outdoor space for live entertainment and food trucks every weekend and typically attracts a crowd that spills onto the sidewalk.
Gamrot, a longtime fishing guide, explained they brew 12 flavors using a four-barrel system, including the number-one selling Silverking Strike golden blonde. Silverking taps are in 50 permanent restaurants in Pinellas County now and slowly growing into the Tampa market, he noted.
“I’m still a million shy of being a millionaire, but we’re getting more and more successful,” he joked.
Being the biggest, and oldest, fish in the Tarpon Springs craft beer pond, Gamrot said he welcomes the addition of more competition.
“This is becoming a cool little town, so I’m not surprised others are coming,” he said. “As they say, the rising tide lifts all boats, so there’s no reason to be upset about another brewery. Hopefully it becomes like Dunedin and brings more visitors to town.”
Two Frogs Brewing Co., 151 E. Tarpon Ave.
First thing first—what’s with the name?
“We decided to name it Two Frogs because we were two Croakes brewing beer,” Chad Croake said of brewery he and his dad, Mike Croake, opened in spring 2017, and it’s tough to argue with the logic.
But Two Frogs, located in a narrow building built in 1895 that was once home to a drug store, is more than just a catchy name.
Chad, 24, explained the family’s brewing tradition dates back to the pre-Prohibition era, when his great grandfather owned 10 breweries in his home state of Wisconsin.
“When the brewing business failed, we went into construction,” he said, adding their Croake’s Select IPA was the “main beer my grandfather brewed.”
An experienced home brewer who graduated from the University of South Florida’s brewing arts program, Chad had been brewing in his garage for 30 months and learned the ropes at Cigar City in Tampa and Barley Mow in Largo before Mike finally agreed to help open a brewery.
“My dad decided after he tasted Snow Mass that he’d invest in me,” Chad said of his signature beer, a chocolate coconut brown ale that features hand toasted coconut and “chocolate-factory chocolate.”
Much like the Silverking founders, the Croakes thought the 120-year-old old building would be a perfect fit for their establishment, and Chad said they saw the potential for the area to become a craft beer destination.
“We chose Tarpon Springs for its potential to become a nice environment for breweries,” he said. “We have a great local support, very loyal customers. “It’s a very social place, and along with Silverking and Saint Somewhere, we believe we’re creating a destination for craft breweries here in Tarpon.”
Saint Somewhere Brewing Co., 312 E. Tarpon Ave.
Silverking is the first brick and mortar brewery in Tarpon Springs, but Saint Somewhere’s Bob Sylvester is the town’s elder statesman of brewing.
Sylvester has been offering his unique, Belgian-style saison beers and farmhouse ales to the public for more than a decade, starting in a small spot near the Sponge Docks in 2006 before relocating to a restored, two-story Victorian home, with a two-room B&B upstairs, in January 2017.
“There are only two breweries in the area older than us — Tampa Bay Brewing Company and the Dunedin Brewery,” Sylvester said from his porch during a recent First Friday. “There’s just a 10-year-gap in between!”
The laid-back Sylvester is considered royalty in farmhouse-style brewing circles, having staged, attended and spoken at dozens of brewing competitions and events around the world over the years, although he admitted he stumbled upon his unique method of fermentation by accident.
“It’s an open-top red wine fermentation process, and we developed it by accident because it was much cheaper,” he said of the process, which involves tossing a bunch of ingredients into a fermenter with a flat bottom and open top and letting it sit for a while.
Whether by accident or on purpose, connoisseurs have traveled from around the world to taste Sylvester’s creations, which are typically named after ladies, including Anne and Cynthiana.
Unfortunately, Saint Somewhere has not yet proven to be as well-known as it’s owner’s reputation.
“Would I love for it to be busier in here than it is tonight? Absolutely,” Sylvester said as a few patrons sat inside. “I would love for two or three more to come so we can be a craft beer destination.
“We’re such an anomaly in Tarpon Springs, being the northern most outpost in the county,” he added. “But Tarpon is really freaking cool. I love it, and I hope more people find out what we have to offer here.”