Jacksonville’s craft beer scene has exploded over the past decade, with new breweries opening and established ones dealing with the challenges of a growing business.
That was the topic Tuesday at the Economic Roundtable of Jacksonville meeting at the Jacksonville University Davis College of Business.
Bold City Brewery, nearly a decade old, is feeling those growing pains with a new Downtown taproom on East Bay Street and the expansion of its distribution network.
Founded in 2008 by mother and son business partners Susan and Brian Miller, the brand today employs 22 people and sells in much of North and Central Florida.
“We’re thinking of going north into Georgia next,” Susan Miller said. “But that’s a lot harder than it sounds.”
She said Bold City’s distribution remains focused on its three core brand beers: Duke’s Cold Nose Brown Ale, Killer Whale Cream Ale and Mad Manatee IPA.
It also sells seasonal and experimental concoctions at its Bay Street taproom and its 2670-7 Rosselle St. distribution center, brewery and taproom.
The Bay Street location has a small three-barrel brewing system that allows the staff to “create whatever they want,” Miller said. “We just couldn’t do those types of experiments in a large production facility.”
In August, the Rosselle Street location temporarily was shut down by the fire marshal because of a Certificate of Use violation.
Miller said the taproom reopened a few days later and the brewery is working with the city to make the necessary updates to other space that remains shuttered.
“We’re open, thankfully,” she said. “Nothing’s changed as far as that’s concerned.”
Miller said one of the biggest changes in the industry today is major grocers and other retailers now embracing local brewers.
“Before it was, ‘how do we get into a Publix,’ ” Miller said. “Now the question is, ‘how do we keep our shelf space.’ ”
Miller said that’s good and bad.
“There are a lot of local breweries like us in just about every place in Florida,” she said. “So not only are we competing for shelf space in this market, we’re challenged by other local brands in those other areas trying to do the same thing.”
Joining Miller was Veterans United Craft Brewery President Ron Gamble, who founded the South Jacksonville operation in 2014.
After a career flying in the U.S. Navy, followed by launching and selling several successful startup companies, Gamble said he settled on opening a brewery in Jacksonville because it felt like the right time and place.
“This market is so underdeveloped when it comes to beer,” said Gamble, who spent a decade working his way up at a New England-area brewery before opening Veterans United.
“That’s certainly changing, but there’s still so much room for growth,” he said.
Both Bold City and Veterans are categorized as packaging or regional breweries, where they produce mass quantities of product for distribution.
A growing trend across Jacksonville has been the rise of nanobreweries and brewpubs, which often produce limited quantities for consumption on-site.
Gamble said that while some craft beer brands have the goal of eventually selling to a larger company, the small neighborhood brewpubs and nanobreweries tend to prefer the small-scale production.
Unlike the larger regional breweries, “you’ll find them in more of the ‘Main Street’ area of town versus the industrial areas,” he said.
“The successful ones become an important part of the community they’re in,” Gamble said. “It’s a different business model.”
Gamble said the scale of his brewery, at 8999 Western Way in South Jacksonville, “doesn’t allow us to be in a small facility.”
One question surrounding Jacksonville’s craft beer industry is saturation.
In 2017, the city welcomed Hyperion Brewing Co. in Springfield, Bottlenose Brewing in Tinseltown, and Atlantic Beach Brewing Co. and Southern Swell at the Beaches. Others are in development.
“I think it’s still a young market compared to where I was at in Boston,” Gamble said. “There’s plenty of room and I think more breweries makes us a tourist destination.”
Council passes budget and more
In addition to passing a $1.273 billion annual budget, City Council attended to other business Tuesday night.
Council passed Ordinance 2017-516, which allows the city and the Downtown Investment Authority to sell surplus Water Quality Compensatory Credits within Downtown.
The city has 184.9 acres of surplus credits that can be used to meet water quality requirements, like retention ponds or other stormwater facilities, for future projects.
The DIA and the city now can sell the credits to developers looking for incentives to move projects along.
Also, another vacant Downtown property is seeking to be rezoned for redevelopment.
Robert van Winkel of Jacksonville Hospitality Holdings LP wants to rezone the former Park View Inn site at 901 N. Main St. to planned use development, or PUD, for a four-story, 82-unit multifamily housing development.
PUD zoning allows for a mix of retail, office, hotel space, restaurant or other uses.
An accompanying bill would change the future land use designation of the property from community/general commercial to high-density residential.