Get a Taste of Tampa's History at Cigar City Brewing

Video Produced by Denise Toledo

Tampa, Florida is a city rich with history and the locals do not take that history for granted. Cigar City Brewing is one such local business that keeps the history of Tampa alive. Aptly named after the Cuban cigar production brought in by Vincente Ybor, Cigar City Brewing uses the history of the city to guide their work. Take, for example, Cigar City’s “El Lector” Neil Callaghan, whose title was inspired by the “Lectores” in cigar factories. "El Lector" was the person whose job it was to inform and entertain the cigar rollers. As Neil shares with us, history also influences the actual brewing done at Cigar City.

“... Maduro, which is a dark wrap around a cigar...is our brown ale. So a lot of the names, a lot of the approach, and a lot of the special ingredients do have that tie-in back to Cuba.”

Neil and his dog, Egg (Cigar City's official greeter) take their jobs very seriously. Neil has tasted more than 5,000 beers and traveled around the world to learn and share information with other brewers. 

Where There’s Water

Tampa began as a military outpost around Tampa Bay known as Fort Brooke. The outpost was established in 1824 and the need for water was one of the first essentials the troops saw to. Later on, Vicente Ybor brought his cigar factories to what is now called Ybor City. At that time, the spring’s water was in use by an ice plant, but Ybor had different plans. In 1896, Ybor’s second-in-command, Eduardo Manrara, organized Florida’s first brewery, The Ybor City Brewing Company. It was later renamed The Florida Brewing Company.

When the Spanish-American War began in 1898, the brewery ramped up production, serving the 30,000 troops, including Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. Roosevelt would have boarded his horse at the police stable in Ybor City that now houses Cigar City Cider and Mead.

Craft Beer Returns

After the Spanish-American War, there was a slowdown in beer production. Tampa wasn’t really a home to local beer again until the early 1990s when some home brewers on different sides of Tampa Bay decided to each open their own family breweries. These brewers, the Doble family of Tampa Bay Brewing Company and the Bryant family of Dunedin Brewery, reintroduced local beer to the Tampa area and started the culture that exists now — a culture that Cellar Manager Tom Brown thinks is important to the growth of craft beer.

“People in this industry are pretty cool because a majority of them are artists. They all take pride in what they do and they really want to help another brewer out. We share — share information, share ingredients, then after work, we get to share a beer.”

According to the Foodable Labs Beverage Index, Cigar City is ranked number 2 out of the hundreds of breweries indexed. Probably due in part to the popular brews they distribute like  like Jai Alai and Hunahpu's Imperial Stout. Cigar City Brewing hand-mashes its grain, and hand-fills its kegs in an effort have total control over their production process. Neil explains how there is room for growth in Florida beer production. Florida is underdeveloped if you look at the number of breweries in relation to the population. Check out Neil and his pup, Egg, on their historical journey through Cigar City on this episode of "Beer Artisan."