A Florida Man’s Dynasty: Anna Maria Island & The Little Giant Brewery.

Winter 2022.

Eraserhead, to me, was one of my greatest experiences in cinema. What I loved about it was the world and having it be my own little place, where I could build everything and get it exactly where I wanted it…it just took time. It just was so beautiful. Everything about it…everything about it.

-David Lynch, The Art Life

Hotfooting the 4-mile Sunshine Skyway Bridge, the longest cable stayed structure on Earth, traversing the south end of Tampa Bay, we shot over from St. Petersburg through the Terra Ceia Aquatic Preserve. From one pylon to the next we spanned the yellow cables, fanning out as sunrays of modern engineering. Florida SunPass in tow, we made our way to Manatee County.

From the passenger side window I spied a bottle nosed dolphin leaping in the Gulf, winking and waving with his fin, coaxing and guiding us as we cruised the causeway to Anna Maria Island.

We left Chicago, randomly February 1st, 2022, the date of a blizzard and we escaped an entire week of shivering and shoveling in order to bask in the sunny, warm climate of southwest Florida.

This would be the first airplane trip we took with our twin daughters, nineteen months old at the time, and this essay should be read through filtered aperture. An implied lens of being tied by a twin pair of handcuffs in a figurative yet very visible sense. In essence we shifted our struggles from one geographic area to another for a week. But at least we had family there to help us out.

I won’t be discussing the airline flights to or from Tampa. The realm of darkness and the level of existential dread encompassing me during those windows of time have been almost enough to unlock the scarlet beast from the sea – one of seven heads, ten horns, and blasphemous names. Intent on salivating at an altar of worship to dragons, the chained beast rustled the aluminum tube jetting through the atmosphere. The blood of the stars drained from the sky around us as the dark unknown was brought forth.

I was able to coax a supernatural cause to somehow end up in a local grocer where I stockpile supplied myself with an emerald green arsenal of Cigar City Jai Alai, and almost immediately upon arrival, Joe handed me a ziplock full of sixty gauge Gloria Cubana Serie R. Who is Joe? Look all you need to know is when you’re in to this cigar hobby you’ve always got a guy, tried and true.

Ecuadorian grown, Connecticut broadleaf Maduro to mix in a merry game with my ripe mango tropical Jai Alai. Caramel underpinned by bitter toasty wood that brought forth the full body of sweet burning leaves while relaxing on the canal in an 80-degree winter. Fantasies of being whisked away by a pair of mystic, translucent-pink manatees only to find myself riding them, castaway to an undiscovered island in the Gulf of Mexico to die alone with my case of beer and a fistful of cigars.

Tell all my people I’m a rider;

Nobody cries when we die,

We outlaws, let me ride.

Tupac Shakur

Anna Maria Island itself is a big enough tourist attraction the locals have collectively decided to not call us “tourists”. Full economic sustainability comes by way of “visitors” to the island. I did appreciate the nonexistence of chain places. No Starbucks nor Applebees as far as the eye could see. Just mounds of island boy swag and chuegy kitsch on plaques and mugs. Mostly slogans in that one font you see on décor in the most basic-ass homes. You know that font.

On beach time among the salmon and seafoam, pastel and pinkish hue, I took down blue gummy sharks and buttered popcorn Jelly Bellies like there was no tomorrow.

Waffle Press brunch, Donut Experiment lunch, Sandbar seafood and ice cream for dinner. Pizza Social gave us wood oven pizza, and North Shore Café allowed our babies to run free. Anna Maria City Pier yielded the chance to gaze over Tampa Bay and see the Sunshine Skyway Bridge from afar while sipping Cool Beans Coffee.

We got pulled over by AMI’s finest while we were driving a golf cart. If nothing screams “visitor” like the idea of not knowing the Sunshine State golf carting rules of the road, I don’t know what does.

Motorworks Brewing adjacent the Bradenton Village of the Arts is in the former late 1940s home of Hudson Motors. The largest beer garden in all of Florida with a solid pine deck structured around a one-hundred-fifty year old oak tree.

3 Keys Brewing won my heart when I noticed the DMC-12 mural on the back patio. Pizza Dreams and Time Machines, a six percent pale ale would surely draw the likes of the Dream Maker himself, the late John Z. DeLorean.

In my local beer research I came across a place called The Little Giant Brewery. Google said it was closed, yet I saw quite a few postings on Untappt online and I got a vague sense that something was amidst.

I didn’t understand if it had been shuttered by Covid stuff. Yet again, this was Florida. Masks? Look, people live among alligators down there. Anyway, rave reviews from random beer geeks and a Beer Advocate article from 2013 didn’t do much to hush my curiosity on Little Giant.

Our neighbors a few houses down from where we were staying, Joe (my tobacconist) and Pat, mentioned their nephew had a brewery he was trying to get off the ground for years now. It didn’t feel tangible and due to our regimen of twin toddler chaos, I needed to be efficient. I didn’t really consider seeking it out since it didn’t seem to exist. Though, days after that, I did decide to inquire a bit further.

