Ceremony Brewing owner Zach Smith has been a homebrewer for six or seven years. He gave his dad a beer-making kit as a retirement gift but after it sat in the closet for a couple of years, Smith asked to borrow it during his summer break when he was a teacher in Collier County schools for 10 years.
Although intimidated by the process at first, he found it easy once he broke it down into its simplest form. “I just immediately feel in love with it,” said Smith, who opened Ceremony Brewing in late November in the heart of Bonita Springs’ historical downtown area on Old 41 Road. “I just got really excited and I started homebrewing like crazy.”
Then, he attended meetings of Southwest Florida Brewcrafters, a local homebrewing organization that took him to the next level. “I met all these guys where we could collaborate and share recipes and share ideas and that really propelled me,” Smith said. He eventually became vice president of the nonprofit group, which organizes the annual Bonita Brew Fest to raise money for local charities.
Of course, Smith’s beer brewing grew to become more than just a hobby. “I always wanted to own my own place. I was originally in hospitality management and spent years back of the house, front of the house and working kitchens,” he said.
Smith was attracted to open his new business in a tucked–away place with palpable energy and great walkability. The Naples native lives in Bonita Springs within walking distance of his brewery.
“I just knew this was going to be the new working-class neighborhood, so I was determined to be right here. I wanted that pedestrian-friendly neighborhood establishment,” he said. “It’s got its own unique identity, which is so important to me.”
Years of preparation for Ceremony Brewing were worth it in the end, Smith said. “It surpasses all my expectations,” he said. “Working on it for four years, to a certain degree, I kind of got numb to it. It just seemed like one more hurdle and one more problem and one more issue. I was kind of worried that, becoming so numb to it, that when it finally hit, I would be numb to that but it was like pure bliss. I was just so happy.”
Ceremony had a soft opening Nov. 24, the day before Thanksgiving, with a grand opening on Black Friday. It’s at 10441 Packinghouse Lane in a recently renovated building behind Smokin R’s BBQ near the intersection of Old 41 and Tennessee Street.
Smith’s goal was to create a place that everybody, not just beer lovers, would feel welcome in. “So, if you look at my menu, I carry a wide variety of wines, canned cocktails, nonalcoholic beverages, ciders, meads, hard kombuchas, just a wide variety so that way everybody can hopefully find something they enjoy,” he said. “And we’re going to be doing some wine tastings and things like that, so things you wouldn’t immediately associate with a brewery.”
Smith’s first employee was Ryan Carruth, a brewer who had commercial experience. “We collaborate on the recipes and I try to get back there and help him brew as much as I can,” Smith said. “My goal right now is to get some good people up front so that I can get back there a little bit more.”
Ceremony started off with a wide array of brews because Smith is a firm believer in having all styles and seeing what people gravitate toward. “The fruit-forward has really been selling,” he said. “The first one we ran out of was a Mango Milkshake IPA. It was a huge hit. But, of course, pale ales and things have been very popular. We’ve honestly had a pretty good spread. Everything has been selling pretty well across the board, which is great.”
Of Ceremony’s 18 taps, 10 of them are dedicated to its own beers and there are eight guest taps. “I choose the guest taps based on a void I feel we have or just something that is new and rare and exciting that I think people should be trying,” Smith said.
The beers are only on tap now but Smith wants to get the equipment to start canning in the next couple of months or so. “Right now, I’m not doing any distribution,” he said. “I want to get through the season first. I want to start canning first and get through the season. Maybe in the summertime, I’ll start looking more into distribution.“
A bottle shop is one of the aspects that makes Ceremony unique as a brewery. Much the same as a boutique wine shop or a big-box wine store, the brewery has bottles available to be packaged for carryout. “I kind of pride myself on having things you won’t find at the big-box shops,” Smith said. “So, it’s a lot of rare, hard–to–find, small-batch, seasonal releases that can be bought and consumed on site or packaged for carryout. That also includes some of our low intervention wines.”
Smith also plans to eventually carry and sell all the supplies needed for homebrewing. “Obviously, that’s my background so I want to support that,” he said. “We will have the hops, grains, yeast, all your consumables will be available.”
With a U-shaped bar, some tables and a couple of lounge areas tucked away near the brewery’s fermenters, Ceremony’s atmosphere has almost a coffee shop vibe, Smith said. “I tried to go with something a little but more loungey, a little bit more relaxing, a place you can come and unwind, beer lover or not.”
Food trucks and live music also are planned at Ceremony. Smith is trying to get food trucks every day that the taproom is opened, but it will take time because most food trucks are scheduled far in advance for season already. “Once I can get all that arranged, then I’ll start looking at music and entertainment,” he said.
Bonita Springs City Council recently approved the reengineering of the property for outdoor seating in the front alley, Smith said. He hopes to break ground on that project in about a year.
Ceremony Brewing’s taproom hours are 3 to 10 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 3 to 11 p.m. Friday, noon to 11 p.m. Saturday, noon to 8 p.m. Sunday, and closed Monday and Tuesday.