Behind the Beer
The Story Behind Cigar City Brewing
MEET THE NEIGHBORS ~ SHOP LOCAL at Cigar City Brewing! Meet the heart and soul, and creative minds behind Cigar City Brewing, handcrafting award-winning beer in the Tampa Bay area since 2009:
Joey Redner, Founder & CEO Founder and CEO Joey Redner, a Tampa native and 5th generation Floridian, set out to tell the story of Tampa Bay — through beer. Having spent his whole life in Tampa and being an avid history buff, he was proud of his hometown and wanted his craft brand to embrace the history, culture and cuisine of Tampa as much as he did. He officially launched Cigar City Brewing in 2007.
Wayne Wambles, Brewmaster Redner teamed up with Wayne Wambles, who hails from Alabama and took on the role of Brew master in 2008. His culinary background and previous roles as a head chef inspired him to focus primarily on brewing recipes that would pair exceptionally well with certain cuisines or dishes. He also had valuable brewing experience in the Southeastern U.S. On January 30, 2009, the pair produced the first official commercial batch of Cigar City Brewing beer: 465 gallons of Maduro Brown Ale.
While Redner and Wambles may have approached beer from unique backgrounds and different angles, their two viewpoints fused to create a distinctive craft beer line that encompasses both tropical and Latin influences, much like Tampa’s heritage as well as the state’s history. And one very important aspect the two agreed upon early on was the need to use quality ingredients.
It’s All about the Beer at Cigar City Brewing
Cigar City Brewing often distinguishes itself by its unofficial motto you will see and hear throughout its brewery walls: ‘we make beer we like to drink.’ It sounds simple enough. And there is something uniquely satisfying as a beer consumer to know that you could walk into the brewery’s tasting room on any given night and take a seat at the bar beside the men and women who brew the beer being served every day.
But the story behind the brewery’s beer-making process starts far beyond the barstool. It begins with a commitment to use only first-rate ingredients, and both Redner and Wambles travel across the world frequently to find, assess and acquire these valuable ingredients. They also believe if you place top-of-the-line ingredients in the hands of top-notch people and give them the tools, an encouraging environment and the freedom to pursue their passion, good things will happen. Cigar City Brewing considers its employees and the beer two of those good things to happen when everybody gets brewing…
“Wayne and the team are constantly working on new recipes,” says Neil Callaghan, business development manager for the past five years at the brewing company.
And Wambles will go to great lengths to find them. Recently, the brew master had visited France and Germany for hops, and traveled to Washington state and Oregon before that, all to find the highest quality ingredients.
Cigar City Brewing Is Always Trying Something New
Cigar City Brewing has never shied away from trying something new and different. The brewery is regularly infusing new flavors into its beer, everything from cinnamon and vanilla to citrus, guajillo chili peppers and coffee. Its most popular beer locally, nationally and internationally is their Jai Alai IPA, an India Pale Ale, which makes up about 60% of all production. The brewery has also become well-known for its barrel-aged beers, aged in wooden barrels that previously held wine and spirits.
Cigar City Brewing Quality Controls
Cigar City Brewing follows a standard set of protocols and quality assurance controls in the production of its ales and lagers. For example, the brewery uses no gluten or gluten-derived ingredients in its beers. And most of the beers contain no animal-derived ingredients such as gelatin, casein, isinglass or albumen, unless clearly marked that they are “Brewed with Lactose.” So that’s right: most CCB beer is vegan! The brewing company also makes it a standard practice to stamp a “Packaged On” date at the bottom of each can (or on the bottle’s shoulder) to keep customers informed and ensure the highest quality products on the shelves.
The brewing company has invested a great amount of financial resources, staff and time in its sophisticated Quality Assurance and Quality Control processes with its state-of-the-art beer lab, sensory panel of tasters and intricate battery of analyses which test every batch of Cigar City Brewing beer for its color, flavor, bitterness, aroma, carbonation, stability and other attributes that would contribute or take away from its brand adherence.