They told me it was called Little Giant. For me, this epiphany would play out to be the capstone of the entire trip.

Again, by a mystic game of three card Monte and slight of hand, I was able to buy myself a few hours of free time. I talked Pat in to taking me back over to east Bradenton so I could meet her nephew Mike and visit the still-yet-to-open Little Giant Brewery and taproom.

We cruised slowly by the epic mural on the electric blue corrugated sheet metal front of 5,700 square foot Little Giant. Entering through the gates, I spied a pristine patio in the Florida sun, encompassed by cast aluminum fencing forged with the silhouettes of hops and barley. The patio, still unused and unexposed, the local masses entering off the future Manatee River Walk will be lucky enough to get their forecasted dibs.

I got a warm welcome from the owner-slash-head brewer, Mike (a Chicago ex-pat with a degree in lit) along with his giant dog, Ringo. We talked beer right off the bat. Chicago beer, and Florida beer. Dovetail, Cigar City now being owned by Monster, double-decoction mash, malt sources, and the seemingly unending hazy IPA craze. I learned that Mike attended Seibel Institute in Germany, studying along side the would be owner of Metropolitan Brewing. Metropolitan is one of the most-storied establishments in my hometown, and not to mention the company housing my favorite taproom in all of Chicago.

Guarded by two puckish imps we entered and unlocked the seven secrets of the seven veils of Apollo. A warm turquois backing engulfs the patron in a throwback to Mike’s original Anna Maria beach shack brewery. Upfitted and outgrown, moving toward a utopian paradise, fit for dogs to frolic and imbibers to enjoy his elixirs in proper glassware at a monumental bar.

In full circle epiphany, created from the previous residency of Gulf Coast Marine Institute – the very schoolhouse for wayward youth where Mike used to teach literature, the brewery now exists. “A beer salon for confused and wayward adults”.

An area completely decked out in audiophile level stereo equipment caused my heart to palpitate. Analogue synthesizer gear sprawled out and displayed like it wasn’t even a thing. Dr Robert Moog would be proud. The vintage penny bar itself lined with patinated copper panels, tile salvaged directly from the original roofing.

A blackboard beneath a deck of droids and trinkets, and a bathroom so immaculately and intricately constructed, it is understood that Little Giant recognizes the restroom as the actual epicenter of all things brewery taproom.

The overhead wood – planks designed to feel as though you are sipping an India Pale Ale on a canal beneath a rickety boardwalk – something I had actually been doing all week by myself as my daughters napped. Hidden from sight in a burrow of your own, sharing provisions and libations with other wanderers in a community of nomads. Bronze backing behind the taps to bask in foam as kegs kick.

I got to look around the brewery and see the grain mill and mash tun. Cylindroconical tanks in chilling devices. I saw the nanobrewery kettles and I felt like some things began to click for me.

If you’re boiling in four keg kettles i.e., keggles, which in my estimation is two bbl of beer per brew, after about fifteen years of intensely honing your craft and your recipes and not having to scale up, you’re really hitting your magic number of greatness in due time. According to Malcolm Gladwell that’s ten thousand hours of crafting to be considered among the goddamn elite.

Artistry.

Over the years, you’re only dumping bad batches by the Brew Magic kegful, not hose draining liquid by the brite tank.

Mike hand-poured me his small batch porter he had on tap called Overhead Peeler.

At 16° Plato, dark malt so chocolate forward, the only thing restraining the coco puff madness was the ideal amount of bittering hops. A precise, dense offering of a recipe, hitting right on the very target of balance and wonderment in a glass. Riffing off of the Manatee County water profile and a vorlauf and lauter process only fit for someone who attended Siebel, he split Robin’s arrow in twine.

The aroma of toasted cocoa beans combined with a sweetness of malted dark-roasted barley came to fruition with an alcohol bite that spun the experience from sweet to bitter and back again.

It was among the best porters I’ve had in my life and I felt lucky to have taken part in it – especially knowing how limited each brew volume was. If he never brews it again…I’ll be here to tell the tale of the Overhead Peeler for ages. God knows I’ve already told everyone who I think would care.

Listen. Years of tinkering and perfecting dialed-in recipes may cause question. Scoff as you might, The Little Giant Brewery is a remarkable passion project in the making, and I only have one thing to say; it took David Lynch ten years to finish Eraserhead.

One truth exists I’ll never apologize for – there is absolutely no need to rush a genius.

Saga, yes. It is a saga.

Similar to Beowulf, but…less bloody.

-Mike W.

2 thoughts on “A Florida Man’s Dynasty: Anna Maria Island & The Little Giant Brewery.

  1. Love this post, I could almost feel the sunshine and breezes of
    Anna Marie Island. The beer connection made this trip complete. Enjoyable reading.

    Like

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