If you’re driving too fast, you might miss it. Angry Chair Brewing is situated off Florida Avenue in a small building that was previously a clock shop.
I paid them a visit before they opened their doors to the public, so I had a chance to sit down with co-owner Ryan Dowdle in the cozy, industrial-style tap room. I was immediately drawn to the modern 3D artwork on the walls and factory pipelines that served as chair legs.
“I went to the University of Wisconsin in Madison and was exposed to different types of beers,” said Ryan. “There are a lot of people who have influenced me and sparked my interest in beer,” he recalls.
“I became a partner of a chain beer bar and saw exponential growth in the craft beer industry. Florida was once a beer wasteland, and it’s crazy to see how it has gained location traction and grown over the years,” he said.
Ryan got involved with a beer tasting group where they’d sit down with Joey Redner from Cigar City to trade beers every Tuesday. “It all started with four of us, and it grew to about 15. We’d bring each other beer that you couldn’t get locally. Joey said he was going to start Cigar City, and he did. Bob Sylvester has also been an inspiration to me – he’s a true saison brewing machine and has been successful with a grassroots approach,” he said.
The brains behind the brew
Ryan (left) works closely with Ben Romano (right) – the head brewer – and they bounce ideas off each other. “We’ve never butted heads,” he says.
“Ben came to us after working with Cigar City as a pilot brewer for almost three years, so he’s worked to create tons of beers I was already drinking. At Angry Chair, we’re a much smaller workforce. David is our cellarman, and I’m very involved when it comes to the creation of recipes and concepts of what we’re going for. I look up to Ben – he’s an artist and I don’t want to take away his easel. We have similar ideas and palettes,” he said.
The design and development
The crew looked into a lot of different places when trying to decide on the perfect location for the brewery, and this building had been vacant for about 10 years.
“There was a lot of height to the ceilings – which was necessary for the giant fermenters – and we liked that we could see up to the natural roof,” he recalls.
“We ended up reusing all the wood from the ceiling for the bar top. We always wanted to have an industrial look, and the studio next door helped turn our ideas into a reality,” he recalls.
“We wanted the tap room to have an easy flow where people could walk in and out without it getting too congested in here. We continue to buy new chairs because we want reliable furniture and lots of places for people to sit,” he said.
Oh, the anticipation.
Opening a new brewery can be very stressful, especially during the first couple of weeks. As a brewer, you want people to enjoy not only the beer – but the location and ambiance, too.
“During our first few weeks of being open, everyone in the Seminole Heights community came out to support us – from beer geeks to politicians – and they’ve all come back since then. Everyone is happy to have us in the neighborhood, and it’s been absolutely fantastic,” he said.
“Seminole Heights is a very interactive community and it’s really fun getting involved with everyone. They feel like they’re a part of us and we’re a part of them. We wanted to be surrounded by people and businesses who are much like ourselves and have similar goals and interests. I truly feel like we’re only as good as our community,” he said.
How does a new brewery decide which beers they’re going to serve first?
“When we started thinking about which beers we wanted to debut with, we agreed to brew beers we like. You know, stuff we actually want to drink. We’re not going into it saying ‘this brown ale and this red ale are going to be our core beers, we hope you like them.’ It’s whatever our consumers like. There’s a little something for everyone,” he said.
As far as MY initial sips from Angry Chair, I got to sample the German Chocolate Cake Stout and the Three Little Birds Florida Weisse. I was very impressed! I’d like to try more, which is why I’m super excited for our Tampa Bay Brew Bus holiday party tomorrow. First stop: Angry Chair.
Growth and expansion
“We’re a very small brewery, so if we’re fortunate enough to outgrow this facility, we’ll produce clean-sac beers like pale ales and porter stouts and infect this place and make it a sour. That’s our goal and passion. I like to consider ourselves very forward thinking. We try not to be boring!” he said. Good, because no one likes a boring brewery.
“I want to grow and feed the state some beer, but growing outside of the state isn’t something we’re planning for at this time. I want everyone to feel like they’re a part of the local brewery here. But who knows – things could change! I want to manage it and still grow it the right way. Cigar City was in the right place at the right time and has an amazing staff,” he mentioned.
“The more beer we have, the more synergy there is. If we keep making beers as a whole and try to keep up with each other, Tampa becomes better and we become a destination. I don’t ever want to lose what I think is artisinal about what we do,” he said.
“We did a collaboration with B. Nektar Meadery using 420 pounds of orange blossom honey from Lakeland. It’s a braggot – so it’s hoppy and interesting. We like being creative and learning from others. Our first few batches were a spectrum of eclectic beers in hopes everybody could find something they like.
Currently, they’re working on a West Coast IPA, a White Session IPA and The Awakening – which is a coffee milk stout infused with Madagascar vanilla beans. Many of these will be ready next week.
“I’m very happy with the first round of batches we created, and I’m excited for the next ones,” he said.
Hours of operation:
- Monday – Thursday from 4 PM – 10 PM
- Friday and Saturday from 12 PM – 12 AM
- Sunday from 12 PM – 9 PM.*
*Hours as of December 2014.