When I first moved to the Burg, Cycle was the first brewery I visited in the area with Chris – the brains behind The Brewery Bay. I finally had the opportunity to sit down and crack open a beer with Doug Dozark, one of the head brewers, for a chat about this fine St. Petersburg brewery.
Cycle is situated in a cozy spot on Central Avenue just blocks away from downtown St. Petersburg – just look for the garage door out front! Although the location is perfect for drawing in crowds, Doug mentions that they really don’t have much space for people to sit – but they work with what they’ve got.
So what makes Cycle such a great brewery?
“I think our IPAs and our barrel-aged beers stand out the most, which we’ve been producing for quite a while. We plan to have our third barrel-aged beer event by the end of the year. Those are the things we do best.”
It’s true – customers (such as my coworkers) look forward to exclusive beer releases such as NooNer, Rare Dos and DCB Dos which only occur a few times a year.
The bar seems to be pretty self-sufficient and runs by itself – which is awesome. “We have a great staff and a lot of freedom. We’ve been able to take off for vacations, and it’s nice,” said Doug.
“We don’t brew here on the weekends because we open at noon – but if we do, we start really early. Our production needs are not so demanding that we can’t let the tanks slide for a couple days. It’s flexible for now, which is nice,” he mentioned.
They’re also working on a new warehouse for more fermentation space. It’s all about barrel storage, and they need to be able to brew the beer, ferment the beer, barrel age the beer and then package it all at the same place – and they can’t do that now.
“We still brew here and at Peg’s. We fill barrels, move them and package them in different places. It’s a lot of unecessary steps,” he said.
The rum barrels they’re currenly using for Rare Dos and others alike are unique because they’re first-used barrels from rum – not bourbon. Unfortunately, they’re empyting the last of the rum barrels and not getting new ones – so this is the end of them. They’ll still be able to get other barrels – like whiskey and bourbon – but it will change what’s always been Rare Dos.
“We’re going to have an event coming up soon and we’ll tap or bottle Rare Dos as a ‘goodbye’ – we’ll do a rum-barreled stout again, but it won’t be the same.
Don’t worry, though – there are still plenty of other amazing beers to try at Cycle. They’re currently brewing about three batches a week and occasionally, they’ll brew at Peg’s simultaneously. “We have two restricting factors,” said Doug. “There’s only so much cooler space that can hold a certain about of kegs. Our beer stays fresher because you’re trying them right after we make them.”
There are also yeast constraints to be concerned with. “We’d love to get a few more fermenters going so we have more options to get yeast from. Yeast health is very important, and we have a yeast propagation system – which is really nice. It’s a serious machine that keeps our yeast healthy so we can continue to make consistent beer. It’s a concern all of the time – and our lab equipment helps, too. But it doesn’t make sense to only have lab equipment because if something goes wrong, you need to order new yeast – which can take a while,” he said.
All of these things can be a bit stressful, but “brewery management just takes practice. You learn to get by with the resources you have,” says Doug. “I think we’re doing pretty well.”
What’s next for Cycle?
“We’re probably not going to start any new crazy styles anytime soon. We may try a Lambic or Oak-Aged Sour because we all enjoy it, but we don’t produce it. So – we’ll give it a shot. If we’re not good at it, then so be it. Other people are and that’s great – but it’s a long process. We have plenty of time to figure it out.”
Since there are a lot of breweries in the area, things may get a little competitive – but for the most part, the breweries tend to all support each other. “I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve had so far from Angry Chair, but I haven’t had enough of it. I’ve known the guys for a while, and I know they’ve got some good stuff over there – like the German Chocolate Cake stout,” he said. Yum.
“The guys over at 7venth Sun have really stepped up their game in the past year. They’re making excellent beers, like Time Bomb. It’s getting harder to stay ahead of the game! Take Dunedin Brewery, for example. They’ve been really consistent for 18 years. You can actually look at their reported production numbers – they run a solid business and a lot of their recipes are remnants from the 90s.”
Why downtown St. Petersburg? Aside from the obvious that all the brewers live nearby, St. Pete is “more of community, and we’ve got the water-front parks and restaurants,” he said. “It’s constantly growing. As for Cycle, there’s definitely some growth in terms of production output and distribution. It becomes time consuming because one person might have to do all the deliveries and manage all of the accounts, which means I wouldn’t get to be in the brewery as often. I’m pretty happy with where we are now.”
The cash-only rule
Many folks who have frequented Cycle may have noticed the cash-only rule. Yes, Doug knows it’s 2014. Yes, he realizes it’s upsetting to people. So why don’t they use credit cards?
“The cash-only thing goes back to a job I had in high school at a pizzeria in Iowa City. They’ve taken cash or check even before credit cards were invented and they still have a thriving business. It’s always seemed possible for me. We started looking into how credit card companies operate with their service fees, vendors and promotional rewards cards. None of the credit card companies are even in Tampa, so that’s taking a percentage of the money and leaving the city. I’m not on a crusade against credit cards – I just don’t think its necessary, and I don’t want to deal with it for $5 pints.”
Not to mention – it’s much faster and simpler. “We never have to worry about the internet going down, or long lines holding up the buying process. When we hold big events here such as beer releases, it’s amazing how fast the lines move. You’re not worrying about people swiping their cards, waiting for the receipts to print and signing them,” he said.
“Although we’re surrounded by banks, we’d like to get an ATM of our own – but I want to subsidize or remove the fees. I understand that it’s 2014 and everybody uses cards. That’s great. I think if it was an issue that was damaging my business, then I would probably make changes. But for now, it’s not. It allows us to keep our prices down. Guarantee if we start using credit cards, the prices will go up.”
Doug isn’t about to let a couple of angry Yelp reviews hinder his process. “It doesn’t change the way I run my business. If you’re that upset about it, we probably aren’t your type of establishment. We’re never going to please everybody, and we can’t change something just because people don’t like it – and we stand behind our product and think it’s pretty great.”
Cycle is open Monday-Thursday from 3 p.m. – 12 a.m., Friday from 3 p.m. – 3 a.m., Saturday from 12 p.m. – 3 a.m. and Sunday from 12 p.m. – 10 p.m.