LEE COUNTY, Fla. - People come to Florida for sun, beaches and orange juice but there is something new on tap here. It's beer, and it's big business. Homemade beer is exploding in our area, and WINK News uncovered microbreweries are popping up all over Southwest Florida.
Hidden in an industrial park in South Fort Myers, tucked away in the back, you'll find Fort Myers Brewing Company brewing beer every single day.
"It's been busy. We have no days off. We've been brewing on Sundays, open on Friday and Saturdays, Friday afternoon. I think we're going to be switching to brewing on Saturdays so we can have at least a day off per week because it's literally been seven days a week," said Jennifer Gratz, owner of Fort Myers Brewing Company.
For Rob Whyte and his wife Jennifer Gratz, Fort Myers Brewing Company is considered their side job in addition to their full time jobs. But they're taking the time to tap into Florida's newest craze.
"It's really exploding across the nation," said Whyte.
According to the Brewers Association, breweries have skyrocketed. As of March 2013, there are 2,416 breweries open for business in the United States.
Whyte and Gratz moved to southwest Florida from California in 2011. After talking about the idea of a brewery, they got things rolling and opened their doors in March 2013.
"I just felt like I'm making a good beer and I just want to share with people, so my hobby has now exploded into a microbrewery," said Whyte.
Head south to Naples and you'll find Naples Beach Brewery, also tucked away in an industrial park. Will Lawson is a one man band and believes there's a reason Florida is just now jumping on the beer bandwagon.
"There are some things that are more challenging about here, for a small brewery to kind of take hold. But I think with more and more coming it's going to be more of a promote each other and all for one and one for all," said Lawson, owner, Naples Beach Brewery.
A challenge for many local breweries is a Florida bill that would have allowed breweries to sell 64 ounce growlers. That bill never became a law so that's affecting the makers.
"The containers are actually cheaper than the smaller container because it's manufactured more frequently. Why we can't sell that one is frustrating but we'll make due while we have to and hopefully one day that law will change," said Gratz.
But that's not all.
"There's taxes on brewing beer and selling beer here in the state and the taxes are high as far as the production of beer," said Lawson.
Just how much tax? Well, according to www.taxfoundation.org, Florida is currently ranked 11th in terms of tax on beer at $0.48 per gallon. Even so, a lot of beer lovers think now is the time to open up a tap and that's a good sign from an economic standpoint according to professor of economics, Dean Stansel.
"The national trend is towards more consumption of these micro brewed beers, more flavorful than the mass-produced kinds. But the prices are higher right? So if you got all these entrepreneurs out there thinking now is the time to start up a microbrewery in Fort Myers, they've got their money at stake, they must have a pretty good idea that the economy is headed in the right direction," said Stansel, Florida Gulf Coast University Economics Professor.
Brewing beer is a passion and love for Gratz and Whyte. They're excited for the future and said this is just the beginning.
"The amount of people that have come in, the support that we've got has been just amazing. We had no idea we were going to be as busy as we have been. It has been incredible. I am having a ton of fun," said Gratz.
Fort Myers Brewing Company and Naples Beach Brewery aren't the only ones in town. There is a new brewery opening in downtown Fort Myers in the fall, Beecher Brewing Company. Also, Point Ybel Brewing on Sanibel Island is set to open their doors in late June.
Fort Myers Brewing Company
Naples Beach Brewery
Beecher Brewing Company