Cheers to beer, wine and cider
Get your taste buds ready for a traveling wine and ale trail festival
BY BERNIE WOODALL
Gary Roberts, owner of a winery northwest of Fort Pierce, and Pete Anderson, owner of a craft brewery in Sebastian, had each been to other areas of the country where craft brewers or vineyards collaborated to create maps guiding customers to their businesses.
The two men each say they got along well right from the start, but it took several years for them to call together the craft brewers at Roberts’ Summer Crush Vineyard & Winery. It was the inaugural meeting for members of what became the Treasure Coast Wine & Ale Trail.
Roberts called the tourism organizations in St. Lucie and Indian River counties, which each agreed to pitch in money and to help organize and promote the Wine & Ale Trail, launched in March 2017, according to Charlotte Bireley, director of tourism and marketing for St. Lucie County.
At that time, there were seven of the current 12 members. There are 10 craft breweries, a winery and a cider maker that now make up the Wine & Ale Trail.
In late 2018, a Wine & Ale Trail fundraiser and tasting festival was held at Summer Crush. Attendance was 550. In mid-November, a second of what is now an annual event at Summer Crush attracted about 1,100. Money raised goes toward promotion of the Wine & Ale Trail, including the maps of the trail and advertising in markets outside of the Treasure Coast, said Roberts and Bireley. Anderson said brewers sold out of beer tickets.
Bireley said the next festival and fundraiser will be held in November 2020.
Maps for the Wine & Ale Trail resemble the popular notion of a pirate treasure map, with each craft beverage location marked with an “X.” They are available at the businesses on the Wine & Ale Trail. The newest, and southernmost, point on the trail is Ocean Republic Brewing in Stuart, which opened in late July along with a full kitchen and weekend brunches.
Guests who go to each of the tasting rooms on the trail and buy a full-size beer, wine or cider get a stamp to prove they were there. Once they get stamps from each place, they get a mug.
“Everybody said they saw an uptick in business as soon as the trail launched,” says Anderson.
Bireley says the St. Lucie and Indian River tourism agencies promote the Wine & Ale Trail on social media, primarily to prospective customers in Orlando and Miami, and also Brevard County.
BREW BUS SERVICE
Indian River Brew Bus began operation in November for tours of the craft beverage makers on the Wine & Ale Trail and is gaining momentum in time for the arrival of winter seasonal residents, said Brooke Walsh, who along with her fiancé, Adam Cooney, own the fledgling service.
A 14-passenger bus will make runs open to the public that will be five-hour tours of the pubs where riders will get a flight of beer (sample sizes of several types of beer the pub serves). Riders will be taken to three breweries. Some routes will include Indian River County craft brew pubs and some St. Lucie ones. Private tours can be arranged for Ocean Republic in Martin County.
Reservations can be made to rent the bus for special events such as birthday parties.
For more information and reservations go to the Indian River Brew Bus website www.irtours.life
Here is a rundown of the breweries, winery and cider maker on the Treasure Coast Wine & Ale Trail. They are listed from north to south.
MASH MONKEYS BREWING CO., 920 U.S. 1, Sebastian. Opened March 2018. Taps: 15, of which 12 are of original brews. Can flex to more than 20 original brews. No kitchen on site. BYO Food or have it delivered. Phone: 772.571.6283. Website: http://www.mashmonkeysbrewing.com
Two friends who met at Sebastian’s home brewing club, called the Boil Over Boys, turned their shared passion into Mash Monkeys Brewing Co., near what can be considered downtown Sebastian.
They spent all their money, got some financial help from relatives and at times spent 22 hours a day not only brewing beer, but overhauling their leased space and dealing with the multiple surprise problems that crop up when a new business opens to the public.
So far, so good, says co-owner Patrick Kirchner. Before opening the brewery and pub, Kirchner was a boat mechanic, and called himself a “grease monkey.” His business partner and friend, Derek Gerry, cooked professionally for 20 years when he called himself a “stove monkey.” After shifting to professional brewing, which includes a mashing process of mixing grains, they became “mash monkeys.”
Gerry said he learned where to get the best fruit in the area while cooking professionally for 20 years, which is used to flavor many Mash Monkey brews.
