Sep 22, 2018

Tampa's Burning
August, 2000

By Bobby Bush

The flight was delayed, as was lunch, but I had big plans for this hurried trip to Tampa. With absolutely no hope to hit them all, over 12 breweries awaited within a reasonable driving distance from this Gulf of Mexico metropolis in towns like Palm Harbor, Lakeland, Bradenton, Port Richey and Sarasota.

Stomachs growling, we set our sights on downtown, the old town Ybor City area to be exact. From a distance we noticed a plume of putrid black smoke streaming violently upward. Flashing red lights and arriving fire trucks signaled trouble, so we detoured off of East 7th Ave and found a parking lot about a block north of Tampa Bay Brewing Company. About a year earlier, I’d visited this friendly brewpub and met brewer John Doble who, with his mother Vicki, owns this fine establishment. My visit was tenuous, as we watched the televised progress of Hurricane Floyd’s rapid approach to Florida’s Atlantic coastline.

So it was with some trepidation that we entered a side door and joined several others at the long hardwood bar. Activity in the street, viewed through large plate glass windows, consisted of firemen and policemen scurrying haphazardly. I ordered a sampler tray. Don tried a seasonal Mad Hopper APA (American pale ale). One eye on the door, we scanned the menu for nourishment. The unfazed bartender hadn’t even placed all 15 Tampa Bay beers before me when the first order to evacuate was issued by a humorless officer. I swiped a sip of Don’s 6.0% abv Mad Hopper. Grabbing at the tiny samplers, I smiled nervously as the rich caramel California Amber Lager soothed the lump in my throat when another admonition to depart was barked from the open front door. Appropriately, I held One Night Stand Pale Ale, another of brewer Doble’s seasonals, in my paw as the final edict declared “walk out, or leave in handcuffs.” Realizing, finally, that fire takes precedent over beer, we sauntered toward the side door, quickly pulling on that pint of deliriously delicious Mad Hopper.

No lunch. No chance to talk with John Doble about his creative brews, such as Fischer Heller Bock, Belgian Tripel Bok, Katharina’s Wit, Helm’s Dunkel, Old Porch Dog and Flying Gator Ale. Yellow ribbons set lines of observation for the growing crowd. With little provocation, we hurried to leave this spectacle, disappointed that a neighboring fire had impeded our progress.

When he’s not worrying about catastrophes, Doble brews with a ten barrel brewhouse situated in the brewpub’s front corner. Four fermenters and 16 serving tanks make the difference, allowing John to create to his hearts desire. Beers rotate all the time in this 6500 square foot brewpub. Known equally for their innovative food menu, Tampa Bay uses beer in many recipes and specializes in, what else, sea food. Yes, we had no lunch and barely got our whistles wet. This better be some big-ass fire.

Local news and the morning paper revealed the rest of the story. Previous fires had devastated the area, a popular party night destination. And now, one of Ybor City’s few remaining original structures, Blue Ribbon Supermarket, had burned to nothing but brick and rubble. The 79-year old building was undergoing renovation into a high tech disco. The fire’s origin remains unknown, though it appeared, from our early-arrival perspective, that it began on or in the roof, where workers had been seen earlier. Thankfully, no one was injured in the vacant building fire, but the threat to nearby structures was real.

Dejected, we pulled out of the parking lot and headed toward Ybor City Brewing Company. With fingers crossed, we pulled into the empty parking lot. The cloud of black smoke hung ominously - no luck. Doors to this microbrewery were bolted on this late Friday afternoon. But Ybor City’s brews were all over town, in bottles and kegs. We found the light and tasty Ybor City Gold Lager practically everywhere. English-style, sweet Ybor City Brown Ale and the intriguing Calusa Wheat, done American-style, were not quite so prevalent.

This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.

© Bobby Bush


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