The Jax Brewing Company grew to become the state’s second largest brewery by the time it closed in 1956. Courtesy of the City of Jacksonville Historic Preservation Office.
From 1890 until prohibition, regional and local breweries were the real playmakers in the American brewing industry. Up until the late 1960s, Florida’s cities were home to several established regional breweries. Here’s a brief rise and fall story of six regional breweries that successfully quenched Florida’s thirst for decades before finally succumbing to the pressures of competing with large-scale national breweries.
Atlantic Brewing Company (1937 - 1954)
City: Orlando, Florida Capacity: N/A
The Atlantic Company and Lake Ivanhoe in 1939. (State Archives of Florida).
In 1937, with breweries already operating in Atlanta, Chattanooga, Charlotte and Norfolk, Atlanta-based Atlantic Company, opened its fifth brewery in Orlando at 1171 North Orange Avenue. During the 1940’s, the Atlantic Company became the largest regional brewer in the South. Adjacent to the Orlando Water & Light Company, both plants pumped their water out of nearby Lake Highland. Atlantic produced several beers including Atlantic Ale, Beer, Bock Steinerbru Ale, Beer, and Bock Signal Draft Beer. Their slogans during this time period included “Atlantic Ale and Beer: Full of Good Cheer” and “The Beer of the South.” According to the book “Atlanta Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in the Hub of the South,” ABC’s “long aging process and more flavorful beers placed a higher burden on their brewery than did other breweries’ technologies for mass production.” Struggling to compete with national brewers like Anheuser-Busch and Schlitz, the Orlando brewery was sold to NYC businessman Joe Rigenback in 1954. His company, Marlin Brewing Company two brands were Marlin Green Hornet Ale and Marlin White Label Beer. Two years later, the brewery was sold to Baltimore-based National Brewing Company. National closed Orlando’s brewery in 1961, relocating its operations to Miami’s Regal Brewery which it acquired from Anheuser-Busch in 1958.
Spearman Brewing Company (1933 - 1964)
City: Pensacola, Florida Capacity: 80,000 annual barrels
Penascola’s Spearman Brewing Company was founded on April 6, 1934 by Guy Spearman.Spearman decided to get into the brewing business after visiting the Carta Blanca Brewery during a trip to Monterrey, Mexico. On May 18, 1935, he opened the Spearman Brewing Company adjacent to his Crystal Ice Company ice plant at 1600 South Barrancas Avenue. The brewery included a three-story brewhouse, a two-story stock house and a bottling house capable of packaging 6,000 bottles a day. At the time, the brewery was considered to be one of the most modern of its size in the South.
Within a short drive of Pensacola’s Naval Air Station, production peaked during World War II with 150 employees brewing 80,000 barrels in 1943. The brewery’s brands were Spearman Draft Beer, Spearman Draft Ale, Spearman English-Type Ale, Spearman’s Straight Eight Beer, and Bon Premium Beer. In 1959, Spearman sold the brewery to International Breweries and went back to concentrating on his ice making business across the street. However, International Breweries’ pockets couldn’t keep the brewery from losing its edge on the Gulf Coast to major corporations like Busch and Pabst. In 1964, it closed for good, remaining abandoned until its demolition in 1987.
Southern Brewing Company (1934 - 1963)
City: Tampa, Florida Capacity: 90,000 annual barrels
Shortly after the repeal of prohibition, the Southern Brewing Company opened at 700 East Zack Street in 1934. Of interesting note, its brewing operations, which churned out 3,600 pints an hour, could be observed from the street through its large glass windows. For years, it’s Silver Bar Ale was a popular drink in taverns all across the region. During the 1940s, Southern brewed roughly 90,000 barrels a year, which is comparable to some of Florida’s largest craft brewers today.
In 1956, Detroit-based International Breweries Inc. (IBI), acquired the downtown Tampa brewery. In 1959 and 1961, Schlitz and Anhueser-Busch opened breweries in Tampa, driving down prices and saturating the local market. As a response, IBI purchased the recently closed Tampa Florida Brewery’s copyright name “Tropical” in hopes of gaining a larger share of the local beer market. However, competition from Schlitz and Anheuser-Busch proved to be too much. Unable to compete, IBI ceased operations in Tampa for good in 1963.