Locally produced blood oranges, peaches and strawberries are used for beers and hard lemonades, including the popular Pink Cadillax Hard Lemonade made from October to April. Around Father’s Day, locally produced tomatoes are used for a Bloody Mary beer.
Its most popular beer is Aqua Pazza IPA.
It’s clear brewers have fun naming the beers.
“The Pushy Farmer was named after the farmer who picks up our grain to feed to his cows,” says Gerry. “He was growing hops for us. And one day he said, ‘I’ve got to pull these off the vine. You guys got to come get these and brew these.’ So, I wrote a recipe right there, and we called it The Pushy Farmer.”
PAREIDOLIA BREWING CO., 712 Cleveland St., Sebastian. Opened September 2014. Taps: 16, of which 14 are of beers brewed on site. Kitchen on site. Phone: 772.584.0331. Website: https://www.pareidoliabrewing.com
Husband and wife Pete and Lynn Anderson were looking up at a moon-lit sky one night when, to them, one of the clouds wafting by the moon looked like Ralph Wiggum, the dim-witted son of the police chief in The Simpsons. What they experienced was pareidolia, which is the tendency to perceive a specific image in a random or ambiguous visual pattern. It’s seeing religious figures in a piece of toast. About to take the plunge into opening a brewery with a bar, they decided Pareidolia would be a good name for it.
Pareidolia is now at a larger, second location, with a comfortable bar, a huge mural of Jerry Garcia and one of the best kitchens among the area’s craft brew pubs. The Andersons opened the first Pareidolia on a relative shoestring of less than $50,000, and brewed beer in a 10-by-10-foot room. During that first year, Pete kept his job as a fourth-grade teacher. By the company’s second year, Pete, not sure it would all work out, took a leave of absence, keeping open the chance to go back. Things did work out. Pete has since become a kind of godfather in the evolving Treasure Coast craft beer scene.
“No one thought we could do it, which only made me want (to succeed) more. When we brewed our 100th batch, we named it Ignorant Bastards,” said Pete. “People asked why we named it that and I said, ‘Half this town said those ignorant bastards won’t last two months in this Bud Light town.’”
After a while Lynn quit her job at school district offices for Indian River County to work at the brewery and pub full-time.
The Andersons and Pareidolia were last year named Entrepreneur of the Year by the Indian River County Chamber of Commerce. Pareidolia’s best-selling beer is 32958, a Hazy IPA sold at bars and restaurants on the Treasure Coast.
WALKING TREE BREWERY, 3209 Dodger Road, Vero Beach. 772.217.3502. Opened June 2016. Taps: 28, of which 24 have products made on site. Bar snacks, BYO Food or food delivery encouraged.
Walking Tree Brewery is in a 24,000-square-foot building that was first built as an aviation warehouse for the U.S. Navy during World War II, which explains its location near the Vero Beach Regional Airport. The bar and tables of various sizes are in the major room that makes up most of Walking Tree, and the owners, Mike and Brooke Malone, have created smaller rooms for private parties. Sometimes someone rents out the entire place. Baby showers, wedding receptions, bachelor and bachelorette parties and major business events have been held there.
Like nearly every craft brewery owner, Mike Malone began as a home brewer. He was dating his future wife Brooke when she asked him to make her a stout, which they called Baby Cakes. It quickly won some home brewing contests. Baby Cakes oatmeal stout has also won professional beer competitions and is still on tap at Walking Tree.
He kept getting better at making beer, and he wasn’t happy at all as a manager at a lumber yard in Fort Pierce. Brooke says she told him, “We can be married and happy or we can be married and be slaves to things we don’t like to do.” She adds, “We decided to do something we love so we kind of jumped all-in to this, probably a little earlier than we should have because we were really, really, really broke there” for a couple of years ahead of the brewery’s opening.
The massive building offers room to grow, which Mike says is easier than finding another location to expand. There is the capacity to make 4,000 barrels per year, and they are expected to brew 2,200 barrels this year.
