When I arrived midafternoon to Centennial Park in downtown Venice, Florida, the volunteer festival staff was busy setting up brewery tents. The grounds would soon be bustling with thousands of craft beer fans, enjoying the fourth annual Venice Brew Bash.
With around twenty craft breweries represented, and over sixty beers available to sample, this was the event’s biggest year yet. “I set out to create an event geared toward the younger residents in Venice, and it has turned into so much more,” organizer Robin Parsons told us. “It has been great for the community.”
These festivals attract a diverse group of guests and vendors mostly from Sarasota, Manatee, and Charlotte Counties. The festival is a great way to expose craft beer consumers to new varieties available for purchase in their market. “There’s no better way to promote the small brewers than putting a cold glass of their beer in someone’s hand,” said John Saputo, owner of Gold Coast Eagle Distributing, the festival’s primary sponsor. “Providing that taste and sensory experience helps make the brand memorable to customers.”
I had the opportunity to stop and chat with brewery representatives at each tent, in addition to sampling some delicious beers. I spoke with Clay Yarn, co-founder of Big Storm Brewing out of Odessa, Florida who explained, “Through the Venice Brew Bash, we can engage with a demographic of people looking to try craft beer for the first time as well as craft fans looking to sample new varieties.”
Big Storm, which is celebrating its third anniversary this summer, featured its Wavemaker Amber Ale, the first beer the company ever brewed. “When we started, the Tampa market was getting a high flux of IPAs, so we knew we wanted to do something different,” Yarn explained. “We decided to do a full-bodied, rich, malty amber ale with caramel notes.”
While the Wavemaker was a success, the continuing popularity of IPA styles in the Tampa market later led Big Storm to experiment with their own recipe. “Our ‘Arcus’ IPA, is brewed with locally sourced wildflower honey,” Yarn said. “This makes our IPA very complex, but also approachable.” As a huge fan of IPAs, I really enjoyed being able to taste the subtle differences in each brewer’s take on this deliciously hoppy beer.
Another delicious take on the IPA came from Darwin Brewing, out of Bradenton. “Our ‘Summadayze’ is a west coast style IPA,” said brewer Leslie Shore. “It’s very juicy, fruity, and has as nice clean finish.” Darwin also featured its Pirata Pilsner—a traditional German-style ale, perfect for a hot day.
Strolling past the Big Top Brewing tent, I spotted owner Mike Bisaha serving a sample of his popular Belgian-style ale. Bisaha told us, “We call ‘Trapeze Monk’ our ‘beach drinking beer’. It’s a light, citrusy witbier, fresh zested with notes of coriander.”
Bisaha started Big Top to fill the void of local beer in Sarasota. Since its launch, the delicious and cleverly named beers have grown in popularity throughout the region. Looking for more of my go-to beer, I asked about their IPA. “Our core IPA, the ‘Circus City’, is available in cans. It’s an English style IPA with a caramel note backbone, ” Bisaha explained. “But our pride and joy is our ‘Ashley Gang IPA’, coming in at almost 10% ABV. We broke the mold with that one, and people really seek it out when they know it’s out in the market.” I tried and enjoyed both.
As I spent the day with these brewers, listening to their stories and sampling their creations, I observed how valuable this experience is to the craft beer industry. It’s a great opportunity for brewers to focus on the beer and their consumers without worrying about logistics. As Leslie Shore of Darwin Brewing explained, “The great thing about working with Gold Coast is they do all the work for us. Gold Coast prints the signs, furnishes the cold plates and ice tubs and, of course, supplies the beer. We don’t have to bring any materials—we just show up and have a good time.”
It isn’t only the patrons, brewers, and distributors benefitting from the event—proceeds are donated to the local Englewood Animal Rescue Sanctuary. All signs point to the continued growth of this exciting festival, so don’t miss the chance to include it in your summer plans next year!