Since opening its doors in 1996, Dunedin Brewery has maintained a foothold in Dunedin’s live music scene. As the years passed and surrounding venues fell by the wayside, Florida’s oldest family-owned microbrewery has become a vital component of Dunedin’s musical landscape and active staple of the greater Tampa Bay area scene.
Lately, the brewery has ramped up its live music offerings, nurturing and showcasing emerging area talent, local vets and those somewhere in between, along with Florida-bred artists and some nationally touring acts, too. Credit Mike Bryant, who manages the brewery (his dad is owner Michael Bryant, Sr.), and books the acts that come through it three nights a week. He says he didn’t have much booking experience when he became general manager nearly four years ago but he soldiered on, resolute. “I pretty much said I would do whatever it took to make sure the place didn’t topple over by switching out the management. A big part of that was definitely the music, because it had really become a spot for people to see live music.”
I chatted with Bryant while he was on the tail end of a trip repping Dunedin Brewery for its second year in a row at the 26th annual Oregon Brewers Festival, one of the largest beer fests in the country, drawing upward of 80,000 people to downtown Portland. He and master brewer Trace Caley drove a few dozen kegs across the country during their five-week “FL-Oregon Trail” road trip so they could take personal part in it and pour samples of the Sub Tropical IPA they’d specially brewed for the occasion. “We tried to do it so that it represents Florida, since we’re the first Florida brewery to even be out at the fest and participating.” Last year’s recipe featured orange peel; the 2013 IPA recipe included grapefruit, pink peppercorns and toasted coconut for what Bryant described as a “berry, spicy grapefruit flavor.”
Interestingly enough, Bryant says that although he was raised in an environment conducive to brew appreciation, he didn’t really become interested in beer until he moved away from Dunedin. Several years of attending Evergreen State College in Olympia, and tooling around the craft brew communities of Portland and the greater Northwest, helped change his mind. “That pretty much solidified my passion for beer,” he explains. By the time he returned to Dunedin, he was primed and ready to usher in a new era at the brewery, which included ramping up the music and growing the audience for it. “I actually prefer music over beer myself. Beer has always been a secondary thing for me, even though I take it very seriously.”
The Wednesday night open jams hosted by musician and educator Ben Plott have gone a long way toward cultivating the small but active group of area players that have sprouted up around the brewery in bands like Plott’s own One Sun, Between Bluffs and Shoeless Soul. “They actually have a really big family now, where they welcome each other to sit in for songs, or swap players for a set, and just kind of see where the evening takes them.”
Plott teaches aspiring young musicians how to write and play music in a band format, so they learn to work together as a team, and this seems to inform his role at the jams. “He’s really taken it into a whole other realm,” Bryant insists. “He’s got a knack for putting players together that haven’t played together before, and leading them in such a way that you can’t even tell. That kind of gels with the jam scene ethic but also helps get musicians to collaborate and break down their boundaries.”
With fall on the horizon, preparations for seasonal brewing have begun and plans for the next big event — Oktobeerfest 2013 — are underway. The street in front of Dunedin Brewery will be closed off for the event, a dozen or so kegs will be cracked open, and an extra stage set up outdoors. According to Bryant, “It’s a full weekend of live original music and creativity with beer.”
Mark Your Calendar: Oktobeerfest 2013, Thurs.-Sun., Oct. 3-6, bands and brews TBA, dunedinbrewery.com.