“From day one, we’ve had an uncompromising focus on quality,” Callaghan says. “We have one of the most advanced sensory labs in the States. It’s not only about making the most flavorful beer but being able to re-create that recipe, time and time again, and have it be the highest quality and consistent beer.”
What’s Happening at Cigar City Brewing
Since its launch, Cigar City Brewing has brewed over 1,000 different beers and received kudos and awards at beer festivals and competitions across the world including gold, silver and bronze medals at the Great American Beer Festival. The company has grown from a busy duo to over 60 full-time Tampa-based employees with craft beers distributed across 30 states and nearly a dozen international markets.
But the beauty of stepping inside a local craft beer brewery and tasting room or hopping on to their website or Facebook page is having an opportunity to engage, to interact with the people who brew that beer. Cigar City Brewing has a variety of opportunities to engage including brewery tours, the Tasting Room, events throughout the year including special releases, an exclusive Barrel-Aged Club and the official CCB e-newsletter.
Brewing Tours at Cigar City
Guests who stop by Cigar City Brewing can take part in a tour of the production facilities. Tours are $8 per person and include information about the brewing process and history of the brewery, beer samples and a collectible tasting glass. Tours are typically 30-45 minutes and are usually held Wednesdays through Sundays at noon, 1:30 p.m., 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. (Please note that the schedule may be modified due to Covid restrictions.)
The Cigar City Brewing Tasting Room
Visitors who pop into The Tasting Room must be at least 21 years old and be ready to present their ID. The Tasting Room does offer beers, barrel-aged brew to exclusive El Catador club members as well as a small selection and wine and soft drinks.
Traditionally, food trucks have set up near the brewery Thursday through Sunday for tasting room patrons, but Cigar City Brewing is currently remodeling their tasting room to include a full-size kitchen that should be open by late November or early December. News of its official opening will be posted on the brewery’s website and social media pages, as well as here on Destination Tampa Bay.
Special Events & Releases
Throughout the year, Cigar City Brewing may hold a variety of events related to new beer releases or special occasions. However, the brewery’s most acclaimed beer release and signature event occurs on the second Saturday in March. Hunahpu’s Day is an annual one-day celebration of Cigar City Brewing’s Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout, named for a hero in Mayan mythology.
The next Hunahpu’s Day celebration will be held Friday, March 13, 2020 at Amalie Arena from 6-11 p.m. Those interested in not only trying this special brew released exclusively for one day only each year as well as samples from other world class breweries onsite should keep watch for more details as they become available on the CCB website. A ticket to the event enables visitors’ access to bottles of Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout, a commemorative tasting glass, food and entertainment at the event.
“It’s looked at as an anniversary for us,” says Callaghan, who notes the event has drawn as many as 5,000 people from all over the world. “We invite a lot of craft beer friends from around the world and had over 160 other craft breweries pouring their beers beside us last year.”
Destination Tampa Bay will be reminding readers as the date approaches, so look for more about this exciting event next spring.
El Catador…Cigar City’s Exclusive Barrel-Aged Beer Club
El Catador is Cigar City Brewery’s exclusive barrel-aged beer club. Launched in 2013, the club offers devoted fans of the brewery’s barrel-aged beers first access to what can be a limited release given the longer brewing time. Barrel-aged beers have been aged in wooden barrels that previously held wine and spirits. El Catador members receive a long list of benefits, among them seven exclusive bottles of barrel-aged beer not released to the public, special discounts and exclusive access to barrel-aged beer in the Tasting Room.
“The process for making barrel-aged beers takes sometimes over a year. We make such small quantities because it is so labor-intensive, that we really want to focus all of our releases on our most dedicated supporters,” says Callaghan. “When you sign up for the club up front, you get seven bottles never released to the public. This is a great way for us to engage with our most ardent supporters. If they’re excited about a beer, they’re going to let us know, and if they think we should go a different direction with the beer, they’re going to let us know that, too.”
