Florida's Forgotten Original Regional Breweries
A 'regional brewery' is one that distributes to particular regions on a smaller basis than the nationwide breweries many of us are familiar with today. Though the Florida Beer Company and Cigar City Brewing are the only regional breweries in Florida today, many formerly operated across the Sunshine State.
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 in 1920, regional and local breweries were the real playmakers in the American brewing industry. In contrast to national breweries like Anheuser-Busch, regional breweries produced on a smaller scale and distributed only to set regions. Two Florida regional breweries, Jacksonville’s Jax Brewing Company and Tampa’s Florida Brewing Company, survived Prohibition by shifting to other products. After Prohibition ended in 1933, several more breweries opened across the state.
As elsewhere in the U.S., regional breweries in Florida were gradually outcompeted by the national breweries, who opened operations in the state starting in the 1950s. By 1973, all the regional breweries had shut their doors. However, regional breweries have made a comeback with the craft beer movement, which focuses on independent ownership, relatively lower production quantities and traditional brewing methods. According to the Brewers Association, a “regional craft brewery” is one with an annual production level between 15,000 and 6 million barrels. Currently, the Florida Beer Company and Cigar City Brewing are the only regional craft breweries operating in Florida, joined by dozens of craft microbreweries and several macrobrewing factories.
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 Atlanta-based Atlantic Company, which had breweries in Atlanta, Chattanooga, Charlotte and Norfolk, opened its fifth brewery in Orlando at 1171 North Orange Avenue. During the 1940s, the Atlantic Company became the largest regional brewer in the South. Like the adjacent Orlando Water & Light Company, the plant pumped its water from nearby Lake Highland. Atlantic produced several beers including Atlantic Ale, Bock Steinerbru Ale, 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, produced two brands, 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.