In light of hurricane Matthew having spent some quality time in Florida recently, I thought providing post that was Florida related that was a bit more positive would be appreciated! I hope that our fine furry friends in the good old “Sunshine State” are safe and sound as they gather together to read about our “Bryn & Bill’s “Egg”celent Adventure at Cigar City Brewery, the epitome of dog-friendly brewery destinations.
We connected with Neil Callaghan of Cigar City prior to our Tampa trip and were able to arrange for an one-on-one tour and interview with him and resident brew dog “Egg,” a lab, pit mix who loves to smile! We asked some questions of Neil, but we also asked Egg to chime in (in exchange for some yummy lamb meatball treats from Natural Balance). Below are excerpts of our interview along with an overview of the information we learned (and tons of Egg photos) while on our private tour.
Neil, Cigar City extraordinaire, was the first to be interviewed. I’m sure he’s been interviewed for high brow beer related publications, so we clearly were not particularly challenging, but I think he enjoyed the experience.
How often do folks bring dogs with them to the brewery?
Neil - People bring dogs with them every day. Egg was the first employee dog to hang out but we’ve always been dog friendly. With Egg’s temperament being what it is, she was a great first dog to have with us on the staff. You can leave the door wide open, and she’ll go do her business, sniff around, and come right back in. She’s paved the way for other brewery dogs. On a typical work day, there are at least four or five dogs with us.
What three words would you use to describe Cigar City?
Neil - Innovative, Local and Passionate
Innovative because we use a lot of weird ingredients. We use a lot of weird types of barrels that we source from different locations. Barrels can be from anything ranging from madeira barrels, soutern barrels, and cognac barrels.
Local because everything about Cigar City is tied into Tampa history and Florida history. Our name “Cigar City” is a reference to the cigar manufacturing industry that was in the area in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. In fact, Tampa was the largest purchaser of Cuban tobacco in the world before the revolution.
The names of the beers themselves are all either connected with Tampa or Florida history. “Jai Alai,” our flagship beer is named after a very popular game in the area. There was even a Jai Alai arena down the road. “Florida Cracker” is a reference to the original European settlers to the area. “Invasion Pale Ale” is a reference to the Gasparilla Pirate Invasion that happens every year.
Passionate because the focus and attention on quality assurance and quality control is really unparalleled. We have so much invested in personnel and equipment that breweries of our size usually don’t.
How long do you normally barrel age some of your beers?
Neil - It depends. You’ll notice when we go for a walk around the brewery that we don’t have our barrels in climate controlled areas. That means, when it’s 90 degrees and 80% humidity out there, we are able to turn the barrels around a lot more quickly. That does also mean that we need to keep a very close eye on the barrels. A short barrel run might be six to seven months, while a longer run might be close to 12 to 15 months. Relatively speaking, to other American breweries, that’s actually a pretty short length of time.
What is the process for matching barrels with beer type?
Neil - It’s interesting what we do. A lot of times, breweries will brew a beer and then say “this might work well with a whiskey barrel.” With us, a lot of times we’re going the opposite direction, where we find the barrel, like tequila barrels, what kind of beer can we make that will suit the barrel character.
Describe a typical day at the brewery
Neil - There’s always something going on. We’re running this facility 24 hours a day, six days a week. Office staff is usually here starting at around 8:00 am and leave around 6:00 pm and we have a lot of stuff that crosses our desk to keep up with. Folks in production are in the back, in an area that isn’t climate controlled, which means they’re sweating their a**es off, making sure the beer is getting brewed. Everything is happening simultaneously between our marketing guy who is pushing a social media campaign, a sales guy who’s coordinating with a wholesaler, our brew master who’s coming up with a new recipe and everything in between.
Tell us about your new collaboration with Oskar Blues?
Neil - This new partnership will allow us to make more beer and get more beer out to more people. It will help us to keep up with production demands. They have facilities in other locations like Colorado, North Carolina and Texas which have excess capacity so we’ll be able to move production of some of our year round beers to those facilities. It will still be our staff, our recipes, our beer.
On average, how many brews do you have on tap?
Neil - In the tasting room, we normally have around 28 beers and, with limited exceptions, it’s all beer that has been brewed on-site. We average about 100 different recipes a year. We even have a full time “treatments” guy. His job is to take a keg of Jai Alai or Invasion and to put whatever crazy type of ingredient he feels like putting in there like citrus peel, or any other possible addition to change the beer.
