Anna Rodriguez likes the sourness of a citrusy beer, and so was visibly eager to try raspberry hibiscus Berliner Weisse brew, as she toasted with friend Viviana Besteiro in front of the giant fermenters inside the Oyster City Brewing Company at Sunday afternoon’s can release party.
The b-liner isn’t in the can yet, but beginning this week, the Tate’s Helles lager, Apalach IPA and Hooter Brown ale will each be available in 12-ounce six packs, and so the 24-year-old Rodriguez and Besterio came to the party to share in the debut of the canned brew.
Besteiro, from Miami, had been to the downtown Apalachicola brewery spot before, but it was a first for her friend. “I wish downtown Panama City had something like this,” said Rodriguez, a radio talk show host.
Both said they planned to buy it at the store when Bay County grocery stores start carrying it, which brewmaster Jamie Ray said could be as early as this week. “We already have it in the cooler in back,” said Besteiro.
As brewmaster, Ray logged thousands of miles in recent months driving back and forth to Lakeland, where the same kegged beer that’s steadily delighted craft beer drinkers from Pensacola to Ocala, since the brewery opened in May 2013, will now be canned at a co-op specializing in packaging it in more convenient, handheld devices.
“It’s a logical next step,” said CEO Bo Walker, one of the original shareholders of the company, together with the Owl Café and Tap Room’s Susan Gary, Cassie Gary and Rex Humphries.
In May 2018, the brewery, which has gone from zero to 3,000 barrels annually in its first five years, came under the ownership of Oyster City Brewing Company LLC, when it took on a partner in Wiregrass Equity Partners LLC, based in Montgomery-Alabama.
One of the most noteworthy investors in Wiregrass is Brian Kelley, one-half of the global superstar duo Florida Georgia Line. “Brian’s entrepreneurial spirit, creative vision, relentless work ethic, and successful business acumen are an invaluable addition to the Wiregrass team, our investors, and our portfolio companies,” reads the Wiregrass website.
In a Jan. 2019 release, Wiregrass announced the partnership with OCBC, citing “the high demand for their exceptional lineup of beers has grown exponentially.” As a result, OCBC has designed “an incredibly efficient brewery, producing approximately. 1.4 barrels per square foot annually,” it said.
“Having reached its capacity in less than five years,” the release said, “the primary goal is to increase the volume and distribution levels of the brewery, in order to meet the demand with existing networks, and share the beers with enthusiasts across the Southeast.”
Standing inside the packed walk-in cooler, a respite from the 90-degree temperatures at the party outside, Walker described the facility at the corner of Commerce Street and Avenue E, once the site of the Oasis bar before it closed more than seven years ago, as “a little shop producing medium shop numbers.”
With the brewing facility in Lakeland, OCBC will go from production in three 8.5-barrel fermenters to eight 20-barrel units, and further accelerate the brand’s growth, Walker said. He said demand consistently has outpaced supply, every drop, fleck and foam of the beer variants already sold before they’re ever packed in a keg and hauled off, primarily to bars and restaurants.
In cans, the beer will have a longer shelf life, and travel better, much lighter than kegs. Walker said.
“(The co-op) provides us the ability to use someone else’s equipment,” he said. “We think it’s the right time for it.”
Ray said that with the exception of the water, which in Apalachicola is treated through a reverse osmosis process, all the ingredients will be unchanged in the new cans, the recipe and ingredients the same as what’s been used and honed over the years.
“Our focus is predicated on maintaining the culture of our company, which lies within the heart of the Apalachicola community and its wonderful people, while sharing these award-winning beers with more people through increased production capability,” said Darin Phillips, Wiregrass’ CEO. “It’s a family. It always will be.”
Walker said the Apalachicola facility employs nine people. Clayton Mathis serves as company vice president.
The design of the cans, which feature the slogan “Made by the Water,” was created by Devote Studio, of Birmingham, Alabama.