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The story of the Cigar City Brewery is one of success. Its good work has meant that what started out as a crazy idea three years ago is now a reality that feeds almost fifty employees. The message seems clear: “We brew beer that we like to drink,” says Cigar City Vice President Justin Clark.
Their success can also be seen in the number of crafted beers they produce. In its first year, this company based in Tampa made over 300 types of beers. For Cigar City Brewery, not just the number of beers, but their quality has brought them to win several prizes, such as the Best Florida Beer Championship, the Atlanta Cask Ale Tasting or the United States Open Beer Championship. For Justin Clark, product quality is the most important: “We focus on using the highest quality ingredients.”
Imagination is another key to Cigar City Brewery’s success. Their beers are made with different and creative ingredients. An example is the Hunaphu beer, which is made with cacao nibs, madagascar vanilla beans, ancho chili, pasilla chilis and cinnamon. This idea is the result of the work of their over forty employees, “an entire team where everyone is creative and able to collaborate, contribute or pitch an idea for a new beer”, says Justin Clark.
Being part of the Tampa community is a pride for the Cigar City Brewery. Their name comes from Tampa’s nickname, since this city used to be the cigar capital of the world, “so its says Tampa without saying Tampa,” Justin Clark said. Some of the beers are also named after Tampa’s culture. For example, Jai Alai, their most popular beer, is named after a Spanish game connected to Tampa. Tampa’s heritage and culture is also reflected in the local ingredients used when making the beer.
This is the interview that Toonari Post got from Justin Clark, the Cigar City Brewery Vice President.
Toonari Post (TP): Looking at your name, one might think that you also produce cigars. Do you?
Justin Clark (JC): No, our beer are paired nicely with cigars, but we do not manufacture any cigars.
TP: How many beers types do you produce?
JC: In our first year of existence we had over 315 unique beers, and we are always encouraged to be creative. We are kind like a corner bistro, if something is on season, we will figure out someway of making a beer of it.
TP: I guess that in the process of coming up with so many type of beers, some of them have failed, right?
JC: We never had any beer that we brewed that we have dumped out, but there have some ones that we have only done once.
TP: How long does the brewing process usually take?
JC: It depends on the beer itself, once the beer is brewed or boiled, we move it into the fermented, and it just depends, we’ve had some beers that we can turn be finished in eight days, and others that take longer than 45 days.
TP: The Hunaphu beer has won several prices. What makes it so special?
JC: Because its an awesome beer. It won the Atlanta Cask Ale Tasting when we were only a month or two old as a brewery, and now Hunaphu is sold here only one day a year, on the Hunaphu day, when we have a big celebration. Last year we had over 5,000 people. The beer is 20 $ a bottle and we have to limited for only two per person. The beer is a Russian Imperial Stout with cinnamon, madagascar, vanilla beans, chilli peppers. It is a liquor mole. Back to that culinary approach, there are lot of layer flavors. You get a lot of roasted and dark chocolate at front, and then in the finish you start to pick up some of the heat from the peppers. It is a really hard beer to make, so we only brew it once that’s why we sell it only once a year, and have a big celebration.
TP: Jai Alai, your most sold beer, is a Spanish game. Did you know that? Why did you choose that name?
JC: There used to be a fronton (place where Jai Alai is played) here in Tampa, so is named after the Spanish gambling sport. In Orlando there is a fronton, where they serve our beer, while you watch Jai Alai.
We use a lot of the Tampa culture in our names. This beer is our number one seller, 60% of the beer we sell is Jai Alai.
TP: Could you recommend each of your beers for different occasions?
JC: It depends on what you are eating, Beer pairs very nicely with food. But the consumer decides what is special for each occasion. We would not dictate that because you may have your own tastes. We think any time drinking our beer is special.
TP: Do you have a lot of competition?
JC: There are a lot of other people that sell beer in our market, but when you are talking about craft beer, we are kind of working together, so we meet up, we collaborate, we share ingredients, talk about best practices, because the big brewery in the world still control everything. For us making the best liquid is the important, so we tend to collaborate with the other craft brewery. Like this we all become better.
TP: Have you tried to distribute out of Florida?
JC: We had distribution out of Florida in New York, Philadelphia, Georgia, Alabama and Denmark. But Florida is buying more and more beer, and we rather keep it all in our backyard in the state of Florida. We do not pasteurize anything, so the closer it is to the brewery, the better it is for the product, the less time spends on a truck. 95% of the beer we sell is in Florida.
TP: What makes you guys special?
JC: We focus on using the highest quality ingredients. We brew beer that we like to drink and hope other people enjoy it too.