We were founded in 2009 and since then, on Beer Advocate, we have over 800 individual beers listed.
What three Cigar City beers would you bring with you to a desert island and why?
Neil - Number one for me would be “Cubano Expresso,” which is a maduro brown ale with chocolate and vanilla. I’d also have to choose "Guayabera" which is a Citra Pale Ale, which is dry, crisp and clean with a nice bitterness but the citra gives a berry quality. To round it up, you can’t go long with "Jai Alai." It’s our flagship beer, which amounts 60% of our production.
What do you think separates you from the other breweries in the area?
Neil - The sheer volume of different types of beers we make helps to differentiate us. The other thing is our focus on the local market has set us apart. We have always tried to take care of our home state. In fact, around 90% of our beer stays in the local area. We have always said that we want to be the beer that people associate with Florida.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Neil - Who knows. We have always been rolling with the punches. That being said, now that we’ve partnered with Oskar Blues, they will certainly help us to guide through the future. At the end of the day, all we care about is to make sure the beer is consistent and that we can get out to as many people as possible.
What advice would you give to someone who is interested in the craft beer industry?
Neil - Start saving now! It’s a lot of hard work, and a lot of thankless work. On the production side, you spend most of your time cleaning. You don’t spend your day drinking beer and hanging out while you’re brewing. You’re handling caustic chemicals and getting inside confined spaces and you’re sweating a lot. You have to be passionate about what you’re doing because, at the end of the day, it’s not something you’re going to do to make money.
What beers would you assemble for your dream pack if you couldn’t include anything from Cigar City?
Brooklyn Brown Ale is one of my favorite beers of all time
Bell’s Oarsman is a light, tart and refreshing sour
Ayinger Doppelbock Celabrator, a German beer that I always enjoy
3 Floyds Dark Lord a stout that helps to round up the mix
What questions do you WISH you had been asked in interviews?
Neil - I always like being asked questions about my dog, so that’s always exciting for me. I’ve also been getting lots of questions about Oskar Blues and I’m happy to be able to explain exactly what the partnership is all about. I also like having a chance to talk about the Tampa Bay craft brewing scene in general. We wouldn’t be where we are without some of the breweries that have been here for awhile, like the Tampa Bay Brewing Company and Dunedin Brewery. A lot of our employees cut their teeth in places like that. We want to do whatever we can to elevate the craft beer scene locally as much as we can.
What three words would you use to describe Cigar City Brewing?
Egg - Food, Scratches and Food!
Describe a typical day at the brewery
Egg - Walk in, walk around to say hello to everybody, look for food, go out and pee, come back and look for food, and repeat all day long!
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Egg - Well, still sniffing for food. My human has just accepted a new position at the brewery which means we’ll be traveling a whole lot more. We have always traveled together, so I’ll out on the road, heading to places like Alabama, New England, and everywhere else. No matter what, I’ll still be sniffing for food.
What has been your favorite dog friendly brewery to visit with your human?
Egg - Jester Brewing is in Austin, Texas. The whole tasting room is a big outdoor, Texas hill country location that used to be a horse ranch. We hang out under old oak trees while the humans enjoy beer. Hill Farmstead was also really pretty and very dog friendly! Locally, there’s a lot of places that I’m welcomed, like Angry Chair.
After our interview, we toured the facility. The first impression was, holy cow this place is huge! We have toured quite a few breweries in our day, and I was blown away by the volume of barrels and tanks. There was a whole lot of Jai Alai getting ready to be enjoyed by the masses! As a special treat, we were able to try fresh Jai Alai directly from one of the tanks. Oh my goodness, it was amazing! Fresh, light, crisp and so good (even though it was 10:00 am).
Egg was our ever-faithful tour guide as we roamed throughout the facility. You can tell that this was not his first time conducting a tour. As soon as we lagged behind, he would turn around, and nudge us back on track.
To say that our experience at Cigar City was amazing would be an understatement. We are so thankful for their kindness and generosity. Be on the lookout for some information soon about an adoptable pup that you might want to swoop up and enjoy some beers while you visit the breweries in the Tampa Area!