In the spring issue, we discussed the idea of Jacksonville forming a lasting national identity. Here’s one that just might stick: Jacksonville, the latest haven for craft beer.
In just a decade, the city has grown from one brewery to sixteen – with at least seven more on the way and no signs of the trend dying down any time soon.
So how did Jax become a craft brewery hot-spot, and can we keep it going long enough to become one of the country’s premier beer cities?
JAX’S BEER HISTORY
While Jacksonville doesn’t boast the most interesting beer history, it did house Florida’s second-ever brewery.
Jax Brewing Company finished work on its production facility at 1429 W. 16th St. in 1913. It put out its first batch of beer in 1914, just four years before the city adopted prohibition laws – and six years before the federal government would join in the… well, “party” doesn’t feel like the right word here.
So for a little over a decade, the company had to bide its time doing other things. It produced ice and other beverages, including “near beer” that had the alcohol boiled out of it. Local speakeasies would buy the “beer” and spike it themselves, which ironically enough probably made the final product stronger than it would’ve been otherwise.
The brewery got back to serving its true purpose right after the end of the prohibition era. Its main product was called Jax Beer, appropriately enough, and was distributed throughout the Southeast.
Jax Brewing Company was bought out in the mid ‘50s, but Jax Beer lived on as a brand – brewed elsewhere – for a few more decades.
While Anheuser-Busch would open a macrobrewery plant on the Northside in 1969 that still operates today, the closure of Jax Brewing Company created a decades-long craft brewery drought in Jacksonville.
WHERE THE MOVEMENT STARTED
The origins of today’s craft brewery scene can be traced back to the 1990s.
It was in the mid ‘90s that River City Brewing Company opened its doors along the Southbank and began their microbrewing operations. At about the same time, Ragtime Tavern in Atlantic Beach also began microbrewing; they’ve since been bought out by a non-Jax based company.
In 1999, Charleston-based Southend Brewery opened at the Landing and managed to last six years there before shutting down.
Changes to state legislation in 2001 – specifically, removing strict limitations on serving sizes for bottled or canned beer – would also make Florida a much more attractive destination for brewers.
Then in 2008, things really got started when Bold City Brewery opened its doors in Riverside. It was Jacksonville’s first full-scale craft brewery, and it was warmly received by the community.
Two years later, Intuition Ale Works opened just down the street, and Engine 15 Brewing Co. opened up along Beach Blvd.
By 2013, Engine 15 had already added a second location on the edges of downtown Jax, and three more breweries had opened.
The beaches became a hot spot for craft beer, along with the area surrounding King St. in Riverside. And the resurgent Springfield neighborhood, once subject of a debate over the presence of craft breweries, is now home to two of them with a third on the way.
The fun has even spread downtown, with Intuition Ale Works’ new location on Bay St. and Bold City Brewery’s tap room next door to Cowford Chophouse.
By next year, the city is likely to boast over twenty craft breweries.
And as a result, beer has become a part of life in Jax. Many specialty beer shops have opened around the city, taking advantage of both the craft brew trend and 2015 legislation that legalized the sale of 64-ounce growlers.
And city events like Art Walk now include craft beer, allowing you to enjoy the festivities with a great local drink in your hand.
WILL IT KEEP GOING?
With at least seven breweries set to open within the next year or so, it seems that the beer scene in Jacksonville is set to keep growing.
And the national trend seems to indicate that new breweries will keep opening, with 1,000 new craft breweries opening their doors in 2017 alone.
The craft beer industry has been one of the country’s fastest-growing industries for years – so at some point, the growth will start to slow down. And we would have a long way to go to catch up with cities famous for their craft beer such as Denver or Portland.
But as long as the community enthusiasm for the product remains, the breweries that have opened can keep going for years to come, and new ones can pop up in under-represented neighborhoods as time goes on. And Jacksonville has at least proven one thing over the past decade: we really like beer.
So it looks like as long as they’re brewing it, we’re drinking it.