Written by Beer.Bodhi.
It was a blazing hot summer day in Florida when we feel in love – craft beer and I. A rather romantic story that is still being spontaneously written.
You see for years I had been foolishly chasing after beer with character and charisma in all of the wrong places. Whether I was in the dive bar sipping on a light pilsner paired with corn dogs or eating out at a steakhouse chain and enjoying a 22-ounce freezing cold mug of icey low calorie lager – I had no idea just how lost I was.
Then I was found.
Jason LeMay, a former alligator wrestler turned brewery tour guide, organized a private shuttle headed straight for heaven’s gate itself, Funky Buddha Brewery.
Known notoriously as the Firkin Man, LeMay stormed into an exploding industry with guns a blazing and plenty of room for thirsty beer geeks to tag along. In 2015 Jason and his wife Nicole opened Southwest Florida Brewery Tours for business. At the time there were only a handful of breweries in the area, but with the industry growing larger each year Jason is obtaining his goal of truly creating craft beer connoisseurs through his wide variety of tour routes. Graciously invited by Jason and his wife, it was the SWFL Brewery Tour bus that brought me to the beginning of a passionate relationship with craft beer.
Flash forward a year later to present day. Southwest Florida is being recognized in more beer competitions and beer festivals than ever before with even more breweries on the way before the close of the year. So what is a craft beer geek like myself to do when I want to tackle a few of those bad boys in one day? Call the Firkin Man of course!
I was invited to attend a tour with Jason and his guests and my obvious answer was HELL YES. I have to admit though, as friendly as I may sound through the power of the written word I can be quite the awkward introvert in person – especially when it comes to meeting complete strangers. So I was a little nervous, anxious and excited all in the same stroke.
I arrived at our starting point, Momentum Brewhouse in Bonita Springs. Today I was traveling with Jason and a couple of high school sweethearts who were clearly ready for the kids to spend the day with grandma and grandpa. We discussed craft beer fanciness over a hand-picked flight chosen by Jason himself. In rhythm with the bar staff, he went down the line up -describing each and every detail about each beer that every craft beer snob and newbie can appreciate. After exchanging small talk and snacking a popcorn palette cleanser we head to the back where we took a look into Momentum’s brewing operations and equipment. We even got some hands on learning experience with their owner and brewmaster, Brian Hahn, doing a gravity test of their White IPA.
The drive in-between was time easily passed with some casual conversation about beer and “this one time..” stories. There was nothing short of laughter flowing out of the bus as we swerved into stop number two – Fort Myers Brewing Company.
Our elder brewery – opened in 2013 – was pouring classic IPA’s and hoppy Red Ale’s to the neighboring regulars inhibiting the area. They waved and smiled as we walked up to the bar, gazing up at their projected tap list on the wall in awe as Jason assembled another superhero worthy flight for our enjoyment. We were escorted back to where the magic happens and seated accordingly at a picnic table smack dab in the middle of their brewing system and palettes filled with shiny kegs ready for shipment. We studied their massive fermenter tanks and hung off of every interesting fact Jason shared with us about the brewery’s past, present and future.
Annie and Joe snacked on a bacon-cheeseburger nuzzled in between two glazed donut buns from the Mofo’s Food Truck as we wrapped it up at FMB and headed straight for SWFL’s island life inspired brewery – Point Ybel Brewing Company.
We stepped into a mixed crowd at the bar, they were wearing button down Tommy Bahama shirts and SANIBEL ISLAND, FL hats with little palm trees on them, sun dresses, beach shorts and flip-flops. Reggae and rock flowed out from the speakers almost making me want to sway back and fourth like a palm tree…or maybe it was just the beer. Jason ordered our final flight and we headed back to the “hurricanes”, Point Ybel’s fermenter tanks, all named in remembrance of Florida’s past hurricanes. We were told the ancient legend of their big-foot like island monster, The Yowie, as we sipped their Session IPA and wrapped up a day of craft beer filled shenanigans.
Everything became a little bittersweet on the trip back. Even though our day was coming to an end, further exploration of the craft beer world had just begun. The Johnson’s talked about how they couldn’t wait to visit Naples Beach Brewery and swing by No.3 Craft Brews and Beer Bar in Cape Coral – and as for myself – I was determined to tour as many craft breweries as my lifetime allowed.
SWFL Brewery Tours is a crucial addition to the rapidly growing craft beer industry in our area. Not only do the LeMay’s give you the grand opportunity to appreciate all that is Southwest Florida, they are also ensuring that our economy and our breweries are constantly thriving. SWFL Brewery Tours is the portrait of community support and continues to receive business from existing tap rooms and future breweries.
Thinking about visiting the area? Make sure the first item you check-off is booking your brewery tour. Check out their route varieties at SWFLBreweryTours.com or even book a private party for you and your friends to get the ultimate brewery experiences.