By Bobby Bush
Hurricane. Fire. Why not a flood? Palm Harbor didn’t look that far from Tampa on my
map, but persistent rain turned a short jaunt into a journey. The final and second day of
this central Florida Gulf Coast quickie trip-turned-disaster allowed only lunchtime
I located the brewpub at 36221 East Lake Road but it wasn’t what I expected.
The shopping strip establishment at this site was Hoppers Grille & Brewery, I noted as I
hurried from my car during a brief respite from the rain. Different title, but heck, any port
in a storm, right? I learned as I sat down at the bar of this sizable operation that there had
recently been a change of name from the original, lengthy Hoppers Brooker Creek Grille
& Taproom. The owners, I was informed by the helpful bartender, wanted to 1) shorten
the name, 2) add the word Brewery and 3) expand beyond their two store operation- they
own a Hoppers taproom just down the road.
But I was there to 1) taste beer, 2) sample beer and 3) drink beer, so that’s where
we started. Twelve of brewer Franz Rothschadl’s own brews were on tap for the asking.
So on to the house beers. Royal Bavarian Pilsner presented clear golden color and
thin-to-medium mouthfeel. Its ending was more sour than tartly bitter, as it should have
been. Hoppers took a 1999 gold GABF medal for Royal Bohemian Pilsner. Though it
was unavailable, the ever-attendant bartender advised that this missing lager was darker
and better balanced than its Bavarian cousin. Next up was Fischer Hefeweizen, a tangy
orange flavor German wheat beer that was not as yeasty as its cloudy vision foretold. An
“Authentic Australian lager,” Fischer Helles was clean, boosted by floral hops and dry
finish. And while we’re doing Fischers, the Fischer Heller Bock, labeled “strong pale
Australian lager,” was powerful in alcohol with a captivating sweet taste. Returning to the
homeland, American Summer Wheat was smooth and refreshing, in complete contrast to
Katharina’s Wit, a Belgian white ale. Missing its coriander notes, this lemonade-looking
beer was smooth in mouthfeel and sour in taste profile.
Cat Tail Pale Ale was a pleasing, hoppy pale, bitter from mid-taste onward. Done
American-style, Old Porch Dog Ale was a moderately hopped brown ale. Copper in hue,
Tampa Red offered sour apples and dry finish. A 6.8% abv English Strong, Flying Gator
Ale was intensely malty with a warm finish. Subtly bittersweet, Helen’s Dunkel, a “dark
Australian beer,” was enjoyable with a short fizzy exit. Introduced by its sweet nose,
Belgian Tripel Bok had a definite candi-sugar presence. Its complex flavor held hints of
peppermint and burnt orange.
Brewer Rothschadl works with a nearly hidden three barrel brewhouse and kegs
every Hoppers beer served at the bar. This inconvenience and small brewing capacity is
seen, by most brewers, as a great inconvenience, adding extra work in keg filling and
cleaning that breweries with serving tanks do not have to contend with. However, it does
allow for a wide variety of beers, something Rothschadl has done to great success. From
Bavarian to Australian to Belgian, American and English styles, Hoppers has some
fantastic beers. With 26 guest beers also on tap, there’s no way that you can go wrong at
Founded in 1994 and obviously a neighborhood pub of note, Hoppers welcomed a
growing lunch crowd as I sat alone at the empty L-shaped bar. Rain became a torrential
storm, delaying my departure by at least two beers. Localized flooding sent water out of
storm drains and into the streets and flat terrain. I scanned the expansive menu, salivating
over the long sandwich and entree offerings. Hunger was not an issue, though the
appetizer plate of conch fritters that I selected proved both delicious and filling
After a mad, drenching dash to the car, I headed back to my Tampa hotel, hoping
to make a quick stop at a brewpub in Clearwater. Tucson’s Restaurant had ceased
brewing quite a while ago, I learned as I stepped through the door. I detoured slightly
from the quickest route in search of a Hops Grill & Bar, but never found this
Florida-chain brewpub in Clearwater.
Catastrophes aside, there’s good beer to be had in Florida. Perseverance helps in
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush