How Florida's Craft Brewers are Coping with Climate Change
Increasingly dangerous tropical storms are a major threat to small brewers in the state.
On this week’s episode of Beerland, Golden Road beer honcho Meg Gill is in Florida when her brewery visit plans get derailed by Hurricane Irma. We asked beer writer Kenny Gould to give us some background on how Florida brewers are dealing with climate change and extreme weather. Tune in to Beerland tonight at 10 to see what Meg turns up.
Flying Boat Brewery wasn’t getting lucky.
The brewery, founded in St. Petersburg, Florida, in April of 2017, had weathered Hurricane Irma as well as possible. It had opened as a shelter to family, friends, and neighbors, hosting some 30 people and pets. But after the winds receded, it was left without power for almost a week.
“Our coolers retained temperature for four days, but we ended up losing eighty kegs,” said co-owner and tasting room manager Tanner Zakany. “It was a tough thing to go through in our first year.”
Just up the road, veteran Green Bench Brewing Company made it through without losing any product, but even they didn’t escape unscathed.
“We only lost power for an hour,” said head brewer and co-owner Khris Johnson. “But I’d cancelled production on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, so we lost the production time.”
In Jacksonville, Intuition Ale Works suffered from intense flooding. But the worst damage was in Southern Florida, which took the brunt of the winds that hit the continental US.
“We planned ahead so we didn’t lose a drop of beer,” said Bob Billany, Production Manager at Miami-based M.I.A. Beer Company. “But sales were affected dramatically. It dropped off distribution wise. Especially anything south of here—the Keys got hurt pretty bad. It took a while for those guys to get back up and running, and it took tourists a while after that.”
“The week before and even a month or two after, we were feeling the ramifications of the hurricane,” echoed Zakany. “As far as business in the tasting room, we’re just at a point now where we’re finally starting to see what we were pre-Irma.”
With warming waters, hurricanes are becoming increasingly common in Florida, which faced five major hurricanes this season, including three Category 5 storms, the most on record since the late 1800s. This presents a problem for Florida brewers, whose businesses rely on stable temperatures, the regular delivery of supplies, and—for a lot of people—uninterrupted distribution.
Although every brewer with whom I spoke seemed personally worried about the effect of increasingly erratic weather patterns on the future of their industry, there didn’t seem to be an industry consensus on how to address the problem.
“To be honest with you, it doesn’t seem like it’s scaring that many people,” said Johnson. “Storms happen all the time. I think the basic consensus is that it is what it is.”
Part of the problem stems from the Florida’s industry’s youth; unlike Oregon or North Carolina, the laws that Florida breweries face are from the 1960s. It can take all of a brewery’s resources just to make sure they’re properly adhering to regulations. As a result, said Johnson, “Sustainability and conservation aren’t systems that have been implemented in Florida yet.”
Others worry about the effect that taking a stance on climate change might have on a small business.
“As brewers, we try to stay out of the politics,” said Billany. “You don’t need to alienate any of your customer base. You don’t talk politics in the bar business.”
Still, most Floridians acknowledge the debilitating effects of bad weather—caused by climate change or not—on their businesses, and recognize they’ll need to take action eventually. If the industry is going to move past reactionary measures and seek more preventative solutions, they need to form a united front. This year, Florida brewers held their first ever Florida Brewers Conference, which was a step in the right direction. In order to solve the problem more substantively, local government will likely need to update the legislature governing Florida’s craft beer industry, and the brewers themselves need to take advantage of craft beer’s famous collaborative spirit to address a problem that threatens them all.