Kegs of Walking Tree beers are distributed on Florida’s East Coast from Martin County to north of Flagler County; all of Central Florida, including the major market of Orlando; and the Gulf Coast from Collier County to north of the Tampa-St. Petersburg area. The Malones say they hope to start canning and bottling by the end of 2019, starting with White Walking Tree IPA.
ORCHID ISLAND BREWERY, 2855 Ocean Drive, Vero Beach. 772.205.2436. Opened August 2014. Taps: 16, including 1 or 2 guest taps, the rest are products made on site. Kitchen on site Michael’s Table at OIB.
Every spot on the Treasure Coast Wine & Ale Trail pays homage to the local area, from the beverages they produce to the looks of their pubs and tasting rooms. Orchid Island Brewery pronounces local fare in their beers with Indian River fruit, including some grown on the barrier island where the brewery is located. Some of the brews use small portions of ocean water.
The water used to make OIB beer comes from the air with “a glorified humidifier,” says Alden Bing, who owns OIB with his wife, Valerie.
It is difficult to get good water for brewing without spending a lot on distilled water, which has a higher mineral content than the water in OIB’s machine. Bing says on humid days, his machine can make 100 gallons of water with a low two-parts-per-million mineral content. Reverse osmosis creates water that is 20 ppm mineral content, he says.
“It doesn’t get more local” than getting water from the air, much of it probably evaporated ocean water, Bing says.
OIB celebrates its “Grove to Glass” project by using local fruit, including some grown on the barrier island on which the brewery sits.
Alden was on a trip to craft beer haven Asheville, North Carolina, in 2002 when he had his first Two Hearted Ale made by Bell’s, a brewery in Michigan that began in the 1980s. He was hooked on high-quality brews. It was at his bachelor party that he asked his best man, Alan Dritenbas, who later co-founded Walking Tree Brewery, to make a Two Hearted Ale clone.
It proved popular at one of the area’s first craft breweries and got Bing thinking about opening his own brewery.
Orchid Island makes about 300 barrels (9,300 gallons) a year, of which about 10 percent is distributed through Brown Distributing.
Star Ruby is far and away the most popular brew that Orchid Island makes, accounting for half its production.
AMERICAN ICON BREWERY, 1133 19th Place, Vero Beach. 772.934.4266. Opened October 2017. Kitchen on site. Taps: 24, all with products made on site.
American Icon Brewery is on the site of the old Vero Beach Municipal Power Plant built in 1926. It was the city’s only power source until 1958, then served as a backup power source. The plant was vacated in 1995. One of the six diesel generators that provided power now serves as the centerpiece of American Icon at its main bar. The other five are still in use after being sold to developing nations, the brewery’s website says.
Most brewers have to choose whether to locate in an industrial or suburban district to get enough space for parking, which loses the advantages of having a walkable downtown spot. On two acres, the old power plant site allows American Icon to have both.
The building was named to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1999. Developer and owner of American Icon Brewery, Michael R. Rechter, bought the site in June 2016. After a $6 million renovation, including installation of the brewing equipment, American Icon opened in October 2017.
American Icon has seating for 312 people, making it the largest brew pub on the Treasure Coast. Still, it maintains the friendliness and warmth expected of craft brew pubs. It employs the most of any Treasure Coast brewery at 80 employees.
“We’re trying to keep that authentic feel you come to a craft brewery for. We have a full-service kitchen, but it is all about the beer. That’s what we live by,” says General Manager Joe Giquinto.
American Icon distributes some of its beers between Titusville and Stuart. It is looking to expand its distribution footprint south to Fort Lauderdale, where it already has a tasting room near downtown. Its most popular beer is American Icon IPA.
ISLAMORADA BEER COMPANY, 3200 St. Lucie Blvd., Fort Pierce. Opened August 2016. Taps: 18 with rotating flavors, all made by Islamorada. No kitchen on site. Phone: 305.508.9093. Website: https://www.islamoradabeerco.com
Islamorada Beer Company began in the Florida Keys, opening its brewery and pub in Islamorada in October 2014. The brewery was too small for the company’s distribution plans, so its four owners scouted for a larger location. The four college buddies at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton decided on its Fort Pierce location because of its proximity to the confluence of I-95 and Florida’s Turnpike.
