It’s not called The Gulp Coast for nothing — The St. Pete and Clearwater craft beer trail is a sudsy brew-lovers dream. And it’s probably no surprise to regular Wanderland readers that I had zero plans to explore it. As a non-beer drinking blogger, brewery tours normally don’t have any place on my itineraries.
However, my time in St. Pete was uncharacteristically rainy, dashing my plans of spending my days frolicking on the beach. One ominously cloudy morning, I drove by a sign for a local winery and wondered, might there be locally-produced booze of the non-beer variety out here for the rest of us? I dedicated two afternoons to finding out! (So, so selfless, I know.)
I spent one afternoon with my Aunt Linda driving around to local St. Pete wine spots, and another with my Aunt Karen hopping around to a few breweries that offer ciders.
Let’s start with a basic but essential question — uh, who knew there was wine in Florida? Apparently, customers of the thirty-eight wineries listed by Florida’s Department of Agriculture, five of which are within an hour’s drive of St. Pete. But we didn’t even go that far — within a fifteen minute radius of my chic and charming beach hotel, we were able to sample the offerings of three brilliant wineries!
And guys, this stuff goes way back. Wine production in the Sunshine State began with Spanish settlers who harvested wild grapes into the very first American wine. It’s more like a history tour than anything, really. That’s what I told myself while gulping wine slushies in a strip mall, anyway.
Florida Orange Groves Winery
We kicked off our day at Florida Orange Groves Winery, which offers the most traditional and established wine tour you’ll find in the immediate St. Pete area. This family-owned and award-winning local business is Florida’s original fruit winery. In fact, it’s one of the largest fruit wineries in the world, and one of the only citrus wineries in the world. Any Orlando fans in the house? They are also the only Florida wine ever allowed at Disney’s Epcot International Food and Wine Festival.
Fruit wine, you say? I can practically hear the sniff of wine snobs everywhere, but y’all, you’re missing out if you don’t give this stuff a chance. The motto of Florida Orange Groves Winey is “life is too short to drink wine that you need to develop a taste for.” As someone with a pretty limited palate of white wines — holler at my New York Riesling Trail! — I loved how pretension-free and fun-focused this little winery was.
After a movie and a tour through the winery’s production facility — in which no photos were allowed, sadly — we bellied up to the tasting bar. We learned from our adorable and grandma-aged bartender that Florida Orange Groves Winery started out slinging citrus in the 1970’s, eventually beginning to tinker with wines some three decades later. Today, they produce over 43 varieties of vegan and gluten-free tropical fruit wines that use local produce wherever possible.
Our tasting consisted of five samples of our choice, including wines, sparkling wines, wine slushie mixes, and wine pouches. I was tempted by wild flavors like 40 Karat carrot and Hot Sun tomato but my favorite of all was, unsurprisingly, Tropical Banana. I could have bought a case of the stuff, had I had room in my suitcase! I did, however, walk away with a bottle of Sparkling Pineapple as a gift.
Tours run every every thirty minutes every day of the week but Sunday, though tastings are available all week. Check the website for times — they’re strict on when the final tour leaves! Tours and tastings are totally free — though I warn you, once you have a sip, it will be tough to leave empty handed.
Next up, in an unassuming shopping center in Madeira Beach, we found ourself at the Florida Winery. While there are no tours here due to the very small size of the space (you can peek into the production room), there is an outsized sense of humor on the tastings and the website that left us smiling.
If you just wandered by quickly, you might mistake Florida Winery for a gift shop with some solid gourmet goods made in the Sunshine State. However, walk in and you’ll find a friendly tasting counter where you can literally taste every single one of the nineteen varietals they make if you want, for free! (Though you are, of course, expected to tip your bartender.)
Once again we had the most incredibly friendly server who we just loved chatting to. Unlike our last stop, Florida Winery does blend with grapes for some of their award-winning wines. I surprised myself by loving the FlaMango, a habanero mango mix, and adored blends like Cisa, a key lime citrus sauvignon blanc. Rounding out the menu were a couple sangrias and a traditional flight of merlot, riesling, pinot grigio and beyond.
