The craft drink scene in Jax is exploding. You almost get whiplash every time a new taproom is announced. In the 904, there are five restaurants that brew their own beer (brewpubs), five craft distilleries and 17 craft breweries. Yeah, you read that right. Seventeen.
So why is Jacksonville attracting these craft brewers and distillers? Easy. It’s still burgeoning, just now getting a grasp on what it means to be a craft drink city. We’re the new kid on the block who’s made a few friends, but doesn’t have their clique yet. A few of the cool kids have heard of us, but are unsure who we’re going to be. And that’s ok. The scene is wide open.
Florida was the second-fastest growing state for craft beer from 2011-2016. With South Florida already saturated with breweries, Jacksonville is in a position to be the newest up-and-comer.
Everyone who owns a brewery or distillery in Jacksonville is either a local or a transplant. They chose Jacksonville as their home base because it has a unique mix of culture and support.
Luch Scremin is the owner and brewmaster of Engine 15. He’s also a pilot who’s visited almost every continent and experienced beer scenes outside the U.S. “It really inspired me early on to investigate the possibilities of bringing some of that to Jacksonville, or specifically to Jax Beach where I live. It was a natural fit for me,” he said.
Kelly Pickard opened Alewife in Five Points in 2015. She scoured the Southeast for the perfect location to open her hybrid — a bottle shop and tasting room. “In other cities we would have just been another player in an already established game,” Pickard said. “But here, we had an opportunity to be a part of that growth and even potentially influence it.”
In other cities in the Southeast, it’s also harder to create what she wanted with Alewife. Permitting-wise, you have to choose between serving or packaging, and it can’t be both. Florida doesn’t have those limitations.
Even so, when people think of craft beer in Florida, they usually think of Tampa.
“There’s isn’t anything mind-blowing in Tampa that Jacksonville can’t have,” Scremin said.
Geography is what makes Jacksonville so unique. Each section of Jacksonville has its own culture, art and tastes. This makes it hard to identify Jacksonville as a unified city. An ale trail can’t be accomplished unless you have mobility. People who aren’t fully into the scene might not make the trek across town for a pint.But they do, because people in Jacksonville are curious. “I call craft beer drinkers promiscuous people because they love variety,” Scremin said.
Each neighborhood brings their own identity to the table, which allows more diversity to enter the market. Each has a passion for making Jacksonville better and each is proud to call the Bold City their home. “It lets every neighborhood develop their own unique take on the craft beer scene,” Pickard said.
At the beaches, two new breweries, Atlantic Beach Brewing Co. and Southern Swells Brewing Co., just opened up. They already have their own bottle shop, Really Good Beer Stop. Main and Six Brewing is scheduled to open in Springfield, after Hyperion opened a little over a month ago. They each have their own identities that add to the Jacksonville scene.
“Can beer bring people in from other areas? Absolutely,” said Marc Wisdom, better known as the Jax Beer Guy, a blog that’s been running for eight years.
Age is another factor. Jacksonville is starting to lean toward a younger crowd, with 35 being the median age. Sixty-eight percent of Jacksonville’s of-age population is 21 to 49 years old. It’s a generation that isn’t constrained by tradition, according to Roger Morenc of Marlin & Barrel, a distillery in Fernandina Beach.
“Our generation wants local. It wants organic. It wants to know how food and drinks are being made,” he said. “The scene here in Jacksonville has really matured because of that factor.”
But some people don’t think age is a factor. Alewife’s second-biggest demographic is an older crowd. Pickard thinks craft beer can attract anyone of any age.
But learning about craft beer and spirits takes a certain amount of commitment that older people aren’t keen on, according to Morenc.
“Acquiring that knowledge base is a part of the resistance from generations that are sucked into what they already know,” Morenc said. But he thinks the younger crowd is leading the way, learning about drinks while they’re young.
This openness to knowledge is what will make Jacksonville’s craft beer scene endure. Right now, we’re in a good place, but there is still room for development. Wisdom has hope for areas like Westside and Mandarin. He truly believes in the power of breweries to breathe life back into forgotten towns.
“I think that is exactly the type of thing a brewery can do for a neighborhood. It can actually make property values go up, open people’s eyes to that neighborhood and bring people into it,” Wisdom said. “As long as Jacksonville can retain that kind of sustainability and that kind of quality, Jacksonville is going to be just fine.”