Initially, there were only beer-brewing plans for Fort Pierce, but the space they found in an industrial area was large enough to afford a tap room, says Islamorada Events Manager Dana Collada.
Using a 30-barrel system, the Fort Pierce location makes the beer that is distributed around most of Florida. Islamorada’s reach is all of Florida except some of the western counties in the Panhandle, she says. Expected production for 2019 is 12,000 barrels, up from 8,000 barrels last year. It is the largest producer among the 10 area breweries.
“We don’t export out of Florida, in part because of the differences in laws between the states,” Collada says. “Plus, our beers are on the lighter side and the farther north you go, the people want their heavier beers.
“Drinking in the sun is one of our mottos, so we try to keep it light. We market to boaters and people having fun outside,” she says.
Its beers include Channel Marker IPA and Sandbar Sunday, an American wheat ale that was its first brew and remains its best-selling. Islamorada’s largest market is Miami-Fort Lauderdale. But Collada says the sales rep on the Treasure Coast has made it the company’s most successful area as far as placement in restaurants, distributed through Southern Eagle.
SUMMER CRUSH VINEYARD & WINERY, 4200 Johnston Road, Fort Pierce. Opened July 2012. Serves various types of Florida muscadine wines, and a port, all made on site, among other beverages. Snacks available on site. Food trucks are frequently on site. Phone: 772.460.0500.
During the recession of about a decade ago, Gary Roberts’ nursery and landscaping business was flagging. He asked a St. Lucie County extension agent to come out to his property northwest of Fort Pierce and advise him how to make the land profitable. This was about the time Roberts told his wife, Susan, that he was 50 and didn’t have the energy to start and nurture an altogether new business.
“We looked at growing vegetables in little row houses, we looked at growing plants that you can derive alternative fuels from. We looked at a lot of different options.” Finally, on his last visit, he was walking back to his car when he threw up his hands and said, “What about a winery?”
Roberts studied the winery business in Florida and beyond. Eventually, he adapted ideas from others and came up with his own. He visited 26 wineries before opening his own. He hired a business consultant after he decided to have a vineyard and winery but before planting grapes.
“He told me that there were two things that I must do,” Roberts says. “First, he told me to plant some palm trees. I said I’ve never seen a winery with palm trees, and he said every one of them would have them if they could. Second, he said that people have to know what I’m like, how I am, by visiting this place.”
So Summer Crush has classic surfboards, palm trees, and one of the most popular music venues on the Treasure Coast. That goes with tours of the vineyards, wine-making building and a lively tasting room.
But what sets Summer Crush apart is its 6,500-square-foot pavilion that serves as a gathering place for high school reunions and wedding receptions but mainly as a music venue for local and touring acts. About 450 people can sit in the pavilion. Roberts is proud that national acts have played at the pavilion, including Little River Band, Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee John Anderson, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and John Ford Coley.
Original Beach Boys member David Marks played the Summer Crush stage and told Roberts that it is his favorite place to perform, Roberts says.
PIERCED CIDERWORKS, 411 N. 2nd Street, Fort Pierce. Opened February 2018. Cider maker. No kitchen on site. Food trucks Thursday through Sunday. Phone: 772.302.3863. Website: http://www.piercedciderworks.com
Pierced Ciderworks is located in a building that is nearly 120 years old, which began as a home and studio for photographer Harry Hill. Before owner Jon Nolli opened the cidery there, the three buildings were the original site of Sailfish Brewing Company.
The site, across from the house once owned by artist A.E. “Bean” Backus, was remade to become a brewery and then remade again by Nolli.
“I stole (ideas) from what looked cool, and came up with some of my own,” says Nolli, who owns a more traditional bar in Wellington in Palm Beach County called JoJo’s Raw Bar & Grill.
He ended up creating an offbeat spot at Pierced Ciderworks with a heavy industrial feel.
He hired Chris Hale and Gina Capparelli at Colonial Metalworks in Fort Pierce to make the industrial bar stools after he saw a chair they made that Nolli says “turned the whole project around.”
Nolli says he didn’t want tile, wood or vinyl flooring and wasn’t sure what to do until Hale convinced him to try metal. So, after making 40 metal chairs, Colonial butted pieces of metal together over wooden flooring and screwed and glued them down. Funny thing, says Nolli, is that glass bounces rather than breaks when it hits his metal floor.
