You’ve heard of beer and food pairings? How about beer paired with authentic Florida experiences? Join us as we explore the state through the flavors of Florida’s craft beer culture.
By Stephen Kubiak
Just off I-4 in Plant City, a life-size Tyrannosaurus Rex stands guard over Dinosaur World, and just beyond that a backroad through sleepy Central Florida countryside leads to a hidden gem - a fruit farm that ferments.
While Plant City might be best known for its strawberries and the culminating annual Florida Strawberry Festival, Keel & Curley Winery found its success in another berry.
Opened in 2003 by Joe Keel, a blueberry farmer looking to utilize his end-of-crop berries, the winery’s first 10 gallons of wine didn’t come out so well. But after several more gallons, the wine was perfected and Keel & Curley winery came to be.
With the popularity of its wines assured, the winery branched out from blueberries to barley and, in 2013, created Two Henrys Brewing Company.
“With the existing winery we were already open for expansion and with the boom in craft beer and breweries it just made sense to open our own brewery,” says Scott Shuler, brew master for Two Henrys.
The name of the brewery comes from two famous Florida Henrys: Henry Flagler, known for developing Florida’s east coast with luxury hotels and a railroad to the Keys, and Henry Plant, another railroad tycoon who helped develop Tampa after the Civil War.
And just as visitors were drawn to Florida as the two Henrys’ railroads started cutting through the swamplands, visitors continued to flock to Florida as interstate highways appeared.
“Because we are located off of I-4 in Plant City, we get a lot of tourist traffic along with local Plant City residents,” said Shuler.
Even early on a Sunday morning, visitors stop by to sample the beer and wines, pouring in by the carloads. The tasting room and store are massive, with two bars inside. Another bar outside on a huge covered patio overlooks a small pond, a gazebo and a playground for the kids.
If you’re hungry, try the gator sausage from Smokin’ Aces, a semi-permanent food truck onsite and pair it with one of Two Henrys malty brews. On weekends, the roads outside the winery are filled with music echoing from the patio.
“We get a lot of local residents who come out for wine, beer, cider and live music on Saturdays and Sundays,” said Shuler.
The tasting room walls are festooned with bottles - including three types of blueberry wine, key lime wine, and six-packs of cider and beer. While we were there, visitors purchased bottles by the armful: some for gifts, more often than not for themselves. The two bartenders working that Sunday, professional if a bit frazzled, hurriedly took orders and poured out massive wine and beer flights to the thirsty crowds.
Two Henrys has a wide range of beer styles. On the more traditional side, the Gilded Age Golden Lager and 7 Mile Bridge IPA offer familiar craft flavors. For the more adventurous drinker, the popular Roasted Jalapeno Blueberry Porter is a sweet and spicy concoction that is one of a kind. Or try the Belleview Biltmore Blueberry Vanilla Wheat, named after the Belleview Biltmore Hotel built by Henry Plant. For something even more different and gluten-free, Two Henrys also makes an assortment of ciders, including a Blueberry Hard Cider made with the farm’s signature crop.
“Many of our beers feature our homegrown berries and we work hand-in-hand with our winery and cidery to produce uniquely Florida beers,” said Shuler. “While we do have some substantial beers, most of ours are light and crisp for summer days in Florida.”
That relationship between brewery and winery is ever present during the weekend tours that begin with tractor-pulled covered trailer slowly passing through the 27-acre blueberry and blackberry farm on the way to the wine and beer production facilities.
Our tour guide, Sam, a northern transplant who made Central Florida home after retirement, spoke about the winery as if he’d been telling its story for years, mixing tales of the operation and history with interesting facts and jokes.
“We have a one-of-a-kind setup with a brewery, winery, and cidery,” said Shuler. “We love all aspects of beer: from brewing to partaking. This a great place to visit, even for one beer.”
Evidence of the legacies left by Henry Flagler and Henry Plant aren’t hard to find in Florida, such as Flagler College in St. Augustine or, closer to Two Henrys Brewing Company, the Henry B. Plant Museum in Tampa.
The unusual Moorish-inspired spires jutting up from the old Tampa Bay Hotel building are what most people notice first. It’s an exotic architectural feature designed by Henry Plant himself in an effort to draw Victorian-era guests to his luxury resort. The building, on the University of Tampa campus, is now home to the Henry B. Plant Museum, and it celebrates the early years of Tampa and the beginnings of Florida’s tourism industry.
Today, several of the original hotel rooms have been restored - using furnishings collected by Plant and his wife during their worldly travels - to look as they did back in 1891. Walking into the museum is to visit a Florida that was tropical, mysterious and wild.
Much of what drew visitors to Florida during the time of Flagler and Plant - sandy beaches, warm weather and beautiful nature – entices today’s visitors as well. But without the Henrys, few early vacationers may have thought to make the trek down to the Sunshine State.
For that, we raise a glass to the two Henrys.
If You Go…
What: Two Henrys Brewing Company
Where: 5210 Thonotosassa Rd, Plant City, FL 33565
What: Henry B. Plant Museum
Where: 401 W. Kennedy Boulevard, Tampa, FL 33606
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