Enjoy some great craft beer, win prizes, help some good folks

Craft breweries make good partners for charitable groups.

For the most part, the craft beer community is a smart and generous bunch, and any time good brews are in the mix, a fundraiser becomes a party. Nearly every beer festival encompasses a charitable aspect, and breweries and craft beer bars regularly hold their own events.

Though it can be fun, the ultimate goal remains helping those who truly need it.

Shaven and shorn

Shaven and shorn

The recent Cut for the Cure Beard Shave-off at Cigar City Brewing in Tampa saw gents (and one lady) from three local breweries shear their beards and/or flowing locks to raise money for the Pediatric Cancer Foundation. The atmosphere was electric, and not just from the clippers wielded by the volunteer stylists from fundraising partner Sport Clips Haircuts. People were genuinely excited.

A personal example: I had already volunteered to sacrifice my beard, my first time clean-shaven in about 20 years.

Feeling Mohawkish.

Feeling Mohawkish.

Once I got in the chair, I challenged the enthusiastic crowd: If they chipped in another $200, I’d let them cut my hair into a Mohawk. Two minutes later, it was done. (Including, I’m proud to say, $20 from my 11-year-old daughter’s own pocket). The Foundation brought in more than $20,000 that night.

By the way, it’s not too late to donate. Please find out how by clicking here.

There are two more fundraisers coming up that I’d like to highlight, and they are to help individual members of Florida’s brewing community.


Homebrew-and-BBQNearly six years ago, Jeannie Lesage was diagnosed with end stage renal disease (translation: her kidneys didn’t work anymore). She eventually had to undergo daily dialysis for nine hours a day, and she was put on a transplant list. The situation soon drained her family’s resources, but they continued to support each other. Her son, Eric Lesage, had two healthy kidneys, but could not donate one to his mom because their blood types were incompatible.

So they signed up with UNOS (United Network for Organ Sharing) in hopes of getting a kidney for Jeannie through its Kidney Paired Donation program. It happened on March 4, with Eric donating one of his kidneys to a woman in New Jersey, and a woman in Tennessee donating one of hers to Jeannie.

All surgeries were deemed successful, though the recuperation period continues, especially for Jeannie. She will need to take anti-rejection drugs for the rest of her life, which can cost up to $24,000 per year. Her insurance will cover that cost for only the next three years.

This fundraiser in Inverness will help raise money to offset past and future medical bills, and ensure that Jeannie will be able to be a part of her grandchildren’s life for years to come.

The tickets cost includes unlimited samples from local homebrew clubs – Eric has been a valuable and well-liked member of that community for years – and breweries from both in and out of Florida. In addition, some really awesome items have been donated by the breweries and local businesses for a raffle. Scroll through the event’s Facebook page to see what they are.

Anyone wishing to donate beer, other items or money can go to the fundraising page or email Eric at Umass2804@yahoo.com.


  • Where: Darwin Brewing Company, 803 17th Ave. W., Bradenton
  • When: Saturday, May 9, noon to 5 p.m.
  • Tickets: Requested $10 donation at door.

Mike rogers fundraiserMike Rogers is a brewer for Darwin Brewing Company, and this fundraiser will help pay for his medical bills.

Mike has throat cancer; he started treatment in December 2014 with a minor surgery followed with the removal of his tonsils in mid-January 2015. After recovery, he started a run of radiation and chemo sessions. He recently finished his first series and will hopefully receive a clean bill of health in about two to three months when he gets a PET scan.

He’s had to use a feeding tube because of the treatment, but is scheduled to have it removed on May 6. Mike has been on leave at Darwin, but he hopes that once he regains some muscle and strength, he can return to brewing and start making some incredible beer.

But that’s far from the end. Next year alone, Mike will have to get a minimum of three PET Scans (an out-of-pocket cost of about $3,500) not to mention all of the additional costs associated with treatments, medications, and loss of income from not being able to work as much.

That’s why Mike’s girlfriend (Terri Parson, from Coppertail Brewing Co. in Tampa) and best friend (Josh Biskup, homebrewer) are joining forces to host this fundraiser in hopes to wipe Mike’s medical debt clean.

The fundraiser will feature Peruvian barbecue prepared by Chef Darwin, a cornhole tournament, and a silent auction featuring items from various supporting breweries. All of the money earned during this event will go to benefit Mike.

If you are unable to attend but want to help, you can visit the Mike Rogers: Kicking Cancer’s Ass Event page and donate.

More information here.

A signed copy of my book, Florida Breweries, will be contributed to each of the fundraisers.


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Sarasota’s JDub’s will distribute some beers in Indiana

jdub's logo biggerFlorida craft beer’s plan for national domination continues with the announcement that Sarasota’s JDub’s Brewing Company will start distributing some of its portfolio in Indiana.