“In a year and a half, we’ve broken maybe a half dozen glasses,” he says.
He kept giving Hale and Capparelli rusty pieces of metal that they put together and are now spread across the property. “Even the sign out front. They said, ‘We made this and if you don’t like it, you don’t have to buy it.’”
Of course, he bought the sign, and it sits in front of Pierced Ciderworks today.
Nolli says he was on a mission to bring cider making to Florida. He sent a buddy to attend a course on making cider in Washington state. The buddy called Nolli to say, “Don’t hire me, hire Chelsea.”
Chelsea Luper had learned the trade at a startup cidery in Washington. Soon, Nolli got her and her husband to visit, and she was hired as the cider maker at Pierced Ciderworks.
The cidery has the ability to make up to 6,000 gallons annually, and its products, particularly its ’Merica Dry, an English cider, are on tap at about half of the other stops on the Wine & Ale Trail. Nolli says a blackberry cider called Purple Drank is a popular one.
SAILFISH BREWING COMPANY, 130 N. 2nd Street, Fort Pierce. Opened April 2013. Kitchen on site, The Crafted Pie. Taps: 23 including 22 of beers made on site. Phone: 772.577.4382. Website: https://sailfishbrewingco.com
This is the oldest craft brewery on the Treasure Coast that remains in business. Two short-lived ones, both at the same location in Stuart, came and went, one in the late 1990s and another closed about a dozen years ago.
Still, most people refer to Sailfish Brewing Company as the first Treasure Coast craft brewer.
Sailfish is also the most widely distributed of local brewers, as some of its products are available statewide.
Sailfish opened in 2013 on the site of what is now Pierced Ciderworks. It moved to its current location in downtown Fort Pierce where there once was a J.C. Penney department store. That department store once served as an anchor of downtown retail businesses, says David BuShea, Sailfish co-founder and president. He’s proud that he helped form the Downtown Business Association in 2018. The present location opened in February 2017 after several months as a production facility.
The granddaddy of Treasure Coast brewing, at only seven years old, was started by BuShea and two friends who also were construction managers before brewing, Nick Bishoff and Mike Sturgis. The trio scouted locations from Vero Beach to Stuart. BuShea says Fort Pierce city officials smoothed their path, helping them decide to locate there.
Production for 2019 will be 7,200 barrels, which is triple that of 2018, BuShea says. He hopes that production capacity will be increased to 9,600 barrels annually. Kegs make up 70 percent of Sailfish’s production, and cans 30 percent. BuShea says the target is to make that split 60-40 keg to can sales. Its three most popular beers are Sunrise City IPA, White Marlin Belgian Wit and Tag & Release Amber.
Sailfish has a large rectangular bar that can seat about 50, in addition to the tables inside and on a patio that fronts Second Street.
HOP LIFE BREWING COMPANY, 679 N.W. Enterprise Drive, Port St. Lucie. Opened July 2017. Taps: 22, of which 18 are of products made on site. No kitchen on site. Food trucks on site every day. Phone: 772.249.5055.
Hop Life Brewing has ample room for outdoor parties, and while there is also plenty of space inside, its owners are ready to expand at its industrial park location in St. Lucie West near the ballpark where the New York Mets have spring training.
A converted fruit juice warehouse affords 23-foot ceilings and seating for 80. Another 50 seats are outside. The tables inside are thick enough to be in a German Biergarten. They were custom-made by a local carpenter.
Among its brews are Reel Lite, a “light and refreshing cross between an ale and a lager,” according to Hop Life’s beer menu, Twin Buoys Blonde Ale and Fire Hog Red Lager. The best-selling beer is a German-style sour beer, Puckard, a pineapple mango gose.
Like many craft brewery owners, Jim Kelly and Rob Tearle began with home brew kits and friends loved their beers as they steadily gained knowledge and expertise in the brewing art.
Hop life began as an apparel company in 2011, founded by Kelly, in order to preserve the name that every beer drinker can relate to, and to fund the brewery. In 2012, Tearle joined and in 2016 another partner, Jeff Blitman, joined. So, all three were on board when the brewery opened in 2017.
