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Friday, July 3, 2015

This.....is Brew Hub

Between Orlando and Tampa, along a frontage road just off of I-4 in Lakeland, Florida sits a large warehouse building. Maybe you've seen it as you've driven by: it's actually a very large, 55,000-square-foot building that houses a brewery, tasting room and bottling/canning/kegging and distribution operation.  





Welcome to Brew Hub.  

Brew Hub has been causing quite a buzz in the brewing world for the past couple of years after the concept was announced. The company was founded in 2012 in St. Louis, Missouri by a group that includes former Anheuser-Busch/ InBev executives.  The concept allows partner breweries to increase their production by brewing their own beer from their recipes at this facility. It's an "incubation center" that brews, packages, distributes and even assists in marketing of the breweries' products.  You're sure to recognize some of these names which have beer brewed here: Cigar City Brewing (Tampa), Orange Blossom Brewing (Orlando), BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse (California-based with locations nationwide, including 20 in Florida), Golf Beer Brewing Company (the Florida-based brewing company making beers inspired by three professional golfers: Graeme McDowell, Keegan Bradley, and Freddie Jacobson), and The Brew Bus/Brew Bus Brewing (brewery tours in Tampa, Jacksonville and South Florida, which also brews its own beers here), among others. Whether a brewery is unable to meet the demands of its popular products at its location, or whether it just doesn't have enough space or resources to brew large amounts of beer, Brew Hub is there to meet the need.  The Lakeland brewery opened in late 2014, and there are five additional Brew Hub facilities in the works, including the second in Chesterfield, Missouri, just outside of St. Louis, scheduled to open in the Spring of 2016. 

Exit your car, and you know right away, even while still standing in the parking lot, that there is brewing going on here!  It's in the air!  It reminded me of visits to the big macro breweries in Milwaukee. 

Enter through the tasting room door, and you walk in to a large, open tap room, with plenty of tables, which has a rustic feel to it. There's a large bar along one wall, a merchandise area to the side, and a cooler with bottled beer.  There's an outside patio, too.  Food is available from a food truck on site, and the options range from snacks, salads, tacos, to sliders.   Red and white wine are also offered. 

Look straight back, and how about this view through the windows?  There's some major brewing going on back there. 


The tap room features beer brewed right here on site, and as you can imagine, the list changes regularly.  Growlers are available for most of the beers (indicated by a small growler icon on the digital menu board). Brew Hub also has its own line of branded beers that are available. And, yes, you can get flights, too. The bartenders here, i.e., TasteMasters, are all Cicerone Certified Beer Servers, so feel free to talk beer with them!  I really enjoyed talking beer with Dottie!







I was lucky enough to meet Bayé Perry, the general manager of the facility on my visit. Bayé's a great guy who has a pretty impressive background in the hospitality and brewery industry, having worked in various locations around the U.S.

And, do you think I was able to get behind that window for a look behind-the-scenes?  Yeah, what beergeek wouldn't want to do that?  So, here goes, and don't hate me because I got to see it....

First of all, how about some background: This is a 118-bbl brewhouse, folks. Two 118-bbl brewkettles.  The smallest fermenters here are 120-bbl. This is serious brewing. There are 24 fermentation vessels, ranging in size from 120-bbl to 300-bbl.  Yes, three-hundred barrel (they have two of those here). And, there are eight 200-bbl brite tanks. And, according to Bayé, eight more tanks are on the way!  Take a look at these big boys:

Open and say, ahhhhh

Are you excited yet?

There's a lot of beer here... a lot.
I just wanted to hug one
Look up!
There's also a "small" 8.5-bbl system used for test and experimental batches and for tasting room brews. This system has four 8-bbl fermenters and 4 brite tanks. 

The brewing process is completely automated. I even got a peek inside the "control room". And,  yes, there's a real person in there.  It looks like "mission control," and, it really is. The procedures are handled by a software system, including the malt, temperatures and transfers of beer between vessels. Beyond that, there's a science lab for quality control, developed by industry-renowned Dr. Paul Farnsworth, an expert in brewing science, fermentation science and biotechnology.

It doesn't end there, as a large part of the facility is devoted to bottling, canning, and packaging and distribution.  This part of the operation was buzzing with activity. 

And, I don't know how they keep this place so clean!

Brew Hub has around 80 employees, and they are pumping out a pretty good volume of beer, currently around 150,000 barrels annually, with the intention of doing 250,000 barrels per year.

Thanks so much to Bayé for the hospitality! Truly an amazing opportunity to see this place! And, I have to give a shout out to Anthony Derby from The Brew Bus, too, who helped set this up for me. I even saw some cans of Brew Bus Rollin Dirty Red Ale on the line back there. Thanks, guys!

Thanks, Bayé!
Well, after all of that, what would you do?  It's time to drink some beer!  The tap list on this day included several beers each from BJ's Brewhouse, Cigar City Brewing, Golf Beer Brewing, Orange Blossom Brewing, Toppling Goliath Brewing Company (Iowa), and house brands from Brew Hub.

Yeah, my handwriting on it all....
My chosen path (flight) looked like this: Keybilly Island Ale, Inside Joke American IPA, Confidence ESB, and Rover Truck Oatmeal Stout.

Keybilly Island Ale (Brew Hub) (5.4 ABV, light lager) is perfect for warm (hot) days.  I could see this beer poolside or beachside. It's like drinking a liquid key lime pie, right down to the graham cracker crust.  I found it to be well-blended, and not overpowering on the lime. Quite refreshing.  If you like those other lime beers, you'll really like this one. 


Inside Joke IPA (Brew Hub) (6.8 ABV, American IPA) is a citrusy, hoppy IPA (yep, it's an American IPA), made with Citra and Amarillo.  I'm not a huge Amarillo fan, but this IPA is solid, and it will appeal to you hopheads looking for a bite. 


Confidence ESB (Brew Hub) (5.5 ABV, Extra Special Bitter) is a nice amber/copper color, with toasty, caramel, nutty and sweet notes. I really liked this one.  It has just enough bitter, and the flavors come together for a very palatable beer. 


Rover Truck Oatmeal Stout (Toppling Goliath) (5.7 ABV, oatmeal stout) has the smoothness of oatmeal with chocolate.  It's very tasty.  If you like stouts, try this one, as I think it stands up to any other that's out there. I had not had any beers from Toppling Goliath before, but I suspect we may see more of them. Next time I visit Brew Hub, I will try one or more of the others, if on tap. 

There were many other beers from which to choose, and the tap list changes regularly.  That's why there will be a "next time" here!

Water....Stay hydrated, my friends....
And, that's not all. Make sure to grab one (?) of those bottles and/or growlers to go back with you, too!

I tend to get excited about these things...
And, there's a bomber of Sinkhole Imperial Oatmeal Stout (Brew Hub) (10.5 ABV) on the right.  That's one hell of a stout right here: pours thick, with chocolate, coffee, slightly sweet with a hint of smokiness, and a bit of booziness. A pretty big beer; fall into this one, you can handle it.  Another one I really liked. 


So, the "next time" you're on I-4 around Lakeland, take a look at that big building with the big beer bottle caps on the front.  But, don't just look at it, go there!  There's a really good selection of beer and plenty of take-home options, too. The tap room is closed on Monday and Tuesday, so plan ahead.  Not only is the beer good, but you might drool just looking at those brewing vessels.

And, just as I write this, Brew Hub is releasing Keybilly Island Ale and its Diver Down imperial red ale (8.0 ABV) in bombers at Publix on a buy-one-get-one special. Of course, I picked up a couple today!

And, Happy Fourth of July!  

See you around Florida somewhere!  Cheers!