Still want more? Grab a wine slushie or a wine ice cream on the way out!
Zeno’s Wine Shop
While technically a wine shop and not a winery, Zeno’s is literally around the corner from Florida Winery and would be a shame to miss. The owner is incredibly knowledgeable and friendly, and gave us one of the best tastings we’d had all day. While much of their tasting menu is made up of favorites from Florida Orange Groves Winery, they also serve up samples from Murielle Winery, a Clearwater favorite we’d yet to experience. The owner also explained why fruit wines are less likely to give you a hangover — and got a big laugh when he insisted he’d definitely put in the personal research to back up the science.
After hitting a home run with all three tastings, we had to conclude that St. Pete wineries are among the most down-to-earth and friendly places on the planet! Looking to grab and go? They also sell cold beer, wine by the glass, and my absolute favorite — wine slushies!
After having so much breezy fun exploring wineries, I wondered if St. Pete’s breweries could compete.
With a big stomach-lining lunch at one of the infinite fabulous lunch options behind us, my Aunt Karen and I hit the town to find out! Armed with a list of breweries that produce cider from a helpful local, we knew exactly where to head. Unlike the beach-based wineries, these breweries were all based in downtown St. Pete.
Green Bench Brewery
Aesthetically, my favorite stop of my two day non-beer crawl was Green Bench Brewery. The brain-child of two beer-loving St. Petersburg lifetime locals, Green Bench has a beautiful indoor tasting room and a lively garden patio from which to enjoy its creations. Regularly scheduled community events include Brew Brunches, Movies in the Garden, live music, and more.
They also had an impressive selection of four ciders — typically, you’re lucky to get one — my favorite of which was the Rooftop Cider. Green Bench was truly beautiful and a gem for the cider drinker who leans towards drier varieties.
After my afternoon tour, I feel I can definitely say that 3 Daughters is the destination for cider drinkers in St. Pete. They have a whole subsidiary dedicated to the art of cider creation! We were able to taste their first two ciders in the tasting room — Original Hard Cider and the Key Lime Cider, the latter of which was the best thing I tasted all day. Truly though, I loved them both.
And soon, you’ll have several more to try. The brewery tour included a glance at the lab where cider-ologists (as I personally refer to them, anyway) are currently working on eleven new ciders, including a pepper-infused edition. The brewers who showed us around were some of the loveliest and friendliest people we met all day. When we apologetically confessed we don’t love beer, they told us they prefer cider too!
Behind the tasting room lies an adult playground full of arcade games, board games, and an events calendar bursting with regular highlights like Yoga on Tap, Burpees and Brews, a Pints and Ping Pong League, trivia nights, live music, and movie showings. Um, can I move here? The founder of 3 Daughters wanted the tasting rooms to be a place to chill out and relax, not a hardcore brewery. I say mission accomplished.
Pinellas Ale Works
Pinellas Ale Works — or PAW, as they prefer to be referred to — won me over from the start for being a dog-loving brewery with treats on every table. While every brewery on this list welcomes pets in some way or another, PAW takes it a step further. Animal lovers, prepare to swoon: they host regular yappy hours as fundraisers for local non-profit dog rescues.
There’s also a regular schedule of food trucks that stop by, and PAW allows guests both human and canine to bring their own food, browse their selection of local delivery menus, or order from the small in-house snack menu.
PAW doesn’t brew their own cider, however, they always keep at least one on tap. When I visited, it was a delicious blackberry edition.
Cage Brewery is another local brewery that doesn’t brew its own cider, but always keeps one on tap. I stopped here after hugging my aunt goodbye, and I loved chatting to the bubbly bartender (on the whole, the people pouring ciders were far less chatty than those serving wine the day before) while sipping my strawberry cider and perusing the brewery’s calendar of live music, art shows, and charity fundraisers.