Stay Informed with Cigar City’s Newsletter
The e-newsletter also shines the spotlight on the brewery’s participation in events taking place across the country and the world — from competitions and festivals from southern Virginia all the way over to northern California and on the other side of the globe. The CCB e-newsletter is a great way for craft beer fans to keep up with the brewing company. To learn more or subscribe, click here and scroll to the bottom of the home page.
Fans of Cigar City Brewing not only locally but abroad too can keep up with the brewery’s latest news by subscribing to the Cigar City Brewing e-newsletter. Subscribers will learn about special local events being held in the Tasting Room or elsewhere in the Bay area, get updates about new beer releases or upcoming participation in community fundraisers or local festivals.
Cigar City Brewing ~ Partnering with the Community
Since it first launched, Cigar City Brewing has established a reputation of being a readily available partner — working closely with the City of Tampa, other businesses and organizations; becoming involved with causes near and dear to the hearts of the brewery through support of Bay area nonprofits; and maintaining its role as an industry leader by offering resources, guidance and camaraderie to other local craft breweries.
“Being a part of the local business community has been phenomenal. Joey (Redner) has always had Tampa Bay on his lips whenever he’s talking about his beer,” says Callaghan. “The Tampa Bay business community has embraced us, and we’re incredibly fortunate to be part of such a supportive community.”
Earlier this year, the brewing company announced that it would be partnering with The Tampa Bay Lightning as its official craft beer for the 2019-2020 season. This partnership also means engagement with the various nonprofits and participation in the several fundraisers throughout the season.
Connecting with the community by supporting area charities and other nonprofit organizations serving the Bay area has always been an integral part of the brewing company’s operations. Past participation has included development of a beer for the purpose of cancer research fundraising for the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation, based in Tampa. The brewery has also worked closely to support Southeastern Guide Dogs, with headquarters in nearby Palmetto, and its mission to help train guide dogs for the visually impaired.
Perhaps one of the most distinctive characteristics of this business partner is its willingness to work alongside other craft breweries, here in the Bay area as well as outside the region. As Callaghan explains, it’s a matter of power in numbers. “This is a unique industry in that overall craft beer represents 20% of all beer consumption. There are about 7,200 craft breweries in the U.S. right now, and all of us are sharing 20% of the market. To us, that means the rising tide is going to carry all ships and there is so much room for all of us to grow into the rest of that 80%. It doesn’t benefit us to become combative or not support each other as a community,” he says.
“When we were starting out as a small brewery and had production issues or questions about navigating distribution, we had other craft breweries in the area to call up and ask for advice, and they were nothing but supportive and excited that another brewery was coming in to the area to bring much more attention to craft brewing locally. So, we try to be craft beer stewards the way those earlier breweries were for us.”
One of the ways Cigar City Brewing does this is using its sophisticated beer lab and analysis capabilities. It is not uncommon for the brewery to allow smaller breweries to test samples of their beer through the use of their system to analyze it and improve their quality.
“As long as you’re making good craft beer and you want to help promote what’s happening in the craft beer community, then we want to help you, and that’s a unique aspect of this industry,” Callaghan says.
Why Shop Local at Cigar City Brewing?
“This is a company made up of local people, born and raised in Tampa, people who may live down the street from you, putting blood, sweat and tears into their work at the brew house. That a craft beer consumer in Tampa Bay can sit down at a bar and enjoy a Jai Alai IPA and be able to literally have the guy that brews the beer sit down beside him, that’s such a unique experience.” – Neil Callaghan, Business Development Manager for Cigar City Brewing.
Connect with Cigar City Brewing
Content written by Chris Kuhn for Destination Tampa Bay. Photos courtesy of Cigar City Brewing. Also photo (each) courtesy of Hunahpu’s Day ,The National Pediatric Cancer Foundation, and Beers on Tap Worldwide. All quotes by Neil Callaghan, Business Development Manager for Cigar City Brewing. For other articles check out the History of the Underworld here. You may also want to visit Ybor City with an audio tour learn more here.