The move was announced by the Indianapolis arm of Cavalier Distributing. The distributor, one of the few in the country with a portfolio that is exclusively U.S. craft and imports, is headquartered in Cincinnati and has a warehouse in Lakeland.

OK, I’m not sure if there is an actual plan for national domination among Florida’s craft breweries, but these types of announcements certainly are coming more frequently.

Here’s the release:

Indianapolis – The Sarasota-based craft brewery JDub’s Brewing has announced plans to distribute their brews throughout Indiana as soon as the brand registration is complete. JDub’s has partnered with Indianapolis-based Cavalier Distributing as their distributor for the state.

“JDub’s is extremely excited to begin sending limited amounts of our beers into the Indiana market. Obviously, the craft scene is alive and well in Indiana and we’re humbled by the opportunity to offer our beers amongst the great Indiana state brewers. We also think it’s awesome that this will allow our friends from Indiana who visit Sarasota during the winter months to enjoy our brews in their home state, said JDub’s Founder/CEO Jeremy Joerger.

Cavalier will distribute a limited amount of draft only versions of JDub’s year-round beers Up Top IPA, an American IPA with an ABV 6.5%, and Poolside Ale, a Kolsch with an ABV of 4.5%. JDub’s is the first Florida brewery included in Cavalier’s portfolio.

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Topping Goliath coming to Florida via Brew Hub

toppling goliath logoRumors had been swirling about a partnership between the much-lauded Toppling Goliath Brewing Company and Lakeland’s Brew Hub after the Florida brewing facility did test batches of a couple of the Iowa brewery’s flagship beers.

The rumors are true, and Toppling Goliath brews will soon be available in Florida. Here are the details from the news release:

ST. LOUIS, April 13, 2015 — Brew Hub, a company led by a team of beer industry executives and craft-brewing experts, has signed an agreement with Toppling Goliath that will allow the Decorah, Iowa-based craft brewery to immediately expand distribution and grow volume.

brew hub logoWith this partnership, Toppling Goliath will brew its award-winning craft beers, including PseudoSue, Dorothy’s New World Lager, Golden Nugget IPA and Rover Truck Oatmeal Stout, in Brew Hub’s Lakeland brewery. Toppling Goliath then will ship the beer back to its brewery in Iowa to be distributed throughout Iowa and Wisconsin, where the company has been unable to meet to consumer demand for some time. Toppling Goliath also will immediately expand distribution to Minnesota where the demand for high-quality craft beer has been growing in recent years.

Toppling Goliath produced approximately 3,200 barrels (45,000 cases) of beer in 2014. The partnership with Brew Hub will allow the company to increase its volume to nearly 20,000 barrels (275,000 cases) annually. Brew Hub will package the beer in cans, bottles and kegs.

“Toppling Goliath is one of the most exciting and cutting-edge craft breweries in the country, and this agreement will allow them to almost immediately grow their business exponentially,” said Tim Schoen, CEO of Brew Hub. “Over the past few years, craft beer drinkers throughout the country have heard about the legendary beers these guys brew in Decorah, Iowa, but acquiring the beers has been very difficult. All of that is about to change, which is great news for craft beer consumers and the overall craft beer industry.”

“We began brewing our beer in 2009, and the positive response from consumers was almost immediate, but it has been overwhelming,” said Clark Lewey, CEO and co-founder of Toppling Goliath. “It’s been really gratifying to brew craft beer that people love, but we have been unable to meet consumer demand for several years, which has really been frustrating for us, retailers and consumers. Our partnership with Brew Hub will allow us to grow Toppling Goliath the way we always dreamed, and we could not be more excited.”

Toppling Goliath was invited to participate in Cigar City Brewing’s annual Hunahpu’s Day craft beer festival in Tampa in 2014. Attending Brew Hub team members noticed the lines for Toppling Goliath beers were some of the longest at the festival. A week later Toppling Goliath and Brew Hub team members began discussing a potential partnership.

Clark Lewey and other members of the Toppling Goliath team returned in early 2015 to tour Brew Hub’s Lakeland, Florida, brewery and discuss a potential partnership. During that meeting, Toppling Goliath asked Brew Hub to brew their two flagship brands, PseudoSue and Dorothy’s New World Lager. Lewey wanted to see for himself how well Brew Hub could brew their beer.

“Once I tasted our beers brewed by the Brew Hub team, I got really excited,” said Lewey. “Brew Hub’s brewing team led by Dr. Paul Farnsworth and Jim “Otto” Ottolini is second to none in the craft beer industry, and they brewed PseudoSue and Dorothy’s New World Lager flawlessly. That was the proof I needed to know this partnership was the way forward for Toppling Goliath.”

“Once we brewed PseudoSue and Dorothy’s New World Lager, we wanted to take the next step and see how craft beer drinkers in Florida would respond, so, without announcing it, we put the beers on draft in the Tasting Room of our Florida brewery,” said Schoen. “Keep in mind, our tasting room features roughly 30 of the best craft beers in the country, but the Toppling Goliath beers almost immediately became best sellers, which was the last piece of evidence we needed to know this was a perfect fit for Brew Hub.”

