Florida Craft Beer: Engine 15 Brewing Company, Jacksonville
By Stephen Kubiak
You’ve heard of beer and food pairings, but how about beer paired with authentic Florida experiences? Join us as we explore the state through the flavors of Florida’s craft beer culture.
Old is new again as businesses around the Sunshine State refurbish and revitalize buildings from the past. A St. Augustine industrial ice plant is transformed into a cocktail bar, a century-old waterworks building is reimagined as an award-winning restaurant and, for one Jacksonville brewery, a pre-Prohibition alcohol distribution warehouse regains its spirit.
Luch Scremin and Sean Bielman, co-owners of Engine 15 Brewing Company, walked around an old brick warehouse near Downtown Jacksonville, the gravel crunching under their shoes as they headed around the building. Scremin gestured down a large alleyway where railcars once passed, a faded ad for Schlitz Beer on the wall above, as he talked about the layout of a coming biergarten. The future of Engine 15, Scremin explained, lies in the past.
“We wanted a spot in Jacksonville proper but we wanted a historical building, a neighborhood that we could make a difference in,” said Scremin. “It all led here.”
Inside, the warehouse is mostly empty, with a few fermentation tanks, a drum set and gigantic version of Connect Four, but the room is filled with history. Scremin and Bielman have found bootlegger ledgers dating back to the 1930s hidden behind loose bricks, graffiti dated from the 1920s scrawled on the walls and even “1986” written out on a dusty windowpane.
“We have an awesome space in a 100-year-old building made with Carnegie steel,” said Scremin, his voice echoing in the massive room. “Three layers of brick thick. They don’t make stuff like this anymore. To come in and get a property like this and bring it back to life is just awesome.”
Engine 15’s tale began with a brew kit in a college dorm.
“I started brewing when I was studying at Jacksonville University, too young to drink,” said Scremin with a smile. “I bought a kit from the back of a Popular Mechanics magazine and started brewing in my dorm in 1988.”
Twenty years later, after Scremin and Bielman had been homebrewing for a few years, Engine 15 was born a few miles away in Jacksonville Beach.
The fabled Engine 15, a 1962 Ford fire engine, sits in the Jacksonville Beach brew pub’s parking lot, its yellow body glowing in the Florida sunshine. And while the fire truck has seen better days, the brewery inside is hopping.
The brew pub is a cozy throwback to the classic watering hole with its dark interior and eclectic hodgepodge of patrons. On tap, cold brews tame the Florida heat with a wide range of beer styles, from the (904) Weissguy, an American wheat, to the hearty Nut Sack Imperial Brown Ale, a robust, malty brown ale. A seasonal brew, the Orange Cream Ale is a refreshing ale made only with Florida oranges.
Pull up a seat at the bar and the smell of homemade Frito pie mingling with the uproarious laughter of fellow drinkers overpowers the senses. Tap handles bunched together like chandeliers hang over the bar. The walls are a patchwork of beer signs and framed medals from brewing competitions.
Next to the taproom, the original brewhouse is still being used. With a glass in hand, Scremin walked over to one of the tanks.
“Sean and I talked about how little there was in Jacksonville Beach in the way of craft beer,” said Scremin. “We need to do something, we said. So that’s what we did. We opened a beer bar and it was instantly too small.”
“Jacksonville is so big that it’s like two different cities,” said Scremin. “You have to cross two bodies of water just to get to Jacksonville from Jacksonville Beach.”
And the century old Jacksonville warehouse is where Scremin and Bielman hope to build a taproom and biergarten.
From historic buildings being repurposed for breweries and restaurants to a city-wide fire that destroyed much of the city to its importance in early Hollywood history, Jacksonville is filled with a fascinating history few people know about. Every street has a story, every building a time capsule of what was. For a city that’s changing fast, one museum lets guests slow down and take a stroll through history.
The Museum of Science & History in Jacksonville is a great destination for families with its interactive science exhibits and shows, but its history exhibit is a real hidden gem. “Currents of Time: A History of Jacksonville & Northeast Florida” takes visitors through 12,000 years of local history, starting with the native Timucuan people to the 1960s Civil Rights era. Sit in a darkened theater and learn about Jacksonville’s importance during the early years of motion pictures. Turn the corner and you’ll read about the Great Fire of 1901, the third largest urban fire in the United States, which destroyed much of Jacksonville.
It just goes to show that old is new again - and that’s the story of Jacksonville.
When You Go...
What: Engine 15 Brewing Company Brewpub
Where: 1500 Beach Blvd #217, Jacksonville Beach 32250
What: Engine 15 Brewing Company Downtown Tap Room & Biergarten
Where: 633 Myrtle Ave N, Jacksonville 32204
What: Museum of Science & History
Where: 1025 Museum Circle, Jacksonville 32207