Lakeland taps into growing craft beer industry

New Brew Hub expected to open in May 2014

LAKELAND, Fla. - Craft beer lovers in the Lakeland area used to have to drive to get their fix, but now it appears the beer is coming to them.

With lagers like "Hotter than Helles," and dark stouts like "Midnight Oil," the craft beer scene continues to grow in central Florida.

"I think Lakeland was pretty much like, 'Boom!' And it just blew up," said Tim Jones, General Manager of The Brass Tap in Lakeland.

In the last month, The Brass Tap opened a new location at the Lakeside Village.

The craft beer bar offers 70 taps and countless bottles from around the globe and here in Florida.

Of all six locations, they say this one has gotten the biggest reception.

Beer lovers say it's because they have been thirsty.

"There are a lot of people who have been waiting for craft beer in Lakeland and have been driving a far distance to get it," said Dave Walter, Found of the Lakeland Craft Beer group.

Earlier this year, Walter created the group to help aficionados navigate the growing trend.

"it's developing it's own little wine subculture," he said.

Soon, the region will get access to an even bigger selection of craft beer.

Brew Hub, a co-operative production and distribution center, announced it will open a brand new brewery in an industrial park just off I-4. It'll basically act as a one-stop shop for microbrews looking to grow.

The brewery will have an initial brewing capacity of 75,000 barrels, or one million cases per year.

"Our studies and analytics show that in the central part of the state, particularly in the Tampa-Lakeland area, consumers are demanding more craft beers and more styles," said Tim Schoen, CEO of Brew Hub. "From that perspective, Brew Hub will address some of those pent-up demands."

Brew Hub was founded in 2012 by former Anheuser-Busch executives. The company picked Lakeland for the first of five plants it has planned across the country.

It should be fully operational by May of 2014. Plans call for a tasting room and retail store.

"It's a hot time for craft beer, and Lakeland, we're feeling the effects of that," said Kevin Cook, spokesman for the City of Lakeland.

He said other breweries are also talking about moving to Lakeland, but those discussions are preliminary.

It means the frothy specialties will keep on coming.

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