Kelly and Tearle were career firefighters, which explains why their logo is a version of the Maltese Cross used by most U.S. fire departments. Firefighters from around the country have already inquired about leaving their patches for a display at Hop Life, Tearle says.
Hop Life’s 2019 production is expected to be 1,300 barrels, or about 40,000 gallons, up from 1,000 barrels, or 31,000 gallons, in 2018.
Hop Life is among the brewers on the Treasure Coast that distribute products with Southern Eagle Distributing.
Among its events are “Dirty Singo Bingo” nights that pack the house, led by a comedic transvestite.
Hop Life celebrated its two-year anniversary and Octoberfest on Oct. 5.
SIDE DOOR BREWING COMPANY, 1419 S.E. Village Green Drive, Port St. Lucie. Opened December 2015. Taps: 19, of which 18 pour products made on site. No kitchen on site. Food can be delivered; food trucks occasionally on site. Phone: 772.249.0065.
Dwayne Buchholz celebrates the end of Prohibition every time he says the name of his business, Side Door Brewing Company. It was not a coincidence that Side Door opened on Dec. 5, 2015, in a small shopping center not far from U.S. 1 in Port St. Lucie. Dec. 5, 1933, Prohibition was repealed. Side Door is named for the many “blind pigs,” bars and saloons that kept low profiles by not having signs or even front doors, knowing customers entering through a side door.
When Buchholz arrived in St. Lucie County from Portland, Oregon, he was surprised by the lack of not only craft brew pubs but craft beer available at stores, restaurants or bars. He says he figured that if he cannot purchase the type of beers he had gotten used to, he would make his own. After only two or three batches, the man who had always been self-employed decided a craft brewery and pub would be his next business venture. Just over a decade later, Side Door opened.
Its motto is “We Know You’re Thirsty. Drink Local.”
Side Door is one of the smaller breweries on the Treasure Coast. It has recently been making 30 barrels a month.
“We produced 158 different flavors and styles of beer last year,” says Buchholz. “Some were greeted with enthusiasm and were overwhelmingly consumed with excitement, others perhaps not so much. But through the years of fun and ‘trial and error’ experimentation, our number one selling beer is a coffee porter that we call Jittery.”
Mug Club memberships are available for $100, which gives members half-price beer for a year.
“You drink three beers a month and you have savings for the year,” Buchholz says. “People in our Mug Club consume considerably more than that.”
OCEAN REPUBLIC BREWING, 1630 S.E. Federal Highway, Stuart. Opened July 2019. Taps: 14. Kitchen on site. Phone: 772.600.5596.
Martin County was without a craft brewery and pub since the second such business on the Treasure Coast, Monkey King Brewery & Floribbean Grill, shut more than a decade ago, amid the Great Recession. Several existing craft brewers in the area said they were thinking of locating in Martin County, but the local laws were too onerous. Zoning laws were eased a bit last year, and the married team of Amanda and Chris Cischke opened their doors on July 26.
Chris says it took two years to come up with his brewery’s name, which reflects the oceanside lifestyle of Stuart.
“I’ve been told our bar is the longest in Florida. It’s 83-feet long, made of poured concrete and colored an ocean blue,” says Chris.
In addition to the usual craft beer game, Cornhole, there is a giant chalkboard which children are encouraged to use. It’s the first thing one sees upon entering Ocean Republic.
“We get tons of families,” Chris says of the early days of his business. “Last weekend, we must have had 10 to 15 infants in there. People got a baby on the hip and a mug in the opposite hand.”
The official grand opening, Sept. 28, marked the start of Octoberfest for Ocean Republic.
Cischke moved to the Treasure Coast about 15 years ago from suburban Detroit. He’s proud of Ocean Republic’s full kitchen and its dishes made from scratch. The fall menu listed appetizers such as fig and bacon flatbread, short rib poutine, and mac and cheese eggrolls. The main courses include Korean style fried chicken, jerk pork chops and blackened shrimp and grits.
Ocean Republic opened with a seven-barrel brewing system and a capacity of 200 people.