Thought local craft beer was just a trend? Think again. Calusa Brewing Co., Sarasota’s newest brewery, will open soon, proving that our beer scene is only getting bigger. And in the world of craft beer, where competition is welcomed, growth is good news for established brewers and newbies alike.
Calusa co-owners Geordie Rauch, 35, and Vic Falck, 34, started talking about opening a Sarasota brewery back in 2011. Sarasota natives, the brothers-in-law both fell hard for craft beer while stationed with the Navy in San Diego—or “beer mecca,” as Rauch calls it. “The scene was exploding,” Falck remembers. “I loved the variety craft beer offered.”
At the time, Tampa Bay had already earned a reputation as a craft hub, largely thanks to the success of Cigar City Brewing. Although Sarasota Brewing Company had been serving homemade beers for years, south of the Skyway lagged behind. “I would come back to visit and couldn’t find an IPA,” Rauch says. That has changed. Sarasota’s Big Top Brewing Company opened in 2013, JDub’s Brewing Company in 2014, and Bradenton’s Darwin Brewing Co. and Motorworks Brewing have also launched.
Rauch and Falck say Calusa will help lift the local industry, generating more sales for all. Big Top CEO Mike Bisaha agrees, adding that camaraderie is a hallmark of the business. Before Big Top opened, Cigar City brewers tasted his brewery’s products and offered feedback. Now Big Top is paying it forward by helping Calusa. “We talk several times a week,” Bisaha says. “Everything from, ‘Hey, do this in permitting,’ to, ‘Don’t forget this.’ All the things we learned the hard way.”
Calusa is located inside a 9,500-square-foot warehouse on almost on acre of land just north of Clark Road. Rauch and his sister, Ellie, Falck’s wife, purchased the property for $625,000. The warehouse includes a production facility stocked with a grain mill, a 15-barrel brew kettle and a series of towering fermenters that allow Calusa to crank out 465 gallons of beer in a single batch. Then the beers, which take roughly seven to 14 days to go from grain to glass, are carbonated. They can also be aged up to two years, depending on the style.
Head brewer Jason Thompson, 30, brings a scientific focus to creating Calusa’s beers, plus a recipe book thick with 200 beers he’s brewed at home over the years. Calusa is starting off slowly, offering eight to 10 varieties in its 16-tap tasting room before moving into full-scale canning and distribution some months down the road. The 2,200-square-foot bar features sky-high ceilings and an industrial vibe, with roll-up garage doors and tall windows that provide views of the fermenting tanks.
Thompson moved from California to Sarasota two years ago. Ever since, he, Rauch and Falck have been holding tasting panels to refine Calusa’s concoctions.
Breweries must appeal to everyone from hops snobs to casual drinkers, so the groups have included beer experts, newbies and even wine connoisseurs. The three prefer hoppy beers and barrel-aged quaffs, but they’ll offer a wide variety. “We want drinkers to come along with us,” says Thompson.
One thing is certain: Craft beer isn’t going away anytime soon. While overall beer sales increased just .5 percent in 2014, craft sales spiked 17.6 percent, according to the Brewers Association, a Colorado-based craft trade group. Craft brewers now control $19.6 billion of the country’s $101.5 billion beer market, and Florida ranks fifth in the country in total craft barrels produced.
Think the market here is oversaturated? Rauch, Falck and Thompson say to look at Asheville, an 88,000-person city that’s home to dozens of breweries. And nationally, it wasn’t until 2012 that the number of American breweries surpassed the number in business before Prohibition. “The more the merrier,” says Thompson.
Calusa Brewing Co., 5701 Derek Ave., Sarasota, (941) 922-8150, calusabrewing.com