JACKSONVILLE -- Andrew Cattell left a brewpub in Atlanta to join Intuition Ale Works three years ago. Compared to Atlanta’s craft beer scene, Jacksonville’s was snooze city.
Jacksonville now boasts six breweries, several craft-beer bars and a tour company called the Jax Brew Bus.
“It’s grown so much in three years,’’ said Cattell, production manager at Intuition, the first brewery in Florida to can craft beer. Intuition brewed about 3,000 barrels last year and is on a pace to double that this year.
Intuition is looking to expand further and perhaps move out of its Riverside location and into the downtown area.
“We need to do something,’’ Cattell said. “We need more space.”
It’s a similar story around the corner at Bold City Brewery, a family-owned and operated craft brewery founded five years ago. It plans to double in size and spread distribution to the Tampa Bay area.
While the Tampa Bay craft beer scene has exploded -- with a dozen breweries and a half-dozen more coming, it’s the biggest in Florida -- Jacksonville’s growth has been slow and steady.
“I’d say Jacksonville is right there,” said Joey Redner, whose Tampa operation Cigar City Brewing is Florida’s most highly regarded. “Honestly, I was a little jealous of their beer scene for a while. They really had it going on.”
Locally owned Jacksonville beer didn't start with Bold City. The Jax Brewing Company opened in 1913 and operated until 1956 when it was sold to Jackson Brewing Company in New Orleans. Global beer giant Anheuser-Busch also runs a large brewery on the north side of Jacksonville and offers public tours.
The Jacksonville craft beer scene spans the metro area, from Intuition and Bold City in Riverside and the new Aardwolf Brewing company in San Marco to Green Room Brewing and Engine 15 Brewing Company at the beach and Pinglehead Brewing Company (a.k.a. Brewers Pizza) in Orange Park. Each has a tasting room and is producing highly regarded beers. (Some enthusiasts also include Mile Marker Brewing off I-95 west of St. Augustine in the Jax realm.)
The geographical spread of Jacksonville’s brew scene poses a challenge for the craft beer fan. The Jax Brew Bus meets that challenge by ferrying beer aficionados from Point A to Point B and beyond.
“Once a city develops a craft beer scene, a brewery bus tour generally follows,” wrote Gerard Walen on the BeerInFlorida.com blog.
The Jax Brew Bus was started about 18 months ago by three friends with a love for craft beer but without the resources to start a brewery. The bus offers weekly tours of three breweries, dividing the itinerary between the city and the beach.
“It’s hard to visit multiple breweries on your own,’’ said Jax Brew Bus co-owner Josh Carpenter. “We get a lot of people from the beach and take them to Riverside and vice versa.”
Many of the riders are out-of-towners, especially football fans.
“What else is there to do when you travel to a football city but check out (the local) beer?” Carpenter said.
The bus has been popular from the start. Besides offering weekly, special group tours can also be booked.
Before each tour, visitors learn the basics of brewing, Florida’s special rules for growlers (glass containers for draft beer to go, sold only at breweries) and tour highlights. It’s BYOB, coolers and ice provided, along with growlers if you need them for filling between stops.
Several craft beer-centric bars and stores have also opened in Jacksonville, particularly on King Street near Intuition and Bold City breweries, including Kickbacks, Beer:30, Dahlia’s Pour House and Pele’s Wood Fire pizza and Italian cuisine. There are also a few chain brewpubs, and a World of Beer establishment is opening soon in the southside area.
Jacksonville raised its profile in February when it hosted the Ratebeer Winter Gathering, sponsored by ratebeer.com, one of the most-visited sources for information on craft beer culture, ratings and other information on the Internet.
“We had people from all over the U.S. come to that,” Carpenter said.
A recent poll by Charlie Papazian, president of The Brewers Association, ranked Jacksonville seventh among 23 U.S. cities vying for the title of Beer City. That it was even ranked in the top 10 says a lot about Jacksonville’s growing enthusiasm for craft beer.
If you go...
● Aardwolf Brewing Co., 1461 Hendricks Ave., Jacksonville
● Bold City Brewery, 2670 Rosselle St., Jacksonville
● Engine 15 Brewing Company, 1500 Beach Blvd., Jacksonville Beach
● Green Room Brewing, 228 3rd St. North, Jacksonville Beach
● Intuition Ale Works, 720 King St., Jacksonville
● Pinglehead Brewing Co./Brewer’s Pizza, 14 Blanding Blvd., Orange Park
● Mile Marker Brewing, 3420 Agricultural Center Drive, St. Augustine
The Jax Beer Bus tours local craft breweries from 1 to 5:30 p.m. every Saturday. The cost is $50 and includes a beer from each brewery visited. Special group tours can be arranged for up to 14 people for $600.