Florida Brewing Company
Florida’s first brewery
In 1897, the Florida Brewing Company opened for business, becoming Florida’s first brewery. It remained the state’s only brewery until 1913.
Vincente Martinez Ybor and his partner Edward Manara founded the brewery and built it on the local government spring. They claimed that the spring water gave the beer a delightful pure taste. During its zenith, the Florida Brewing Company was the leading exporter of beer from the United States to Cuba. The brewery had space for 10,000 barrels each year and this number grew as the business expanded and delivered shipments to other states and Cuba. With Henry B. Plant’s railroad running from Tampa, it was convenient for the brewery to transport beer all over the state.
Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders were reportedly fans of the beer. Allegedly, they stopped by the brewery before heading to the Spanish-American War, and then stopped there again to celebrate the U.S. victory before heading back home.
In 1905, Florida Brewing Company added Ybor City Ice Works and Tampa Wholesale Liquor, creating more profit for the company and providing ice deliveries to the local area. Ybor City Ice Works was connected to the brewery and the Tampa Wholesale Liquor had its own structure behind the brewery.
A devastating fire that occurred in Ybor in 1909 damaged the building, which put the business on hold until renovations were made. Luckily for the Florida Brewing Company, insurance covered most of the cost to rebuild the bottling works. In addition, the company decided to renovate the building to make more space for producing beer and barrel storage. In a sense, the fire did the Florida Brewing Company a favor by indirectly giving the company money to expand their operations. The brewery would produce 80,000 barrels of beer annually at its peak production.
The high production of the brewery was short lived with the onset of Prohibition in 1920. This was a major crisis for the company and they resorted to selling soft drinks instead. These didn’t sell as well as the beer. Salvador Martinez Ybor, who ran the company during Prohibition, was sent to jail for illegally selling alcohol. The company managed to stay afloat during Prohibition and changed its name to Tampa, Florida Brewery, Inc.once it ended in 1933.
Production soon took off again when a new line of cans and equipment made it easy for the company to produce beer after Prohibition. This did not last long because of the embargo on Cuba in 1961, which made it harder for the brewery to compete. After the closing of the brewery, the building was used as a storage space for fresh tobacco.
After surviving the Ybor fire, the Great Depression, and Prohibition, the building still stands as the tallest building in Ybor. Now a law firm occupies the property but keeps its historic value alive by refurbishing the building and using historic pieces that were once used in the brewery.