Fort Myers Brewing Co. poured its first pint of beer in 2013, and it was a bit of an accident.
When Jen and Rob Whyte, the husband-and-wife team and co-owners of the brewery, got started, Rob Whyte brewed a brown ale while intending to make a red.
“Honestly, it was a mistake,” Rob Whyte said. “It was supposed to be a red. That was the first time I had brewed on a big scale. I was scaling up from home brew. I poured a glass, and it was brown, not red. I tried it. It tasted like a really good brown. And we have it on draft this weekend.”
That first beer became Tamiami Tan, one of the brewery’s signature beers.
High Five IPA and Cypress Strong Ale are also among the more than 50 beers that will be on tap at the brewery at 12811 Commerce Lakes Drive as part of its 10th birthday party. More than a dozen food trucks and live music will be a part of the celebration through Sunday.
“Standing here, it seems like it was just an instant,” Rob Whyte said. “But if I think back and remember about things that happened in the past, it was a long time ago.” Growth has been the theme for Southwest Florida’s first brewery.
“When we first opened, we opened with fermentation space that would have allowed us to do 300 barrels per year,” Jen Whyte said. “A barrel is two of the larger kegs that you see in bars and restaurants. Now, we have capacity to brew about [16,000] to 17,000 barrels of beer a year.”
Plans are in the works to expand to a new brewery campus on 23 acres near the current Gateway location near Daniels Parkway. Hurricane Ian disrupted plans to begin construction late last year. The Category 4 hurricane wrecked dozens of coastal restaurants that were Fort Myers Brewing Co. clients. The brewery lost about 30% of its draft beer clients but has been able to retain all 27 employees.
“We believe that will come back and it will continue to be a part of our business,” Jen Whyte said. “We are very much committed to helping this area recover.”
The ebb and flow of hops prices – currently about $30 per pound – and the recent rise of other beer-related expenses have continued to create modern challenges for the brewery. “I think the nationwide trend of beer in general was down [3% to 4%], something like that,” Rob Whyte said of 2022 sales. “We saw continued growth here of [20% to 28%]. I think we’re kind of unique here. We’re a destination. People come here on vacation. But I think Florida lags behind the rest of the country generally [in craft beer]. I’m not sure we’ll see the same slowdown as everybody else has – except for Ian. That’s an impact.”
The Whytes said they were having too much fun to sell their business, which is what many other established micro brewers have done. They’re looking forward to the expansion project. Until then, they’re going to enjoy a decade of brewing beer.
“Celebrating 10 years, it is a big milestone,” Jen Whyte said. “Not just for Fort Myers Brewing, but for the community at large. I’m really excited about the celebration.”