This summer Brew Hub will begin brewing the Toppling Goliath brands for distribution throughout Florida, and negotiating distribution agreements with wholesalers. Toppling Goliath beers will be available at retailers in Florida beginning in September. This move follows similar partnerships Brew Hub has established with other craft brewers, which has allowed them to expand distribution in Florida and eventually will allow them to expand throughout the Southeast.

In 2016 Toppling Goliath will be the inaugural brewing partner at Brew Hub’s second brewery, which is scheduled to open just west of St. Louis in 2016. This agreement will give Toppling Goliath and other Brew Hub partners the capacity to expand their distribution throughout Missouri and eventually throughout the Midwest.

Brew Hub was founded in 2012 in St. Louis. The company is building a network of five new, state-of-the-art craft breweries across the country. The St. Louis brewery will feature a 3,000-square-foot tasting room and biergarten. The company will employ approximately 55 people at its St. Louis brewery in brewing, operations, front office and the tasting room.

Brew Hub provides full brewing, packaging, distribution and selling services for craft brewers that are constrained by capacity, geography or capital. Brew Hub offers its partners services, including sales, marketing, logistics, legal, and government affairs. Brew Hub’s financial sponsor is a private investment firm, The Yucaipa Companies.

Brew Tees - Craft Apparel

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A cigar and a beer can be a pleasurable pairing

Beer in Florida photo by Gerard WalenAficionados of craft beer and of fine cigars have much in common. Both enjoy relaxing with a quality product created for adults and socializing with others who share their passion. They make product choices based on taste, appearance and craftsmanship.

Most have a go-to brand or style, but they are not averse to trying a new product based on reputation and recommendations from friends.

There are folks out there who believe tobacco in any form should never dance upon the same palate with craft beer, claiming that the smoke would dull the taste buds and mask the more subtle flavors of the brew.

I beg to differ, with the caveat that such pairings be done in moderation. The tastes can blend well together and accentuate each other, providing a relaxing experience.

Few states better accommodate the cigar lover than does Florida, the closest U.S. land to what many call the epitome of cigar production – Cuba. Of course, we’ve not been able to legally enjoy the fine sticks from there since the U.S. embargo was put in place in the early 1960s after Fidel Castro instituted a Communist regime in the island nation, but Florida was fortunate. Many of the talented cigar makers and companies fleeing Cuba settle right here and started their businesses anew, particularly in Ybor City. This led to Tampa adopting the “Cigar City” nickname. Later, one of Tampa’s most well-known craft breweries adopted that name.

Cigar City Brewing was never located in Ybor City despite widespread misconceptions, but it has embraced the history, going as far as having a cigar roller blending tobacco leaves in its West Spruce Street tasting room on most weekdays. Its cigar-friendly patio allows patrons to enjoy the weather along with a stogie and one of the brewery’s hand-crafted beers.

As in pairing with food, choosing the right cigar with the right beer requires some thought and research.

One of the most basic guidelines, valid for pairing either food or cigars with beer, is to match strength with strength.

You don’t want the taste of one overpowering the taste of the other. For instance, with a lighter-bodied beer such as a witbier or a pilsner, you’ll want a light, smooth-tasting cigar. Look for one with a Connecticut shade wrapper and mild tobacco filler leaves.

A medium-bodied beer such as an IPA or a low-ABV porter pairs well with a medium-bodied cigar. Seek out a spicy Honduran or Dominican stick to fire up.

Heavier beers — Scotch ales, stouts, or anything that has “Imperial” in the name — call for big cigars, both in size and strength.

Of course, your personal preferences might vary.

If you are a relative beginner in the world of cigars, a post on the Brewers Association blog Craft Beer Muses, offers some solid advice:

Get a sampler pack!

What better way to try a variety of sizes, strengths and manufacturers without having to invest too much thought or money? Some samplers offer cigars, a humidor, a cutter and a lighter all in one at reasonable prices. You can often select the intensity of the cigars included, so for instance a “mild” sampler will net you some well-known and (you guessed it) mild cigars, perfect for the beginner.

I’ve found that when it comes to samplers, online retailers offer the best bargains. One of my favorites is Famous Smoke shop, and Famous supplies Davidoff smokes here, as well as other brands.

If you’re not ready for a multi-cigar commitment, visit your local tobacconist and ask advice. Pick up a stogie or two to take home. Some cigar bars offer craft beers on tap; other shops will allow you to bring your own. Call first and ask.

Here are some other sites that go into deeper detail on pairing cigars and craft beer:

Long Ashes to You, and Cheers!

This post was sponsored by Famous Smoke Shop, but all opinions are my own.

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