St. Pete might be known for their craft beer, but after my day of exploring, I have to conclude that it’s a drinking destination for wine and cider lovers too!
Are you a beer drinker or a wine or cider fan like me?
One thing I’ve been hearing from you guys is that you want to hear more about my current travels right after they happen. Well, ask and ye shall receive! I’m jumping in to start sharing some posts from Florida and Tennessee, a trip so fresh I just unpacked from it.
This post is brought to your by VISIT FLORIDA. I maintain full editorial control and as always all thoughts, opinions, and wine slurpie references are my own.
This is totally my kind of rainy day activity!
You’d be alllll over the brewery scene in St. Pete, girl 😉
Wine, cider, beer… all of the above, please!
Ha, well then you would really go wild in St. Pete!
This sounds amazing!! I miss flavored beer so much. In Germany there are strict rules on how they can brew beer (only with the essential ingredients) – so no pumpkin beer over here. 🙁 But – they have their ways of getting around this. They add flavors after the beer is brewed! Most popular is a Radler (beer + lemonade) and its actually delicious!! x michelle
I’ve been sooooo excited that cider has really make a mark in Thailand, at least in Koh Tao — you can get it everywhere now! Certainly did not always used to be the case!
So I’m not a wine drinker & after recently discovering a gluten intolerance (yes, I am a cliche), I’ve had to say farewell to my beloved beer! I actually don’t like cider EITHER but 2 items you mentioned here look mighty appealing — sparkling pineapple wine & key lime cider. Wow! Maybe breaking up with beer is just the kick in the pants I need to get more adventurous with my bevvy choices?
Is it bad that I didn’t realize cider was gluten free? Another reason to toast to it!
Haha 🙂 who are you to comment on beer & beverages when you have The Banyan Gang. Next time do a Banyan takeover. Would like to see a new article about your friends’ places again. They are like the fireworks to your(eternal)flame.
I will try to get more Koh Tao posts up again soon 🙂
Yays!!!! Happy face here…
Wine is amazing, so thank you for your selfless sacrifice in exploring St. Pete’s wine scene! I’m more in the boat with you in terms of beer. I tend to stick to cider or get a Fruli (a delicious strawberry beer that tastes – and goes down like – juice) whenever possible.
Oo la la — I am definitely trying a Fruli should I see one on a menu board! Thanks for the tip!
Absolutely! I think you’ll really like it.
Please remember that beer is health food and doctor recommended!
Ha! I’ll keep that in mind! 😉
I’m a beer drinker and was incredibly impressed with St. Pete’s beer scene. It’s not Grand Rapids, San Diego or Portland yet… but it’s still on the right path.
I’ve heard that from a few of my beer drinking crew! Very cool that they have such a buzzing scene going for them…
I’m partial to beer myself, though cider is also delicious! Whatever someone’s tastes may be, it seems like St. Pete has something for them!
Indeed it does! Now they just need a vodka distillery, ha ha.
I’m a cider and wine fan, but I usually go for ones that are on the drier side. Looks like there’s plenty of variety for sure!
I’m such a sugar addict, I even like my drinks sweet 😛 But yes, there were ciders and even a few wines on all ends of the spectrum!
It’s always good that things like this exist for a rainy day!
Yes! Especially in such a great beach destination I’m always impressed when there’s plenty to do even in poor weather.
Didn’t know that Florida had a fruit wine industry … you learn something new everyday!
Indeed! I definitely learned it as well — and had a great (boozy) time doing so! 😛
A post about wine! In order words, time for a glass. Lol. I’d give fruit wine a try!
I’m so excited to get back to St. Pete in a few weeks and pick up a case! It was the best!
I’m curious about the dragon fruit infusion wine. Dragon fruit is one of my favorite fruits in southeast asia, but I’d never thought of mixing it with wine before.
Believe me, those fruit wineries are WELL worth the trip alone for any wine and fruit lovers! I was in heaven!