Until about five years ago, Sarasota-Manatee hop heads sang the same sad song: You had to drive north over the Skyway to find fresh craft beer. They’ve happily changed their tune. The 941 area code now sports a number of craft breweries, each with excellent products and a distinct, Southwest Florida style. Now some Pinellas-Hillsborough residents are traveling south for a taste of our beer scene, which stretches from I-75 to downtown Bradenton to south Sarasota.
For the true Southwest Florida craft beer experience, snag your designated driver or fire up an Uber and take a Sarasota-Manatee brewery tour.
You might start in east Manatee County, where the area’s latest brewery, 3 Keys Brewing and Eatery, is making its mark. In addition to 3 Keys signature beers and guest brews on tap, this family-run operation has a kitchen churning out burgers and tacos. Get a good bit of grub and a pint or two in you, then head on down the road.
Darwin Brewing Company takes its inspiration from the flavors of Peru. Here many of the beers are made with tropical fruits and fragrant spices, and some even sport a chili kick. The clean-industrial taproom, with roll-away garage doors for good weather, and a well-manicured yard invite you to kick back for a bit.
Just around the corner, Motorworks Brewing boasts Florida’s largest beer garden—a sprawling space with an expansive deck and plenty of space for live music, movie screenings and all the corn hole you can hope to play, all encompassed under a massive old oak decked in strings of lights.
From there, head south into Sarasota, where JDub’s Brewing has earned a loyal following as the area’s first brewery, still sporting a relaxed, come-as-you-are vibe. The charming tasting room opens up out back to a porch, deck and grassy, fenced-in yard, where dogs romp while their owners chat over JDub’s flagships like Poolside Kolsch and Up Top IPA.
At the easternmost end of Bahia Vista Street, Big Top Brewing Company honors the area’s circus heritage with high-top tables fashioned from railway ties and signature brews like Trapeze Monk Belgian Wit and Circus City IPA. The back deck is a great spot to chill as you watch cars on I-75 speed by.
Finally, you’ll end up at Calusa Brewing, where the high-ceilinged warehouse tap room draws discriminating beer aficionados of every ilk. Order a Dissonance Breakfast Brown or Southern Equinox Double IPA and toast the Sarasota-Manatee beer scene.