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South Florida's brewing buzz

There's yellow, tasteless mass-produced beer, and then there's Mexican Standoff from Due South Brewing Company. Mexican Standoff's flavor comes in waves, first with cinnamon, then chocolate, followed by spicy chili pepper.

The beer and brewery are part of a craft-beer revolution that's taken hold of South Florida. When Mike Halker, an Army bomb squad veteran, opened Due South in 2012 in a 15,000-square-foot warehouse in Boynton Beach, he could count on one hand the number of microbreweries dotting the landscape.

On Monday, May 11, that number will shoot up to 14 with the launch of Boynton's Copperpoint Brewing Company. Copperpoint will add to the expansion of brews bottled and canned locally, then distributed across bars, restaurants and stores here and beyond. Five more breweries plan to open before the end of the year: 26th Degree Brewing Company and Bangin' Banjo Brewing in Pompano Beach; Wild Oak Artisan Ales and Devour Brewing Company in Boynton Beach; and 3 Sons Brewing Company in Dania Beach.

"There's room for a whole lot more breweries," says Halker, who also heads the Florida Brewers Guild. "We're still only 3 to 4 percent of the beer market in the state of Florida."

Halker will mark Due South's third birthday with an anniversary party on May 16, a day that also falls during American Craft Beer Week, a congressionally sanctioned consumer holiday created to toast small breweries. From May 11 to May 17, breweries will pour flagship and limited-release suds, host beer dinners, and stage tap takeovers and crawls at bars that sell their microbrews.

Unlike brewpubs that make and sell beer inside their restaurants, such as Big Bear Brewing Company in Coral Springs and Brewzzi in Boca Raton, microbreweries sell at least 75 percent of their products offsite, according to the nonprofit trade group Brewers' Association. Data tallied by the association at the end of 2013 shows that 66 craft-beer breweries in Florida added $875.8 million to the economy.

But until the recent microbrewery surge, South Florida lagged behind the rest of the country, says John Linn, marketing manager at Funky Buddha Brewery in Oakland Park.

"We were playing catch-up, but we're at a point right now where craft-beer breweries are just exploding," Linn says. "We're at a point where demand is far outstripping supply. There's on average a brewery within 10 miles of every person in South Florida. Breweries build brand loyalty, too. The people who've tried craft beer in Wynwood, they'll be checking out Due South and Funky Buddha now."

For Halker, as the craft-beer market has grown, more neophyte brewers have approached him for advice.

"A lot of new guys come to me, because of the guild, mostly, and they'll go, 'What do you think?' And I'll say, "Just remember your beer's going to be on the shelf next to mine.' Not everybody's doing well, because not everybody's making great beer. That's the key."

But running a microbrewery may become easier than ever thanks to the just-ended legislative session in Tallahassee. Awaiting Gov. Rick Scott's signature are two laws, to take effect July 1 and including a bill legalizing 64-ounce growlers, or half-gallon jugs that beer drinkers can refill in taprooms. (Florida already allows 32- and 128-ounce growlers.) Another bill caps the number of taproom licenses a single brewer can hold at eight.

"It sets my mind at ease about opening a taproom, definitely. It's a great thing for the industry," Linn says. "A lot of breweries were annoyed and frustrated [about the growler bill]. A stupid law was in place to sell gallons of beer at once, just not 64 ounces. But, it got the public excited about what craft breweries are fighting for, and everyone loves an underdog story, right?" Linn says.

Peter Schnebly opened Schnebly Redland's Winery in 2004 and Miami Brewing Company in 2012. The brewery has seen such phenomenal growth that come August, a 10,000-square-foot taproom will open, replacing the corner bar inside the tasting room where visitors sip wines made from tropical fruit.

"The greatest thing about breweries is that they're mom-and-pop operations," Schnebly says. "It's not this big conglomerate. Everything about it is about America, where we're proud of, entrepreneurship. We're taking away business from big multinationals whose profit goes overseas. I don't think in the history of this country, you've seen something like this happening. It's not just happening in Silicon Valley."

pvalys@southflorida.com; @philvalys

jtanasychuk@southflorida.com; @floridaeats

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